Thursday, June 27, 2024 #59

 American isolationism has long been a reverberating theme in American foreign policy. In his 2020 essay in The Atlantic, Isolationism is not a dirty word, Charles A. Kupchan writes:

Isolationism once cleared the way for America’s ascent, making the country prosperous, powerful, and secure. Today, however, the Founders’ admonition against entangling alliances has fallen into disrepute and the word isolationist itself has become an insult. In the absence of constraints on the nation’s ambition abroad, American grand strategy has fallen prey to overstretch and grown political insolvent. The nation now confronts a seemingly unlimited array of foreign entanglements, two decades of errant war in the Middle East, and a pandemic that is causing an economic debacle of a sort not experienced since the Great Depression. The United States needs to rediscover the history of isolationism and apply its lessons, shrinking its footprint abroad and bringing its foreign commitments back into line with its means and purposes.

Written some four years ago at the peak of the COVID pandemic, Kupchan’s words warrant a revisit. Now in the vortex of active and muscular engagements in both the war between Israel and Hamas, following the October 7 invasion of Israel by Hamas, and in the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia, now extending past the two-year mark, with no end in sight, the Biden administration has made and fulfilled commitments of both arms and humanitarian assistance to both theatres. At home, opinion is divided over both ‘entanglements’ to the extent that some observers contend that the presidential election could hinge on shifting vote patterns from an historic and unyielding cohesion with Israel to a shift in favour of the Palestinians, especially given the brutality and insensitivity of the Israeli IDF’s slaughter of women and children in Gaza. As for the Ukraine-Russia debacle, Republicans, under their apostate leader, trump, support for Ukraine as the defender of democracy for both NATO and the ‘world order’ of the last seventy-plus years has slipped and verges on termination, especially should trump win in November.

Lurking over the south-eastern horizon, too, is the spectre of an invasion of Taiwan by Beijing, in anticipation of which the U.S. is actively engaged in military maneuvers in the South China Sea, bringing China’s ships and planes in ever-increasing proximity to American battleships and military jets. And with the very recent arms deal between North Korea and Putin, South Korea is considering a shift in its policy to including sending military equipment to Ukraine, and not only humanitarian assistance. Iran, too, is fomenting turbulence on the northern border of Israel with Jordan, through its other proxy terrorist cell, Hezbollah, thereby portending protracted military, cyber and national security engagement of Israel, and by both commitment and necessity, engaging the U.S. in further Middle East complications.

NATO, itself, having scrambled to ‘unite’ to the degree it has, in order to support and help to defend Ukraine against the Russian provocation, based on Putin’s unsustainable lie of ridding Ukraine of Fascism, and having been led by the U.S. to ante up considerable military and humanitarian aid, nevertheless faces a conundrum. Hungary, Turkey, both NATO members, have signalled what Othello’s Desdemona described as a ‘divided loyalty’ in restraining NATO’s embrace of Sweden and Finland, while also maintaining ‘friendly’ relations with the Kremlin. And while focusing on military support, including the original commitment of 2% of GDP for defense spending by all members, NATO next formal meeting will take place in Washington from July 9-11.

Writing in The Conversation, June 26, 2024, Alexander Gilder, University of Reading, observes:

Ahead of the summit on July 9-11, there has been increased Russian intelligence activity across NATO member states. The Dutch National Security Agency warned that it is possible Russia has orchestrated various arson and sabotage attacks in the U.K. Poland Sweden and Germany….In the U.K. the National Security Act 2023 has been used for the first time to charge a man with assisting a foreign intelligence service following his arson attack on Ukrainian businesses on March 20. This is just part of a pattern of sabotage activities across Europe with planned attacks on US military bases in Germany thwarted, railway derailments in Sweden and the recruitment of citizens and criminal networks in Estonia and Lithuania to attack government and opposition figures…..Now the critical question is how the upcoming Washington summit will shape NATO’s approach to tackling Kremlin-backed sabotage and whether the membership will decide to back Ukraine with further support. For much of the 21st century, NATO has focused on activities such as peacekeeping, training, logistics, and humanitarian relief rather than combat. Many of NATO activities have also been based outside the Euro-Atlantic region (Europe, south Asia and the Middle East) such as the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and cooperation with the African Union. The threat posed by Russia in Europe present a very different challenge.

