America faces a paradox when it comes to foreign policy. US domestic politics engender short-term, tactical thinking based on election cycles. Foreign policy, on the other hand, calls for a long-term strategic vision. Washington seems to view foreign policy as if it were short-term in nature. Perhaps this explains why our leaders are so obsessed with the cult of personality, focusing on Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Un, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Fidel Castro. This mindset plays well at home but hardly does justice to the complexity of international affairs.
We seem to act as if these leaders are so stupid or suicidal that they will attack anybody and everybody just for the fun of it. At least, that is what some in the Beltway would like us to believe to keep us on a perpetual war footing. It would be more prudent to try and understand the people, culture, and history of other countries and their rulers instead.
Americans have a long-standing romance with the notions of democracy, freedom, and human rights, and understandably so. However, our leaders have often used those ideals to justify our involvement in unnecessary wars. Washington is still stuck in a Cold War mindset. The world has been viewed as a chessboard—subject to the moves and dictates of the Beast, all in the name of democracy and liberty. Never mind the suffering that these interventions cause and the mayhem they leave behind, from the “collateral damage” abroad to the G.I.s returning home without limbs or with PTSD, or even committing suicide at record numbers, while taxpayers are stuck with the incalculable tab.
Our policy of using our enormous hard power as a component of our foreign policy has not shown much in terms of results. We tried and failed to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan in this century and Vietnam in the last. On the other hand, over 250 million people have received their freedom through non-violence—from the former Soviet Union to the Warsaw Pact countries to North Africa. The Soviet bloc came apart, Germany was reunified, and the Arab Spring swept through Egypt and Tunisia, all without the benefit of US arms or intervention.