Well his administration is a farsi, so…
I’ve come to the conclusion that the US has never, really, engaged in diplomacy. Ever. Diplomacy requires that both sides accept the essential legitimacy of each other’s self-interest, in order to build workable compromises that will give all parties something out of the deal. The US has never, ever, accepted that any other nation, anywhere, has any legitimate self interests, unless those interests are exactly aligned with ours. I am also increasingly convinced that pretty much every American political leader for the past half-century or more has believed, at a deep and fundamental level, that the USA is not like any other nation state in history, in that we are destined to be and always remain the most powerful nation on Earth, and has rejected, explicitly or implicitly, any suggestion that the USA could or should accept being just one of several very powerful nations that have to work with each other. We’ve come to define what we call our security in terms that effectively demand the insecurity of everyone else, and we take it as a God-given right to be unchallenged, everywhere, on everything.
In short, hubris on a scale never before seen. Even the Romans would have shied away from our level of arrogance.
I think there was diplomacy with the Soviets, because we couldn’t bully them around. I’d argue there is diplomacy with China these days.
But diplomacy generally requires something resembling parity in power.
It is pretty common that negotiation are between parties of unequal power, employer/employee, the plumber and you when a pipe has burst on weekend.
While I agree that hubris has been a fixture of US post WWII diplomacy. At times (e.g. the Marshall plan) the US has actually been pretty generous. I’d argue that except for the modest contribution by NATO members in Afghanistan, NATO was a much better “deal” for Europe than for the US.
So the US getting the better end of the deal on trade, intellectual property, and getting its way on when military force is used is payback for the role of the US “World Police”.
That said the hubris of this administration is mind boggling. It will almost certainly generate resentment and backlash.
A great portion of Trump supporters are weak old men, who are just substituting a juvenile sense of toughness in place of real strength.
But they are all weak, and afraid of almost everything.
I’m not saying that the USA hasn’t had a positive impact, at times, and even often. What I’m hypothesizing is that the USA never entered into any diplomacy or negotiations with the mindset of accepting a rough parity of power, or of accepting a rough parity of virtue. Instead, we’ve always believed, and acted on that belief, that we were not only the good guys, but that we were in effect the only good guys, ultimately, and that everyone else was not just potentially opposed to our interests at the time, but either fundamentally bad/evil, or subordinate/inconsequential.
Even when dealing with the Soviets, which I agree came the closest to what I would call diplomacy, it was always colored by our firm conviction not only that communism was teh debil (which I would definitely agree with, when you’re looking at the USSR at the time), but that in the end the USSR had no legitimate interests or right to exist; it was literally a crusader mindset. The Marshall Plan and other things that benefited us and Europe were a form of benevolent paternalism more than anything else; we did them out of a feeling that only we could do the job, not just because we had the resources (true) but because, in our minds, we were the only good, true, and righteous nation.
In short, I would argue (and this is just my semi-thought out hypothesis, mind you) that the USA has never accepted it’s role as just one of many powers, has never accepted the validity of competing ideologies in terms of their suitability for other peoples, and has always tried to force the world to do its bidding rather than to live within the world.
Didn’t Obama get into trouble for giving a qualified definition of American exceptionalism? Hubris in diplomacy plays very well with the US public.
I agree with your hypothesis on our actions, but many of us believe that the US isn’t just a Switzerland on steroids.
As the oldest democracy, I think our role is to promote democracy, self-rule, human rights. Now as it turns out that Democracy isn’t necessarily the best form of government for all countries and at all times. (It may be a couple of generations before Afghanistan has the cultural and institutional infrastructure to support democracy.) So no, I don’t think the USSR has legitimate right to exist, nor Iraq under Saddam, Syria under Assad, or the Kim regime. I don’t think we should apologize for not accommodating their ideology.
That doesn’t mean every country has to be the mini US, but it does mean that there needs to be some legitimacy to government, beyond seizing government control at gunpoint. So for instance, Iran has some modest amount of self-governance. China provides it is citizens improving economic conditions.
Not all crusades are bad. The world’s last superpower, Great Britain engaged in a 75-year crusade to end the slave trade. Britain flouted international laws, violated countries sovereignty and captured tried and executed their citizens. Small African kingdoms that thrived on the slave trade, suffered regime change. European powers and the US saw their ships seized on the high seas. Britain acted unilaterally and refused to acknowledge, thousands of years of tradition, economic forces, or any other excuse why slavery should exist.
Was Great Britain wrong to do this?
Reasonable points. Twenty years ago, I’d have agreed with you. But today? I think I have come to the conclusion that, if we have a duty to change the world, it’s only by example. And we’ve failed, miserably, at that. We promote democracy and human rights by…supporting regimes that ignore both. We preach an ends justifies the means approach to national behavior that is, in my opinion, toxic.
