Monday, September 05, 2016
Bilbo's Approach to Foreign Policy
Donald Trump's buffoonish approach to foreign policy is a somewhat natural outgrowth of the confused and shifting foreign policy both of our major parties have conducted for years, and the failure of our government to clearly communicate its foreign policy goals to American citizens, our friends, and our enemies. When "red lines" become pale pink lines and "lines drawn in the sand" are wavy rather than clear and straight, it becomes hard to take our leaders seriously. So let's get serious about the subject for a few minutes.
What is a realistic foreign policy for 21st century America? Back in September of 2008, I did a series of posts in which I proposed what I believed were reasonable policies for the country to follow in a range of areas. I've already reintroduced my proposal to reform our immigration policies; here is the next of ideas, this time focusing on a rational foreign policy ...
Current management philosophy says you have to have a "vision statement" that encapsulates your desired goal. The vision statement for my proposed foreign policy is simple: "A prosperous America within secure borders, enjoying peaceful relations with all nations." Starting from this vision, here are the planks of my foreign policy platform:
1. Put America's Interests First, but Always Take the Legitimate Interests and Concerns of Other Nations Into Account. American foreign policy should be made in Washington, not Pyongyang, Moscow, Tel Aviv, or anyplace else. But while our fundamental interests* need to drive our policy decisions, we should improve our international relations by accommodating the concerns of other nations whenever possible, and compromising where it can be done without damage to our own interests.
2. Lead by example. One of our biggest problems today is that our actions in the international theater do not match our rhetoric. For instance, we maintain an extralegal prison at Guantanamo while hectoring other nations about abuse of human rights. Yes, many of the people at Guantanamo are evil bastards who deserve whatever they get, or worse. But the fact remains that we appear hypocritical in the eyes of the rest of the world. "Do as I say, not as I do" is a pretty poor excuse for a policy.
3. Be a Reliable Friend and a Terrifying Enemy. Nations who wish us well and want to live in peace should know that America is always on their side, extending the hand of friendship. Those who don't should know that we can and will come calling and bring Hell with us.
4. Follow the Golden Rule. No one has ever improved on "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as a general rule of conduct. It applies in foreign affairs as much as in interpersonal relationships.
5. Call a Spade a Spade, Not a Pointy Shovel. This goes along with #1 above - if our conduct is above reproach, there's nothing wrong with excoriating those whose conduct isn't. If another country or ruler acts in an outrageous manner, don't issue bland statements that their conduct is "unhelpful" ... call them out for what they are.
6. Level With the American People. Americans are dumb, but they aren't stupid**. Our leaders have an obligation to explain our foreign policy to us in clear, understandable, and rational terms that tell us why we should risk our blood and treasure. Don't couch it in quasi-religious terms or messianic views of America's "unique" or "irreplaceable" role in the world. Level with us. Explain what you believe we should do and why. And pay attention to what we say back to you.
7. Focus Foreign Aid on Economic and Humanitarian Needs Before Military Ones. Most nations would benefit more from improvements in health, agriculture, and economic stability than from a bigger military which all too often turns its might inward. Severely restrict military aid in favor of "soft" aid.
8. Rely on Diplomacy to Resolve Problems Before Taking Military Action. We have the world's finest armed forces, and shouldn't be afraid to use them ... but we should use them only as a last resort. "Regime change" may be a desirable thing, but the people living under the regime ought to change it themselves, not expect us to impose it from outside.
9. Rethink All Existing Alliances and Scrap Those No Longer Needed. One of the things which fueled the rise of Putin's New Russia was the expansion of NATO after the fall of the Soviet Union. While this might have been useful from the perspective of former Soviet satellites, it aggravated Russia and bred grievances that have now come home to roost. George Washington, in his farewell address, warned against American involvement in "permanent alliances." We need more Georges with his wisdom and foresight. He was right in the 1700's and he's right today.
These are the planks of my foreign policy platform. What do you think? Your comments welcome.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
* And what are those, you might ask. I have some ideas on that, too. Watch future posts.
** Well, some are.