Winning and Losing: The West Against Itself
“God is on the side of the larger battalions” is credited to Napoleon. Well, he knew about winning and losing wars. His only problem: the final sequence of these occurrences. His stature makes it risky to argue with him. Nevertheless, reservations emerge. Not because his demise was due to the size of his shrinking divisions. Attribute that to sea power and his politics of war and peace that conspired to secure him a one-way ticket on the British Belorophon to a safe island.
Victory and defeat are not singularly determined by physical means. Having been in 1956 on the losing side of the only war the Soviet Union has fought against another “Socialist State,” the author is well aware of the factor of size and equipment. However, even regarding that unequal conflict, the political factor, has been decisive. An excursion into “history” helps to put some aspects of the present into focus.
Due to the incompetent puppets the USSR enthroned in its dependencies – they were submissive but also unable to lead their satrapies – lost the first round of that conflict. That was not for the lacking means, but because of the global ramifications, which limited the use of Moscow’s material means. Once a signal from Washington convinced the Kremlin that it has a free hand in its assigned post-world-war zone, its instruments of power could be unleashed: Quite regardless of ongoing negotiations and the promise to let Hungary exit the Soviet empire as a neutral.
Hitler, not exactly known for moderation, had some awareness of the non-military aspect of power. As he planned to attack Poland, he computed wrongly the foe’s backbone. He did this by discounting the Anglo-French threat to aid their ally this time. As he put it, “I saw them in Munich, they are worms.” The miscalculation of the non-material aspect of might also concerned the Poles he sufficiently disliked to underestimate them. Unlike the Czechs, the Poles made it impossible for their western allies to back out of their commitment: A yet unwanted conflict was on.
The case demonstrates why objective power and yieldable might not mesh. This leads to a seeming contradiction. The phenomenon is simple if examined. Accordingly, strong nations can be cast in the role of the feeble, and weak ones may ride roughshod over rivals that are more potent.
America is a strong because of the aggregates that make her up. These components are size, a favorable location, a large population, economic efficiency, solvency, self-sufficiency, and the public’s patriotism. By that standard, the US’ foreign policy should be successful. The recent record disappoints realistic expectations. So, impolitely, we need to ask, “why is that?”
The term “impolite” is revealing. The attempt to account for “underperformance” brings up resented factors. But for the early Republic, the USA has not had a foreign policy problem but a problem with foreign policy. This has to do with the average person’s perception of world affairs. The other factor is her elite’s worldview.
America’s masses underrate the impact of global problems on the nation and on their personal fortune. In the case of a country that is a continent, where history – if taught at all – is transmitted with an insular slant, and thanks to protecting oceans, an assumption arises: America is an island. Furthermore, belatedly mistakes are corrigible. While the error is understandable, the upshot is a “top nation” whose electoral base is, by its perceptions, unsuited to shoulder its responsibilities because it ignores the long-term consequences of its actions.
Now, to the other component held here responsible for false consciousness. It is about the discernments of the elites that determine the content of the information that shapes public opinion -if the public cares to have an opinion. Not only in America, the governing and thought-controlling elites are captives of their ideology. The foreign policy they are free to conduct is determined by beliefs that could be tagged as joint prejudices. These shared assumptions derive from normative postulates and they are inclined to negate the facts. Actually, the power of the opinion makers – a branch of the political establishment- is used to avoid and to ignore the reality. Wanting to do good with the help of nice guys abroad that misread noble motives, and who are themselves the victims of sinister forces, guarantees ineffectiveness.
The disinterest of a public that lets itself to be represented by misdirected elites is the source of a feeble America. Combined, unawareness and chimeras add up to weakness. Purposefulness is needed to face nuclear mullahs, the terrorists of virtue, corrupt foreign partners, aggressive migration that pierces borders, and disloyal as well as contemptuous allies. Concurrently, supportive countries and political forces are ignored, abandoned, or at least neglected. This happens while aggressive foes are accommodated, the way permissive parents do whose kids put on tantrums at the checkout counter.
Ultimately, the weakness of purpose and of awareness, masked as leniency, have a price. It is expressed not only in lost funds but also in blood. Steering a course that accepts defeats relabeled as “tactical reverses” is not sustainable policy. No country can afford to react to challenges by retreat while claiming that its reserves secure later corrections. This compares to the national debt: One day, the borrowing’s consequence that covers up overspending to win votes, has to be paid back. Bankruptcy, whether economic, or due to a lack of diligence in the defense or core positions, is a sin. If heard, “small and busted” peoples tell eloquently how painful the punishment and the resulting suffering are.
This is why, in a dream, the writer sees a much-needed telegram sent by Congress to the State Department. Here its shortened text: “1. Hold our positions against foes. 2. Change sides and support our friends.”