Here we stand, once again faced with abhorrent violence in the Middle East. Violence which we are to believe is random, spontaneous, and to some extent – justified(?). Through the blinding light of our own ignorance; the impediment to logic which is idealism; and paralyzed by the ongoing evidence that we may never be adored globally, we stand as a nation with leadership that is prepared to do…nothing to change the status quo. This is the unfortunate position that America’s post-Cold War foreign policy has placed our nation in. Reject reality, we say! Instead, let’s hope the thousands of years of human nature are going to change overnight because…well, it just ought to.
So, what is the goal of American foreign policy you might ask? A form of idealism aimed at showing strength towards allies, passivity towards foes, and demoralizing our own people in the process. Idealistic foreign policy is derived from the “progressive” notion that all nations will gather ‘round the fire, cook some smores, tell some ghost stories, and generally frolic together like a group of girl scouts after a successful cookie drive. This is a complete shift in policy since the end of the Cold War in which we now attempt to get all nations to rise above their own national interests and become part of the global family. Plus, at some point we have determined if nations do not like us, it is not their people nor their traditions, only their despotic leaders that do not like us. Easy remedy, right, depose Hussein and the Taliban and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan will welcome us with open arms because of their newly instituted, American-style democracy…Yet another miscalculation of the “democracy builders” on the left and the right.
So, how is it we miss the point so bad? We have unrealistic expectations of people we largely do not understand; and when we do understand them, we try to insert our own, more favorable version of reality in the hopes that they too might embrace this alternate reality. So, instead of the rioters in Libya or Egypt merely hating us, we are told they just did not like a movie. There are plenty of movies I do not like, but I have easily refrained from killing anyone over them [note on Napoleon Dynamite…I would love to have those couple of hours of my life back]. Now, just how do we begin to fix it?
The first remedy would be to incorporate a little bit of cultural relativism into our foreign policy. Cultural relativism reminds us not to view other cultures through our own eyes to best understand them, but to consider their practices through their own worldview. This is an important detail, not for some ill-fated pursuit of political correctness, but because understanding the other culture provides us information as to how they will act in the future and what potential impact our foreign policy may (or may not) have on them. Our actions must be measured, but must not be measured arbitrarily through the lens of our own moral authority, regardless of how relevant that authority may be.
Second, act on those things which we know to be true. Understand that, as unfortunate as it may be, reality is just as advertised and no matter how much hope we engage in, we cannot change reality. Example: if we know that nation-building has a low probability of changing a group of peoples’ attitude towards the U.S., let’s save the money and move along (Iraq and Afghanistan). We must act in our own national security interest! This may seem conceited, but if we engage in trying to make the world what we wish it were, we will likely be ambushed by that which it certainly is. We are not the teacher of some global kindergarten class in which our will can be imposed through idealistic efforts and frequent use of “time-out” (does that really even work in kindergarten anyway?). Instead, we must realize that we stand as the only remaining superpower in a world which largely believes that it no longer has a requirement for one.
Additionally, appeasing terrorists, tyrants, and despots is ineffective foreign policy (see: pre-WWII French and British policy towards Hitler—then “Google” The Holocaust). Furthermore, there is a reason we have a policy of not negotiating with terrorists because, if we did it once, we would be doing it all the time. And, lest we forget that having a Bill of Rights and individual liberty does make us better than everyone else! If we continue down the path of excusing inexcusable behavior and apologizing for our own global superiority, we will only perpetuate and encourage behavior like we are seeing once again throughout the Middle East. We mortgage our future for the unattainable goal of popularity, but must wake up to realize this is most certainly not a high school prom court; in reality, we live in a world riddled with danger where we stand as the biggest prize for those who wish to prove something.