Earlier this week I shared a guest post by John Fioravanti about the current administration’s policy of isolationism, to segregate the U.S. from its allies and downgrade our standing on the global stage. I asked if anybody else from outside the U.S. would be interested in writing a guest post to add perspective and add to the conversation. Our good friend Roger, aka Woebegone but Hopeful, eagerly took up the gauntlet and has written about his perspective of our current policy from the UK point of view. Many thanks to Roger for taking the time, for he is busily working on his latest book!
There was a fable which circulated in the old USSR in the 1980s.
Stalin, Khrushchev and the then leader Brezhnev are sitting in a train as it makes its way across the USSR. Suddenly the train lurches to a halt; after half-an-hour Stalin stands up and announces he will sort this out. He walks over to the front of the train where the driver and engineer are standing.
‘What is wrong comrades,’ he demands.
‘Comrade Stalin,’ the engineer says, ‘The machinery has broken, the part we need has not been available for months now and we’re trying to figure out what to do.’
‘Nonsense!’ storms Stalin. ‘Such a thing cannot happen in the Soviet Union,’ he points at the engineer. ‘You are spreading lies and are an enemy of the state,’ Stalin draws a gun and shoots the man dead, goes back to the carriage and sits down.
After another half-an-hour Khrushchev stands up and says he will sort it out, he walks to the front of the train, looks at the body and the terrified driver and asks what has happened. The driver nervously relates what Stalin did. Khrushchev looks at the body.
‘Ah,’ he says to the corpse. ‘You were a victim of ill-judged decisions. You, comrade, are pardoned of these crimes and reinstated,’ and returns to the carriage and sits down.
After another half-an-hour Brezhnev stands up and says, ‘I know. Let’s draw the shutters down on the windows and pretend the train is moving.’
It is in the nature of governments to place facts in the best light for them. We can also expect governments to make decisions which we personally do not like, and we are sure will be the wrong ones. This is nothing new. You can look back to the ‘Standard of Ur’ of 2600 BC (ish) which depicts the achievements of Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia.
Many are the regimes which have had their day, when they seemed unassailable, then they fell. Either because something they had not expected happened or through hubris were convinced of their own infallibility, or bitter internal divisions tore at their foundations and as we know a House Divided against itself cannot stand.
We ignore this oft repeated lesson of History at our peril.
Because there is no avoiding the forces which have shaped human activity throughout the ages. Before recorded time, reason dictates these forces were in action it’s simply that there were no recording systems.
Thus, we come to the present era of the early decades of the 21st Century and we examine just one nation: The United States of America. Contrary to some arguments the USA did not invent all the evils in the world, no more is the USA responsible for every destructive or violent action taking place. Currently, through the forces which history records, having survived the first great test of the Civil War of 1861-1865 and remaining united a nation rich in resources both natural and human, the USA was bound to have its time of grandeur and influence upon the World Stage. Exactly when this started is something for historians to have fun discussing, but for the sake of brevity let us say at the end of WWI when President Wilson endeavoured bring forth a vision of a world peace in which even small nations had their say. Since then, 1919 to date, there has been THE USA, nearly 100 years. In the scheme of things, not very long really. For example, the British, French and Spanish averaged 300 hundred years each before combinations of Wars, Economics and competing nations shoved them off their places on the stage.
In the latter half of the USA’s time the nation has experienced that heady mix of being the dominant power to whom all others looked for aid, in envy or in competition. If you took one part out of context, say from 1950 to 2010 almost unassailable, although as others before, suffering isolated humiliations and set-backs.
Now comes the testing era.
The time when the USA, as other nations before, is yet again riven with bitter divisions. The turbulence of groups feeling long marginalised looking for equality, set against them a minority who has long and jealousy guarded its ephemeral superiority frantically inventing its own brand of victimisation to justify its stance. The House is Divided. And as is the case when a nation is not united come the rivals. Which is always the case in history as one power weakens another seeking to secure its own boundaries will move in. So come the enigmas of China and Russia, the former a mystery which despite constant pressures over the centuries is never subsumed, the latter a brooding 500 year old nation ever suspicious of all who sees buffer states as a defence. They do not suffer the same depth of division and they see advantages, albeit ones with risks, but nothing in internal diplomacy comes easy.
There never are simple solutions. There never were.
Of course, in this situation the rational response would be for the nation to look to a strong leader, who with a degree of delicate ruthlessness would bring all the squabbling parties together with the message of co-operation. This has sometimes worked in the USA, but in such a young nation still heady with its staunch belief in the independence of the individual and suspicion of central government, this does not come easy and requires a leader of judgement, discernment and one who has steeped themselves in the history of their nation who understands the drives, the fears and the wishes. Not just of a few but of ALL.
Now any nation’s leadership with an ounce of perception is cautious and calculating of the World Stage. They realise a matrix whose complications and interactions allow even one small turbulent state to bring into its circumstances larger powers and cause their downfall. Ask the dead of 1914-1918. Any nations looking for long term prosperity and survival appreciate the worth of allies, agreements and also understandings with nations it does not really care for. It also needs to invest in the goodwill of smaller folk. For as the old showbiz saying goes ‘Be nice on the way up. You’ll never know who you’ll meet on the way down.’
To those who feel a pride in the part the USA played in the reconstruction of the world after WWII there would be a sense of justifiable unease should their nation withdraw from the World Stage. Such vacuums are not filled by large, powerful, esoteric, benevolent groups whose existence can only be imagined in novels. History teaches us only powerful and less than charitable forces are likely to move in. Ask folk of the Middle East about the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Then there is Trade. Never forget Trade. Many was the Empire forged on Trade and not force of arms (apart from imposing will on weaker folk). Trade is, whether any socialist likes it or not, vital to the World Stage.
So, The Internal, The External and The Responsible. All have come calling upon the folk and the leadership of the USA, whether you like it or not. For there is no escaping The World Stage, ask any Aztec or Polynesian.
And to repeat, there are no simple solutions. Ask any professional diplomat of long service.
However, what does the USA have? Through the quirks of its voting system forced through by the fears, the disillusionments and confusions of a mobilised minority led by their vain messianic or scurrilous venal captains. Why, it has a simplistic child of privileged background, whose experience is in the shallow end of the entertainment sector and the nebulous world of high-end property development. A fellow who can only bluster and bully, whose attention span is woefully insubstantial for the World Stage. A person who makes no attempt to unite the nation or negotiate, who can only rant and rage for the entertainment of his voter base. Someone who thinks the World will do as the staff of any of his transitory companies would have done. This person whose legacy will at best be an argument against the Electoral College and a source of employment for historians of the popular sort.
Unto you then, folk of the USA, has come another challenging time. To rid yourselves of this ill-balanced, untalented and deluded group who are not suited to the unchanging complexities of the world. Who have not even bothered to read the History of this World. Those whose petulance, self-aggrandisement and woeful lack of subtlety will only serve to damage the long- term status of the USA. These little folk who pull down the shutters and pretend their train is moving.