The Alternative to Dominance

from James Dobbins at The WSJ, American Retrenchment Is a Golden Oldie

But we don’t know how the country will respond to the next crisis. It took the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, nine months after Luce’s call to arms, to push the U.S. into World War II. It took the installation of Soviet puppet regimes throughout Eastern Europe to keep America engaged on the Continent for 40 years after the defeat of Nazi Germany. It took the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for Mr. Carter to commit to defending the Persian Gulf. The 9/11 attacks turned Mr. Bush into a nation builder, and the rise of the Islamic State and the Russian invasion of Ukraine led Mr. Obama to recommit American forces to the Middle East and Europe.

Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, discovered that while Americans wanted a less costly foreign policy, they had difficulty accepting the diminished influence that went with it. Americans are unlikely to remain comfortable seeing their leaders heading a coalition of petro-state monarchs and illiberal strongmen while the democratic world marches to a different drum.


‘Leading from behind’ was a stunningly facile policy.  It only works if someone acceptable and capable is willing to lead. If there is evil in the world, and if there is going to be a dominant nation, who would we prefer it to be? We may not seek or desire a dominant role, but the alternative has been unacceptable.

Surrender of Influence

from Thomas Donlan at Barron’s, Ignorance is Not Bliss

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has had the chance to take Trump’s measure in the recent NATO and G-7 meetings, and her reading was not good. She reported this to her citizens: “The times in which we could fully rely on others are partly over. I have experienced this in the last few days. We Europeans really have to take our destiny into our own hands.”

Trump should try to remember that the nations of Europe have a poor record when they take their destiny into their own hands. Germany went to war twice against most of Europe in pursuit of hypernationalist goals, eventually drawing in the U.S.

After World War II, the U.S. pushed to create NATO and to unify Europe economically and politically so that Americans wouldn’t have to fight in Europe again. U.S. involvement in Europe was farsighted, wise, and mostly successful, but clumsy U.S. leadership still could do great damage.


How is this surrender of influence any difference from Obama?

Eisenhower’s Footprint in The Middle East

Ike’s Gamble by Michael Doran is an account of the 1956 Suez Crisis with a perspective different from many previous ones which were directed from narratives from CIA players at the time.

The United States under Eisenhower supported the rise of independent nations and the decline of colonialism. The CIA and the State Department opposed the recognition of Israel under Truman and remained consistent in that position under Eisenhower. Recognition of Israel in their view stood against American interests (as they saw it), and stood to alienate us from the Arab world and possibly drive them into the communist sphere.

For the CIA and the State Department Gamal Nasser stood as a leader of the Arabs in the Middle East and deserved the support of the United States. When Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal the British, French and Israelis conspired a plan to retake the canal with force. Eisenhower stood with Nasser and strongly against his former allies and forced them to withdraw.

Britain’s Churchill and Anthony Eden warned of the consequences of surrendering such power to Nasser, comparing it to the appeasement of Hitler at Munich. Eisenhower rejected this approach, sensing that colonialization was a dying institution and Arab nationalization was an inevitable growing specter. He allied American power accordingly.

Nasser’s success in the campaign elevated him to hero status in the Middle East and he expanded his power quickly; allying with Syria, and likely promoting the bloody coup is Iraq in 1958. Nasser also embraced Soviet influence in a way that alarmed Eisenhower. The President quickly regretted his decision and took action to save Lebanon and Jordan from encroaching Egyptian power. Eisenhower tried unsuccessfully to promote a northern alliance with Iraq and Iran and Pakistan and wished to make the Saudis a center of power. This infuriated Nasser as a direct threat to his power.

Nasser became bolder, broke his promises to the U.S., militarized the Sinai, and amassed a serious enough threat to Israel that they attacked Egypt in the 1967 war and devastated Nasser and his power.  Eisenhower retired supported and praised the Israeli move. Israel accomplished in 1967 what the British wanted to do in 1956, but the Mideast had substantially changed in the interim.

Eisenhower regretted his decision during the Suez Crisis, but once he realized his mistake he took corrective action. Other opinions at State blame our failure to support Nasser as much as we should have earlier, driving them into the Soviet sphere.

Eisenhower learned that Israel was not the main driving issue that State made it to be.  There were much greater contests for power between rival Arab countries such as Iraq and Egypt than there was between Israel and the rest of the Mideast.  Israel was a useful common enemy.  Ike realized that the chances for Pan Arab unity was nil.

Israel went from being the pariah of the State Department to a useful ally, and relations were re-established with our French and British allies.

The negotiations before and during the crisis were complicated and trying.  Very experienced and knowledgeable players in American foreign policy made rational and morally guided decisions with the focus on American interests and badly blundered.  They believed things to be true that were not, and underestimated the organic friction with other powers in the region. Foreign policy is the most treacherous of political arenas.

The best we can hope for is to recognize errors when we make them and correct them as honestly and quickly as we are able.  The CIA and State likely suffered the problems of an undiversified bubble mentality that was unable to consider options and views that became clear only too late.

Ike’s Gamble was a great read on the history and policy of the crisis, but it is also a valuable look at the difficulty and complexity of foreign policy.

Isolationism on the Left and Right


from The World According to Trump by Charles Krauthammer in National Review:

Both the Left and the Right have a long history of advocating American retreat and retrenchment. The difference is that liberals want to come home because they think we are not good enough for the world. Conservatives want to wash their hands of the world because they think the world is not good enough for us.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/434717/donald-trump-foreign-policy-america-first


The Loss of American Competitiveness


from The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

Experts on economic competitiveness, like Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, define the term to include the ability of government to pass effective laws; the protection of physical and intellectual property rights and lack of corruption; the efficiency of the legal framework, including modest costs and swift adjudication; the ease of setting up a new business; and effective and predictable regulations.  It is startling to find out how poorly the United States now fares when judged by these criteria.  In a 2011 survey, Porter and his colleagues asked HBS alumni about 607 instances of decisions on whether or not to offshore operations.  The United States retained the business in just 96 cases(16%) and lost it in all of the rest. Asked why they favored foreign locations, the respondents listed the areas where they saw the U.S. falling further behind the rest of the world.  The top ten reasons included:

  1.  The effectiveness of the political system
  2. The complexity of the tax code
  3.  Regulation
  4. The efficiency of the legal frameworks
  5. Flexibility in hiring and firing