US Foreign Policy and the Cult
Americans want our rulers to mind
their own business abroad - and good luck with that!
by Justin Raimondo
December 07, 2009
The news that Americans want the U.S.
government to mind its own business when it comes to foreign affairs
has our Washington elite in a panic. The explanatory notes accompanying
a new Pew poll describe the "rise in isolationist sentiment"
that started during George W. Bush's second term and continues
in the age of Obama. The agonized hand-wringing is all too apparent
in the use of the "isolationist" epithet and even in
the way the question was asked: should the U.S. "mind its
own business internationally and let other countries get along
the best they can on their own"? Forty-nine percent - the
highest proportion "in nearly half a century of polling"
- answered yes. And that's not all: a gob-smacking 76 percent
agreed the U.S. should "concentrate more on our own national
problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home,"
as opposed to "think[ing] in international terms."
The poll took samples from two groups:
common, ordinary, everyday people (i.e., you and me) and members
of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite group of foreign
policy-oriented intellectuals, policy wonks, and high muckamucks.
The elite group disagreed sharply with the general public's view
on virtually every important question: for example, none of the
CFR members thought we should mind our own business - a policy
that would go against the group's history and orientation, which
has always been pronouncedly interventionist.
Founded by disciples of Cecil Rhodes,
who sought to reestablish the fading glory of the British empire
by using the U.S. as Britain's cat's-paw, the CFR doesn't just
represent the views of the American Establishment - it is the
Establishment. And that Establishment is committed irrevocably
to the idea that America's destiny is to inherit the mantle of
world leadership: in the CFR's view, the question is not whether
we ought to police the world, but rather how to go about it. The
American public, on the other hand, is sick to death of endless
war - the inevitable result of assuming "world leadership"
- and is increasingly diverging from elite opinion when it comes
to the pressing foreign policy issues of the day.
For example, as this poll shows, when
it comes to Afghanistan, the latest theater in which the interventionist
drama is being played out, the gulf between the elites and the
public is wide, and getting deeper: 50 percent of the CFR group
support Obama's Afghan "surge," while among the hoi
polloi the number drops to 32 percent. Asked if the United States
should be the "most assertive" world leader, only 19
percent of the general public agrees, but when it comes to the
CFR, the numbers turn around: 62 percent want the "most assertive"
role for the U.S.
None of this is really all that new. If
I recall correctly, the last time this poll was taken, back in
2005, a "rising isolationism" was similarly conjured
by the chattering classes, who took the opportunity to deride
the "turning inward" of the American people - who were
depicted as basking in their uninformed parochialism and refusing
to take up their "duty" to police the world (and, yes,
I wrote about it at the time). The dreaded "isolationist"
wave, it seems, is always about to crash down on the heads of
our busybody elites, whose penchant for interventionism has brought
us such a painful harvest of bankruptcy and blowback. The elites
are always looking over their shoulders and worrying that, one
day, peasants with pitchforks will storm the castle, demanding
their heads - and, if the Pew poll numbers are correct, it looks
like that day may not be far off.
How do we account for the huge gap between
the people and those who make policy in their name?
To begin with, we have an entire class
of people whose jobs, social prestige, and livelihoods are directly
tied to our foreign policy of global intervention. These people
are naturally inclined to favor militarism and meddling in the
affairs of other nations. This group, while small in numbers,
wields an outsized influence when it comes to such matters, and
it can successfully defy popular opinion for quite a long time.
It manages to hornswoggle the public with
a number of scams, notably the cult of expertise, which Americans
have traditionally been suckers for, and never more so than today,
when confusion over the sheer complexity of some of the foreign
policy issues being raised makes people particularly vulnerable
to the argument from authority.
Will our intervention in Pakistan shore
up the faltering government or quicken the destabilization already
taking place? Does Iran have the technological capacity to make
nuclear weapons? What about the alleged threat posed by a "resurgent"
Russia? Ordinary human beings throw up their hands in despair
when confronted with such heady topics, but if you're a member
of the Council on Foreign Relations you likely already have a
well-honed position on these and other equally weighty matters
- one that is probably counterintuitive to the ordinary American.
Oh, but that supposedly just proves how uninformed we plebeians
are, and how wise our interventionist betters.