The word isolation in the American lexicon has been twinned to the American ‘hard power’ of military supremacy. Armaments, including guns, missiles, bombs, and more recently drones and high-powered jets and bombers have for decades been the signature of the American preeminence in foreign relationships. Being ‘strong at home’ as a symbol of power has permitted inordinate influence to follow American engagements in different conflicts, whether that power was deployed or merely threatened, withheld or delivered in support of an ally.

As George W. Bush once famously declared, “I don’t do nuance!” Neither, unfortunately, does America “do nuance”. Bold, dazzling, headline-dedicated, and reputation-blazing actions, imitating Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille and the ‘exceptionalism’ of supremacy are not the stuff of countering sabotage initiatives that would, by design, demonstrate the mythic David (Russia) against the mythic Goliath (United States).

Wreaking havoc, as opposed to conducting high-powered bombings, dronings, missiles on the battlefield, in the air, and on/under the sea is a seemingly counter-intuitive, yet poisoning, approach from Russia, to what seems as if it will be a very extensive, complex, and wearing-down of NATO patience, sacrifice, support and unity.

Isolationism, however, remains cuddled in the propaganda lexicon of the Republican Party, (in a 180 turnaround from their own history), nurtured by the far right wingnuts, led by trump and his Speaker of the House, Johnson. And the subtlety and creativity that are demonstrably needed, from NATO, led by the United States, to acknowledge the apparent flexibility (is this an open admission of Russia’s blatant exhaustion of military materiel and manpower?) of the Russian ‘bear’ could well be severely challenged.

Appearing in the moment as a nation whose “mind” is so divided that the two political “poles” do not acknowledge, recognize, or even perceive the other as existing and certainly not relevant, poses not only an internal political problem, the resolution of which will undoubtedly not emerge from the results of the November election. It poses an even more critical problem for NATO, and by implication, for the Western world.

Those in the United States who cling to the isolationism mantra, while attempting to defend their position with the mascara of fiscal responsibility and fending off toxic and cancerous and criminal immigrants and refugees, nevertheless, have to face many current impending crises, none of which can or will be confronted. mediated, collaboratively addressed, nor negotiated into manageable measures. In each and every intersection of the interests (legitimate or not) of another member of the world of nations with another member’s interests (also legitimate or not), the United States has an overt and/or an implicit interest. And, to put it bluntly, the world cannot afford to contemplate any ameliorating initiatives on geopolitical crises, without America’s full participation, even though such participation brings the prospect of both hope and tragedy.

It is this global conundrum, framed in the words of the zero-sum game, either-or…”If I win, you have to lose,” mentality which has currently seized the throat and the mind and heart and the soul of the American identity. The shadow of the political polarity within the United States extends, almost involuntarily and inexorably, around the globe.

Recalling Lincoln’s words:

A nation divided against itself cannot stand…I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free….I do not expect the Union to be dissolved-I do not expect the house to fall-but I do expect it will cease to be divided..It will become all one thing or all the other…

….applied to the current political and existential crisis of this nation currently experiencing what in psychological and therapeutic perspectives, would be dubbed a ‘break-down’ …there is a very credible, commendable and sustainable argument that, today, this ‘divide’ has deep and frightening implications for every single person on the planet.

A divided United States of America cannot survive; and the world attempting to work with and through its many entanglements, cannot and will not survive without a united, fully cognizant, fully committed and fully and willingly participating United States. The American experiment in democracy, currently stumbling in the swamp of micro-managed legalistic, technical, perfectionistic and balkanized language, perceptions, attitudes and beliefs, has to come face to face with its own dysfunction. And, without diving into a either a morass of self-indulgent shame and pity, nor falling unconscious into full denial of its own self-sabotage, nor, in the stereotypical masculine refusal of honourable, integrous and altruistic help and clarity, from outside, hide behind the mask of ‘the greatest nation on earth’. It never was worthy of that self-declared expectation on its ‘national ego’…and if and when it climbs down from such unsustainable expectations, and begins to listen to the rest of the world, and adjusts to a more modest, moderate and achievable standard and rhetoric, the world will welcome her into the vortex which American has so conspicuously and copiously contributed.

It is not only NATO that awaits a re-birthed America. We all do!


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