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Sad evidence of 25 Years of failed foreign policy

It may be hard for some to remember, but only 26 years ago last December 31st, the Cold War ended with the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, concluding a conflict that formally began in 1946 with the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine, but the roots of which extended all the way back to 1917.

Throughout much of that century-long conflict, the U.S. was a reluctant participant, from our failure to join the League of Nations in 1919, to the burden-sharing debates of the late 1960s and 1970s, to the Nixon Doctrine precipitated by our disastrous intervention in Vietnam.

Even U.S. entry into World War II required the prompting stupidity of German and Japan to overcome the "America First" inclinations of many if not most Americans, inclinations echoed today by libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, and reflexive nationalists like President Donald Trump.

So it's more than a little jarring this week to read headlines like "[Chinese President] Xi Jinping's promotion signals a cold war with China," and '[Sen.] Mark Warner Warns of New Cold War With Russia." How have we managed so quickly to resurrect a contest whose welcomed conclusion one distinguished American political scientist heralded as the "End of History?"

At least part of the answer can be found in the new National Defense Strategy's assertion that "The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers" ó specifically Russia and China."

What does that mean, precisely? According to the NSS, "China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor. Russia seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders."

Revisionism, in short, describes those two nation's increasing willingness and ability to challenge what they see as U.S. efforts to dominate the international order and, in particular, to enforce what we consider to be acceptable domestic sociopolitical arrangements on other states.

Considering the events of the past twenty-five years and not just those of the past five, an unbiased observer would be hard-pressed to challenge that perception. During those years, the U.S. has invaded or otherwise intervened militarily in more than a dozen countries from southeast Europe to the western Pacific.

In the process, exploiting what pundit Charles Krauthammer notoriously called our "unipolar moment," we repeatedly ignored or dismissed the objections not only of Russia and China, but even of our own allies, never mind circumventing or otherwise discounting the obligations of a U.N. Charter for which we ourselves largely were responsible. 

In the circumstances, that not only Russia and China but also second and third tier nations such as Iran and North Korea might take steps to immunize themselves against what they see as aggressive U.S. intentions is in no way surprising, even discounting the inevitable international military and economic leveling that journalist Fareed Zakaria described as "The rise of the rest." 

In short, if we are indeed engaged or about to engage in a new Cold War, it's important to distinguish it from its predecessor. America engaged in the last Cold War with a fundamentally defensive objective, seeking to combat what we and our allies perceived as a militant ideological threat, mounted by nations whose revolutionary ambitions they themselves explicitly declared.

A new Cold War will see the shoe on the other foot, with our presumptive foes seeking the military wherewithal to defend against what they perceive as a reckless and dangerous ideological threat to their own geostrategic interests, this at a time when the domestic political arrangements of the U.S. and our allies themselves are increasingly in crisis.

As was true of the first Cold War, but even more dangerously given today's information technology, a new Cold War in these circumstances promises to generate intensifying reciprocal suspicions and the inevitable multi-sided arms race those suspicions already have begun to feed. It's a loser's game for all concerned, but once begun, very hard to end.

Someday, assuming that someone survives to write about it, historians will scratch their heads trying to understand how what seemed in 1991 to herald a bright new era of global peace and prosperity reverted in only a quarter-century to the very same antagonisms that preceded it. When they do, they are likely to hold at least partly responsible an American foreign policy that repeatedly substituted hubris for prudence. 

A prudent America, President John Quincy Adams declared in June 1813, "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." He was right then and would be even more right today. We have more than enough monsters ó real and imagined ó to deal with right here at home.

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