The cult of expertise is being used to
maximum effect by the Obamaites as they prepare to bog us down
in the Afghan quagmire for the next five to 10 years: that's why
it supposedly took 92 days for the One to reach a decision on
the Afghan escalation issue, as he conducted an extended foreign
policy seminar-and-debating-society at the highest reaches of
his administration. The whole charade - as if withdrawal was ever
an option! - fits in with the self-described "pragmatism"
of the Obama administration, which abjures general principles
and affects a brisk "just the facts" get-the-job-done
air - a method and style that neatly evades the question of whether
the job should be done at all.
Another trick that allows the foreign
policy elite to get away with pursuing a course so out of sync
with the general population is elite control of the political
system. As we never cease reminding the rest of the world, America
is a democracy, and the people get to vote for - or vote out -
their leaders. However, when both candidates - and there are usually
only two major applicants for the job - advocate variations on
the same interventionist themes, then the "choice" presented
to voters is strictly limited, and in fact nearly meaningless.
Remember that President Obama was supported
by a great number of people who mistakenly thought he embodied
an alternative to the belligerent militarism of the Bush years.
Now they are confronted with a "war president" who,
in escalating a conflict begun by his predecessor, says he's determined
to "finish the job."
A third method used to get around the
common sense "isolationism" of the American people is
interventionist control of the "mainstream" media -
which can be counted on to act as a megaphone for government officials
and the interests that back them. While the tendency of Americans
to want to stay out of foreign entanglements might apply in most
cases, in some instances people are ready to make an exception
if specific grounds can be found ("weapons of mass destruction,"
the presence of al-Qaeda, or perhaps both of these together) to
make an exception.
This is why, in the case of Iran, when
asked in the Pew poll if that country posed a threat to the U.S.,
the non-elites were more willing to use force than the elites.
The War Party has already expended a lot of time, energy, and
money on demonizing the Iranians and presenting Tehran's nonexistent
nuclear weapons program as a threat to the U.S. and its allies.
When it comes to Pakistan, however, it is the non-elites who are
more skeptical of U.S. intervention in case that country's nukes
should prove insecure, and it is the CFR types who most want to
crack down on the alleged threat emanating from Islamabad. Given
enough time, and a shift of focus, however, the media will construct
as fearsome a narrative regarding Pakistan as any concocted in
the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
The portrait painted by the Pew poll is
of an increasingly isolated - and anxious - elite whose foreign
policy views are nearly the opposite of the overwhelming majority
of Americans. Our Brahmins face a crisis of confidence, one that
could very well be followed by a crisis of legitimacy - and that
is what they fear most of all.
This crisis is exacerbated not only by
the increasing failure of our foreign policy to do what it is
supposed to do - that is, protect Americans from harm - but by
a number of relatively recent developments that undermine their
methods of suppressing majority "isolationist" sentiment.
The first and most obvious is the Internet,
which has not only bypassed the "mainstream" media and,
indeed, driven it into near-bankruptcy, but which has also delivered
a body blow to the cult of the "experts." After all,
who is an "expert," and why are they so called? Well,
because they generally have credentials and, therefore, are given
a platform by the media to expound on matters they supposedly
know everything about. Yet with the advent of the Internet, the
significance of this "mainstream" platform is radically
reduced. Add to this the wide availability of previously obscure
knowledge - thanks be to the gods of Google! - and credentialism
is thrown out the window. Today, an unknown writer can take to
the Internet, set up a blog, and - perhaps - become the go-to
source for this or that specialized branch of knowledge. An alternative
crop of experts has arisen, which rivals the old crowd and indeed
seems to be fast surpassing them, at least so far as influence
over the public is concerned.
Yet the elite stranglehold on our foreign
policy continues, in large part due to the iron grip of the interventionists
on the two-party system. Our present conundrum - a president elected
to office largely on the strength of his "antiwar" stance,
who is now taking us into a wider and more difficult war than
his warlike predecessor ever conceived - is an eloquent testament
to this cruel fact.
If the leadership of both major parties
sees Afghanistan as a "war of necessity," then the War
Party can relax - because the restive public will have no one
to turn to even as it rejects the policies put forward by the
elites. This is why the policymakers can continue to ignore the
rising rebellion against interventionism roiling the American
street and continue talking only to themselves.
In their view, ordinary Americans don't
matter: only politicians, lobbyists, and other policy wonks matter.
But this Marie Antoinette attitude can only take them so far before
they run the risk of revolution.
Ruling Elites page