I agree with you that many governments around the world are not, in my estimation, what I would consider beneficial, or even legitimate, but that’s not a judgment I feel justified in enforcing on others. Ultimately, people are responsible for the government they get. When my friends say “Trump’s not my president!” I have to say, yeah, yeah he is, the same way Obama was Mr. Maga in Huntsville’s president. Our efforts at getting people to throw off their yokes of tyranny has a spotty track record, at best.
You ask was Britain wrong to wage it’s crusade against the slave trade. That’s a great question. One could say, no, but that it was a one-off sort of thing with truly international implications and that didn’t target any one particular nation. But in the end, yes, I’d say that the true cost of their efforts, not to mention the motivations, are a lot more ambiguous than you present. It was partly moral revulsion–fueled by domestic politics-- that motivated them, but it was also a desire to undermine American (and other nations’) dominance in the production of certain agricultural commodities. The British continued to act in the same racist, imperialist, and violent fashion towards non-Europeans even while they scoured the sees of the blackbirders. It’s hard to say as well how much impact their efforts had on American slavery; in the US, importation of slaves had been banned since 1808 anyhow.
I think overall you have to balance the particular gains of unilateral, arbitrary enforcement of ideology, no matter how “good,” with the broad consequences of erosion of sovereignty, imposition of external control, and the creation of conditions that breed the exact types of terrible governments and failed states your well-meaning actions were designed to, supposedly, prevent. In the end, it may well be better to let wretched governments find their own fates than it is to try to hurry them along. And in terms of non-nation state institutions like slavery, you have to consider the long term impact of what you do. Outlawing slavery in your own nation is not only a good option, it’s morally demanded. Crusading against the institution everywhere is something a bit different. The damage the British did to international law, the colonial domination of Africa that went hand in hand with the anti-slavery program, and the general assertion of unilateral power over much of the world had lasting consequences that, to be blunt, may well outweigh the actual impact of their anti-slave trading efforts.
Yeah, if the role of the US is to promote democracy, you guys have historically done a pretty poor job at it.
@Thewombat that’s an interesting point of view on American exceptionalism. I think I agree with it. My question is to whether any other country is significantly different in terms of only seeking self interest (and whether any other superpower has ever behaved differently in terms of engaging in external crusades to shape the world according to their needs).
Yeah, this is an interesting aspect of it. I think there are different approaches people can take. I do think every country pursues its self interest. That’s the raison d’etre of a nation state, after all. What intrigues me is how that self-interest is contextualized, or framed. Traditionally, self interest is framed in a sort of pragmatic way, with each actor understanding and accepting that each other actor is looking out for themselves, and with the understanding that no one will get everything they want, all the time. There is, I would argue, an acceptance of give and take. It doesn’t keep nations from trying to get as much as possible, but when they don’t, that too is part of the accepted norm.
Where the USA has been different, I would argue, is in not framing diplomacy this way. To me, we’ve framed our relations with other states not as a group of actors looking out for themselves, who are fundamentally equivalent but each obligated naturally to do what is best for their interests, but rather as two sides to a deontological moral divide, with us on the side of the angels and, well, everyone else either tarred with various shades of the devil, or acting as our surrogates in pursuit of our One True Goal.
I mean, even the British Empire, as arrogant and arbitrary as it was, didn’t necessarily view the other great powers it contested with as morally illegitimate or inherently wrong (cultural biases aside); the British simply saw them as obstacles to their imperial interests, the same way the French or the Russians or what not saw the British as obstacles to their goals.
As for superpowers, the USSR arguably approached things similarly to how we did, though without the ability to actually make as much happen. In the last few decades of the communist empire, though, I’d argue they reverted to much more typical international norms, once the fervor of Leninism/Stalinism had run its course. Beyond that, though, the other superpowers have been I guess empires of the past. I’m not really much of an ancient historian type, so perhaps there are things from way back when that might fit what we’re talking about. I have a hard time though equating ancient empires with a modern superpower, though perhaps the Romans come close.
You forgot to use the Boomer word and you missed the racist part. Let’s get this right next time.
Maybe they will all die by 2020. I am sure nobody would mind.
Not all boomers… And actually, it’s more the silent generation which is universally supporting Trump. And yes, they are all racists.
Has any country with privilege ignored said privilege? I doubt it. You don’t remain important in the world by ignoring it. Every country with the ability to shape the world has tried to do just that.
You could argue that until the end of WW2 (or perhaps the start of the Cold War) the US never tried to exert it’s influence very much, and it never wanted to. Sure, the Panama Canal and Spanish American War could be argued as attempts but they were pretty limited. Maybe the Mexican War. But those were more capitalist acts of Imperialism than attempts to shape anything.
What is the silent generation?
Basically the generation between the greatest generation and the boomers. Folks who were too young to serve in WWII.
People too old to be boomers but too young to be Greatest Generation, roughly born 1926-1945
That was pretty silent all right.
So someone else to scapegoat for Trump beating Hillary.