Diary

The most awesomest thing you will read all day

Dang.

With President Obama having concluded his trip through one of the fastest-dying regions of the planet, complete with literal prostrations to a symbolic Emperor and metaphorical prostrations to an Emperor in all but name, this is as good a time as any to ask whether his Administration has developed a coherent foreign policy grand strategy yet. The evidence, to date, suggests that Obama foreign policy is like Obama campaign promises: destined to be realized in some shadowy future likely – but not certain – to come, yet already awarded rich accolades merely for promise.The usual people who don’t understand foreign policy – which is to say, the sorts of people who are well-received, if not employed, by the State Department (which hasn’t understood foreign policy since Kissinger, or perhaps Dulles) – are of course charmed by the President’s playacting on the global stage. This is probably because the kabuki-dance of Metternichian diplomacy, though likely to allow untold millions to die of starvation, rape, genocide, torture, ethnic cleansing, and imprisonment, is more visually appealing than war and open conflict – not least because all of that starvation, rape, genocide, torture, ethnic cleansing, and imprisonment tends to happen in countries that don’t allow cameras near the atrocities.This terrible conflation of form over substance elides the fact that Baron von Metternich developed the balance of power system he did to avoid a repeat of the devastation of Napoleon, and that ultimately, that very system of diplomatic communiqués, bows, negotiations, dinners, and playacting not only failed to avert the First World War, it positively accelerated and worsened the Second. In other words, the modern system is a shell of a remnant of a means of preventing a disaster that has long-since passed, and that failed miserably both times it was really well-tested. It is, in short, a system intended to devolve larger conflicts into smaller, more manageable ones, and is instead a method for preventing small conflicts by accumulating them into larger ones. Perversely, the whole, nominal point of the modern system of international diplomacy is to provide channels through which substantive foreign policy – that is, the real goals and desires of nations and nation-states – can flow without having more wars than necessary. Its loveliness should be secondary to its effectiveness. Applauding what President Obama has delivered – a foreign policy with better aesthetics than President Bush’s, without President Bush’s substance – is like wanting a faster car always stuck in the driveway: There’s no point if it’s not going anywhere.

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