As I explained in a previous post, foreign policy was one of the top reasons that I voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It was also the reason why I broke with him so early on in his administration.
At the time, “America First” sounded like a breath of fresh air. The fact that Donald Trump humiliated Jeb Bush and so strongly repudiated the legacy of George W. Bush and wanted to create a new relationship with Russia and to get out of the “endless wars” in the Middle East seemed promising. It helped his case that he alienated the neocons. It was enough to get me to swallow the package deal – the warmongering against Iran, the promises to “rebuild our military,” the Zionism which made me cringe – which I never supported. Ultimately, I was able to convince myself that voting for Trump was a step forward.
Most Americans don’t care about foreign policy or know much about the world. They don’t prioritize foreign policy over domestic policy. It is something that elites in Washington do. The elites prioritize foreign policy over domestic policy because the United States is the seat of a dollar-based global empire. For our ruling class, maintaining the American Empire and its “credibility” and “standing” in the world takes precedence over every other consideration. It is why we spend well over a trillion dollars a year on the “Department of Defense” and various other parts of the budget under other agencies like foreign aid and veteran’s health care and maintaining the nuclear stockpile. It is why our trade policy is subordinated to our foreign policy to bind our “allies” to the imperial metropole. It is why we embraced “antiracism” because our “racist” image was being exploited in the Third World by the Soviet Union. It is why we built this massive surveillance state to spy on Americans and police dissent at home and abroad. It is why we have a zombie economy and our rotted out cities because capital and production have shifted abroad to exploit low wage workers. It is one of the major driving forces of our political division between those who benefit from the empire and those who pay the price for it. It is why our elites feel so threatened by nationalism and populism and why they are so cosmopolitan and globalist in their outlook.
It all “circles back” to the foreign policy establishment and their overarching commitment to imperialism and militarism and maintaining American global hegemony: the 20 year occupation of Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden left the country, the Iraq War, the rise of China, the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), etc. The biggest issues of our times have largely been their doing and the consequences of their misguided policies and assumptions. Would Europe have been inundated with refugees were it not for their meddling in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan? Would thousands of Americans be dying of drug overdoses and committing suicide if they could find stable employment in all their little dying towns?
This video from the belly of the beast – the Council on Foreign Relations – has a helpful glossary of terms.
Isolationism – a scare word created by liberals for America’s traditional foreign policy which is having no strategic commitments beyond North America
Internationalism – a willingness to extend America’s strategic commitments beyond North America which is the doctrine the foreign policy establishment has been committed to since World War II
Unilateralism – a preference for America having a free hand to act on its own rather than in concert with other nations
American Exceptionalism 1.0 (Prior to 1898)
Now called “fascism” and “far right domestic extremism” by the national security state, the original version of American exceptionalism guided American foreign policy until the Spanish-American War.
Geographic Exceptionalism – America is surrounded by two vast oceans and two weaker neighbors and our unique geographical position provides us with natural security
Unilateralist Exceptionalism – America shouldn’t tie itself to other great powers in order to have complete liberty in statecraft
Libertarian Exceptionalism – The fear that engagement abroad would compromise liberty and prosperity at home and would lead to standing armies and a concentration and centralization of power that would corrupt America’s experiment in republican government
Racist Exceptionalism – The United States was populated by exceptional people, namely White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and that imperialism abroad would corrupt and dilute our racial and cultural character and therefore was undesirable
Pacifist Exceptionalism – The U.S. is an enlightened nation that is blazing a new path in the world and and our foreign policy should be based on our republican principles instead of cynical European realpolitik and Great Power competition
Here are some other important terms:
Imperialism – the domination of weaker states by stronger states and specifically wielding arbitrary power over them
Expansionism – the organic growth of the Republic by seizing sparsely populated, adjacent territory which was populated by Americans and incorporated into the Union as new states.
Imperialism is what happened in the Philippines and Iraq and Afghanistan. Expansionism is what happened when, say, Alabama or Nebraska was admitted to the Union.