A few years ago I started a topic in Army.ca entitled “Grand Strategy for a Divided America.” The topic title referred to an article from Foreign Affairs of the same name by Charles A. Kupchan and Peter L. Trubowitz ~ it is reproduced, in full, in the Army.ca thread.
One of the main problems facing us, in the US led West, is US leadership.
In my opinion the United States lost it’s strategic direction in about 1960, when John F Kennedy began, in Vietnam, to experiment with the exercise of power rather than focusing America;s strengths on promoting and protecting America’s vital interests.
None of the succeeding presidents, from Lyndon Johnson through to Barack Obama has managed to find the right direction since. America has become rather like a lumbering, blind, Russian bear ~ crashing into things, doing real damage but not, in the end, providing for itself. Viet Nam and everything after it has been a string of humiliations ~ including the “victory” in Grenada in which there were more “honours and awards” than GIs in the actual invasion force!
There are so many problems in America that it is hard to know where to begin, but: the notion of Special Providence is a good place to start. In a book of that title, Walter Russell Mead provided an overview of US foreign policy over the past 200 years but he also noted that many, probably most Americans actually believe that America is somehow different than Rome of Spain or Britain and that John Winthrop’s notion (1630) of the “city on a hill” still resonates, as more than just rhetoric, with most Americans. The problem is that if, when one comes to believe that some national or socio-political enterprise is, somehow, ordained by one’s god, then fundamentalism and fanaticism are not too far behind. By and large most Brits were able to see the irony in this …
But, in the 1920s and ’30s, not enough Germans could see that this was just jingoistic hyperbole …
.. until after it had morphed into this Auswitz.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that America has some sort of neo-Nazi sub-culture (not one that matters, anyway) but I am suggesting that faith-based societies can go badly awry.
The big problem I see in 21st century America is polarization. The “bases” of both the Democratic and Republican parties seem, to me, to have been “captured” by (relative) extremists. It is a very, very long way from the (Truman and Eisenhower) era of relatively bipartisan views on most major economic, foreign and defence policy issues to what we have today.
Democrats and Republicans are no longer “competing”in a free market of ideas and policies and platforms. Now each wants to do more than just win an election, each wants to destroy the other, each feels compelled, by faith, to make America its version of the “city on the hill.” I described this, in my latest post in that thread on Army.ca, as a problem of “activists.” These activists, in my opinion, have been, since about 1960, subverting American foreign policy to make it serve US domestic, partisan, political objectives … the blame must be shared equally by the left and the right, by Democrats and Republicans, by liberals and conservatives.
America’s allies and clients (and Canada can be numbered amongst both) need to be cognizant of the fact that US foreign policy might be, often is, operating contrary to the best interests of the West, of the allies and of America itself. When we understand that, when we recognize that the “leader” is blind, then we can better understand what courses of action we are being asked to embark upon.