Friday, February 8, 2013

George Packer, Hillary Clinton and Prestige

Writing in this week's  New Yorker , George Packer describes Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State as valiant but doomed in her efforts to sustain an effort to mold a foreign policy which would return the United States to international "respectability" and to restore America's "standing" and "prestige" and "presence" in the international community, among the nations of the world. 

"Obama and Clinton wanted to 'pivot' away from the Middle East, toward the Pacific, but a bloody hand keeps reaching out to pull America back.  Sixty thousand people have died in Syria's civil war, Egypt is on the brink of state collapse, and the region is moving toward Sunni-Shiite confrontation. These are not problems that can be addressed by drone strikes and fitful diplomacy."

As if...As if America could or even if it could, should attempt to do anything about Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Tunisia or Libya. Good Heavens, man, have you not heard of a little country called Vietnam?

Or how about Afghanistan?  Does the word "quagmire" mean anything to you?

Now Mad Dog is a longtime fan of Mr. Packer, who is usually well informed, analytical, thoughtful and astute. But this is the sort of tripe which gives liberalism a bad name. 

Mad Dog grew up going to school with the sons and daughters of foreign service officers, and he knew many people who served bravely and tenaciously in the Foreign Service for many years.  Having had these friends, he wonders where Mr. Packer gets his idea of what diplomacy is capable of doing. 

If you lose your passport traveling overseas, you need an American consulate. If you get thrown in jail, you need some American diplomat to help try to get you freed. If an American company wants to sell stuff overseas, American diplomats and government employees from other departments and agencies may be able to help you. 

But restoring "prestige?" As soon as you see that word, your antennae ought to shoot up and the needle on your bull detector should gyrate wildly. 

Apparently, Mr. Packer has read a book by Mr. Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and Mr. Packer has been much impressed.

Anyone who wants to become dis enthralled with the possibilities of diplomacy and power need only tune into any  News Hour interview on Youtube and plug in "Henry Kissinger" or" Zignew  Bryshenski" and you will hear the ultimate in Chauncey Gardner (Being There) in pseudo wisdom, baso profundo, coming at you. Or, if you really want a very sad version of this, where the speaker is not even aware she is in deep doodoo, plug in "Jean Kirkpatrick," and pick a date toward the end of her life, when she was in the firm grip of Alzheimer's, but still appearing on the Sunday morning news shows intoning deep thoughts like, "The American government must proceed cautiously and judiciously, ever aware of the many ramifications and far ranging implications of any precipitate action," with gray heads all around the table nodding sagely in agreement with these pearls.

The fact is, this is not rocket science or even medical science; nobody knows anything among the foreign policy pundits. Pundits in this arena simply describe a world as they would like to imagine it, usually a world which has a place for themselves as the trusted adviser to the king or president, and that becomes "fact" for them. Kissinger was the most obvious example, a man who created a persona and milked that phony wisdom for all it was worth.

The fact is, power grows out of two related things in this world: The barrel of a gun and the economy which can produce guns.  No nation's leadership embraces or respects the United States out of love or admiration--not even, especially not the United Kingdom. Poor nations look to the United States as the rich uncle who never hands out enough money. Rich nations look at the U.S. as a competitor,  and hostile nations look at the U.S. of A as the great Satan.

The best thing the United States can do overseas is to get out and mind our own economy. Get those troops home, and close those bases and withdraw our Navy, at least the surface ships.  Come home and grow our civilian economy and stop fighting endless war.

The reason the United States was able to help win the war against Hitler, which was mostly won by Stalin and the Red Army, was we were in a position to build 15,000 airplanes a month, a number Hitler refused to believe, but we helped Britain first, and then on our own we filled the skies over Germany with bomb droppers. 

Now we have drones and that is what makes a difference to Al Qaeda. 

We can worry about what happens when Al Qaeda gets drone technology.

But to say Hillary Clinton could have made a difference in the world, if only President Obama had allowed her to do this is to betray an infantile credulity unworthy of an estimable author writing in a  high quality magazine whose editors should have known better.

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