On 26 February 2005 in this blog (Political Oculist Needed) I wrote of the shortsightedness of US foreign policy. Now, seven years later, little has changed. If anything the affliction is worse. The malady transcends political parties with both Republican and Democrats guilty of the same misguided policies dictated by reactive rather than proactive foreign policy. This weakness is due to a great extent to a lack of understanding of the histories and cultures of other countries.
Both the American people and their government seemingly become aware of the rest of the world only when a crisis abroad arises. As geography is no longer in the curricula of most US schools, few people in the US know where the offending country in question is located. This then gives rise to what Zbigniew Brzezinski aptly describes in his recent book, “Strategic Vision”: “The cumulative effect of such widespread ignorance makes the public more susceptible to demagogically stimulated fear, especially when aroused by a terrorist attack. That, in turn, increases the probability of self-destructive foreign policy initiatives”. To wit: Afghanistan, Iraq and the current bogeyman of the US foreign policy establishment, Iran.
As inept as successive US governments have been and are, the responsibility for the disasters in US foreign policy comes down to the people, uneducated and uninterested in global affairs. In addition to the poor quality of scholastic education, the media and the news or rather lack of it, compound the problem. News channels’ coverage majors on celebrities and human-interest stories, not on substantive news, and hardly at all on international news. However, leaving aside the paucity of international news on TV channels, there is still a plethora of information on the Internet and probably no country has more such available than the United States. So, again, the lack of public knowledge of international affairs is, to a great extent, responsible for US foreign policy debacles. The result being that an ignorant American public can be led willy-nilly into ill advised foreign misadventures by the US government. Sadly too, European governments, hostage to the US economically and militarily, with few exceptions, docilely follow the US lead. When they or their electorate do object, as did Germany and France over the Iraqi invasion in 2003, they are mercilessly pilloried by US congress. As it turned out those Europeans were right and the US, wrong.
The US government, not having anticipated events is caught off balance and reacts without forethought, without considering the consequences of its actions, and usually with force rather than the diplomatic finesse of Great Britain or the patient self control of China. A proactive foreign policy based on an understanding of the dynamics of other cultures would more clearly foresee a looming crisis, and plan counter moves in advance, in the same way one would adopt moves in chess or the multi tasking Chinese board game, Weiqi.