Is there a role for reality in U.S. foreign policy?

While the war in the Levant continues apace, Americans ought to focus for a moment on the near-pathetic ignorance of the bipartisan governing elite that directs their nation’s foreign policy. This vacuity was again highlighted last week by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Party chief Howard Dean. Sen. Schumer boycotted Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s address to Congress, and Mr. Dean described Maliki as an anti-Semite. Why? Well, because Maliki had damned Israel’s activities in Lebanon but failed to condemn Hezbollah’s actions.

Now it is no surprise that the Democrats Schumer and Dean — along with President Bush, Sen. McCain, and most Republicans — would side with Israel no matter what the cost to U.S. interests, lives, and society (witness events in Seattle). That is the venal and security-sapping given of contemporary American politics. No, the surprise is that any educated American could have anticipated any other judgment from Prime Minister Maliki. To the great dismay of our bipartisan, democracy-pushing political paragons, the democratically elected leader of Iraq merely stated the obvious: Iraqis regard Israel as an illegitimate, colonizing, land-and-water thieving state that routinely murders large numbers of Muslim men, women, and children. The hard but obvious reality is that Maliki was speaking for his constituents, and, to be honest, for most of the Muslim world.

Is Maliki right or wrong? For Americans, that is the wrong question, and, in any event, the answer will eventually be decided on the battlefield of a war that is — to say the least — peripheral to U.S. national security interests. What should be of interest to Americans is that their political leaders in both parties expected to create a successor government to Saddam’s in Muslim Iraq that would not be Israel’s foe. If Saddam spoke for Iraqis on any issue, it was on Israel. An expectation that Maliki would deviate from that foreign-policy orientation could only have been hatched in the muddled minds of those in the executive branch who promised a cakewalk, casualty-free war, and the subservient Congress that eagerly went along for the democracy-installing ride.

When Woodrow Wilson injected the toxic concept of self-determination into international politics, he believed that the product of the self-determination process would always be benign: Nifty little democratic governments that would protect the lives and rights of their citizens and live in peace with one another. Instead, it has produced nearly a century of unrelenting bloodletting.

Reality was never Wilson’s strong suit, and his successors are no closer to reality. While it is commonplace to say that today’s neoconservatives are Wilsonian in their policies, analysis, and expectations, it is truer to say that Wilsonianism is the common view of America’s governing elites — thus we find Schumer, Dean, Bush, and McCain on the same team of addled politicians. To be blunt, America’s democracy is not an exportable commodity; it is unique to the United States and the product of 800 years of heroes and villains, war and civil war, racial strife and racial reconciliation, and foolishness and common sense. As the Founders knew, it is grounded in Britain’s political experience, Scottish commonsense philosophy, British common law, Calvinist Protestant Christianity, and the absolute requirement of an educated populace to evaluate — and when necessary check — the policies, ambitions, and greed of elected officials. Parenthetically, the failure of Americans to rise up to scorn and terminate the Bush administration’s (Democrat-supported) plans to install American-style democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq suggests the country may be wanting in the Founders’ educated-populace category.

To condemn Prime Minister Maliki for being anti-Israeli is, in essence, to reject the way that democracy and self-determination have so far worked out in Iraq. Indeed, America’s bipartisan democracy-mongers have made a consistent habit of rejecting or ignoring the results of all the “democratic” elections that have been held since 2000 in the Middle East. Each vote has yielded results that reflect the overwhelmingly anti-Israeli views of Muslim electorates, either by producing actual governments — Iraq and Palestine — or the marked political advance of Islamists in Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. That our leaders are surprised by these results can be explained by one of only two factors: their surprise is feigned and therefore deceitful, or they are ignorant of the history of both America and the Middle East.

Last week’s condemnation of Maliki reveals with stark clarity that the Muslim world remains terra incognita for U.S. governing elites. Nearly 60 years after President Truman recognized the state of Israel to win the domestic pro-Israel vote for the then cash-strapped and vote-needy Democrats, Schumer and Dean have stayed true to that cynical mission, a mission the Republicans have also signed on to heart and soul. More important, the failure of America’s elites to see that no genuine U.S. national interests are at stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict and that our model of democracy has little or no relevance in the Islamic world except — as the Founders foresaw — as a symbol, has put Americans in harm’s way at home and abroad. Indeed, their reality-free foreign policy has made America a target for the hatred of increasing numbers of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims.


Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.