Giancarlo Elia Valori
A few days ago, in a conversation with one of the former protagonists of U.S. foreign policy, in response to my questions and considerations he replied that the second Iraq-U.S. war was an unnecessary disaster, partly balanced by improved relations with Israel and special attention paid to the petromonarchies of the Gulf. He admitted that he had not managed relations with Egypt in the best way, as the United States could have done after the so-called Arab springs, and that it was arguable that the United States never had a kind of relationship with Iran that was discreet enough to be sustainable.
In fact, the White House’s mistakes and desire to dominate, without regard to the other Parties is a traditional characteristic of U.S. foreign policy. Michael Mandelbaum, Professor at John Hopkins University, had already stated that the United States had lost in the world – a total failure since the end of the Cold War. The history of U.S. foreign policy can be roughly divided into four periods.
1) From the Presidency of George Washington (1789-1797) to the Spanish-American War (1898), U.S. foreign policy was still in its infancy, and the focus remained on the territory.
2) From 1898 to the end of World War II (1945), the United States began to move internationally, playing the role of a major power on the stage of World War I and World War II.
3) From 1945 to the end of the Soviet Union (1991), the United States became one of the two poles of the world, the helmsman of Western order and guardians of world scenario trends.
4) The fourth period started after the victory in the Cold War. In that phase, the United States stood at the height of international power, ignored its peers and subjects of international law, behaving as an apparent hegemonic power in the world, but its foreign policy at that time was rarely successful.
The biggest problem of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War was national security. It was necessary, at all times, to protect itself from the USSR’s penetration and influence and to strive to improve its military strength in view of ensuring world leadership. This entailed large-scale war production and huge profits for military industries.
After the Cold War, the United States used multiple means such as foreign policy, economic policy and armed intervention as a deterrent (see the Balkan War of 1999) to coerce and attract the attention of China and Russia (its traditional competitors) and later intervene in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For example, in the 1992 Presidential election, Bill Clinton proposed linking the treatment of the most favoured nation to China with the human rights situation. After being elected, he subsequently added Tibet, hoping to improve local human rights and promote change in China (obtusely seen as bound to end up like the USSR), when in fact the destabilisation of that region would have caused a global nuclear upheaval.
The success of the Cold War against a country and a system of production that by then had been reduced to a flicker, to support a defence that was at least a deterrent but never superior to the White House, gave the United States the illusion that Western systems and the free market were superior and universal and could be transposed into foreign countries where any idea/ideology not conforming to the American Way of Life was considered barbaric, backward and uncivilised (European welfare, healthcare, Communism, Socialism, Islam, traditional cultures, the Catholic religion, etc.).
In its own ‘manifest destiny’, the United States supported and provided for missionaries and needed to proactively spread the seeds of civilisation and promote reform in the so-called ‘backward’ and non-allied societies.
The United States overestimated the feasibility of replicating in other countries, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, what it had done by means of nuclear and non-nuclear bombs in Hitler’s Germany and in Imperial Japan, which are currently ‘Western’ models of liberalism.
Although they try successfully and not (see the coloured revolutions), through intelligence, to overthrow the dictator of the day – until yesterday a friend – the U.S. foreign policy think tanks lack knowledge of the social conditions persisting in a given country, not understanding that their own views are insufficient to impose a modern Western-style system, such as the social structure and the concept of the rule of law. When political wisdom is not mature, and ignorance prevails, obviously you go towards failure and peoples’ hatred.
Although the United States is among the best countries in terms of national strength, with its military and soft power, it is inevitably unable to fight multilaterally and at the same time transform a society – it deems backward – thousands of kilometres away.
In a place where the U.S. concepts of democracy and free market have never been known, let alone accepted, wanting to establish a system in their own image is virtually impossible.
And while U.S. military missions are successful (not forgetting, however, the bitter defeats in Korea and Vietnam), at the same time, in political terms, they have reassessed the strength of China and Russia in expanding their presence in certain geopolitical areas.
For example, the war in Syria – fomented to sabotage the Chinese “Silk Road” and damage Russian oil supplies to Europe – has strengthened Russia’s presence in the Mediterranean, and raised before Peoples the China’s traditional principles of anti-colonialism and political non-interference, which are gaining support from South America to Africa, from Europe to Asia.
Not for nothing, Prof. Mandelbaum himself said that rather than adopting violent means to promote the construction of a “Western-style” system in a distant country, it would be better for the United States to adopt cultural systems, values and further soft power to influence, provide assistance and create conditions for the transformation and attraction of Western models into other places for economic, practical and peaceful purposes aiming at peoples’ welfare, and not at establishing a “democratic” dictatorship disliked and hated by ordinary people.
According to the distinguished academic, the United States should act as guardians of international peace and ensure world order, by also ultimately resorting to the international courts of justice, rather than subverting the internal structure of individual countries it wants to change for its own interest relating to the last resources of the planet.
As long as there are advantages and not destruction for the peoples, they will not hesitate to be involved in the phases of change. The game of politics is that of great power, which regains hegemony through consensus and not through the imposition of bombers, the massacres of civilians, and Hollywood-style postcards.
Hence, with a view to avoiding further fiascos, U.S. foreign policy must shift to another phase. It must finally launch a fifth phase, but a peaceful one.
The U.S. website of “Foreign Policy” has recently published the article The United States Needs a New Strategic Mindset. The article criticises the United States for having formulated strategies based only on short-term interests in recent decades. This has resulted in many U.S. mistakes, including the post-9/11 war on terrorism.
According to its author, because the United States lacked a coherent and comprehensive strategic vision for a generation, it took countless short-sighted actions and faced many challenges to its national security and economic prosperity.
The author thinks that, since the end of the Cold War, the United States has paid dearly for its wrong strategy. After the implosion of the USSR, the United States desperately squandered enormous wealth and the lives of a large numbers of soldiers, using paranoia as the response to the terrorist threat.
The article reads as follows: “More recently, it has spent exorbitant sums on what it construes as “great-power competition”, but is really just the defense industrial complex’s same old graft with a different guise – all while its public institutions rot”.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France
President of International World Group