All this change took a toll on many working Americans, who felt a pervasive sense of uncertainty – a sense that perhaps we were losing our identity, losing our way; perhaps our future would not be as bright as our past. To some, the early 20th century looked like the beginning of America’s decline. ~Secretary Rice
This is a device that administration officials use all the time. They take whatever it is they think their critics are saying about *them* and their disastrous policies in the present, use some historical analogy where they purport to find the same argument being used in the past and declare that, just like so-and-so in the 1910s, the pessimists are also wrong today. This would be convincing if anyone could recall the actual prophets of American decline c. 1900 or 1914 or 1920. No one was saying such things, since it was clear during these decades that America was going anywhere but into decline. It is worth remembering that the response to mass immigration then was a thoroughgoing assimilationist view, espoused memorably by Teddy Roosevelt, who was pretty much the antithesis of the current President in all things except their shared fondness for armed conflict. This is worth noting, since Rice makes TR the centerpiece of her address and the embodiment of her idea of “American Realism.”
The beginning is not promising:
American Realism is an approach to the world that arises not only from the realities of global politics but from the nature of America’s character: From the fact that we are all united as a people not by a narrow nationalism of blood and soil, but by universal ideals of human freedom and human rights. We believe that our principles are the greatest source of our power. And we are led into the world as much by our moral ideas as by our material interests.
But this is simply the retrojection of the idealism and utopian nonsense of the Second Inaugural back onto Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a nationalist, yes, and an Americanist, but I think few would confuse him with a champion of human freedom and human rights as such. The man who “used American power to eradicate yellow fever and support public health in the Philippines and in parts of the Americas” also oversaw the brutal crushing of the Filipino insurgency and waged a war against these people for the sake of retaining control over a coaling station in the interests of power projection and securing commerce. You can argue that Roosevelt was basically right or you can regard him as a dreadful imperialist, but what you cannot do is reinvent the man as George Bush with a moustache.
It gets worse:
It is for these reasons, and for many others, that America has always been, and will always be, not a status quo power, but a revolutionary power – a nation with New World eyes, that looks at change not as a threat to be feared, but as an opportunity to be seized.
This is crazy. World powers or aspiring world powers that try to be revolutionary powers destroy themselves. Look at France, Germany and the Soviet Union. World powers sustain themselves by being big defenders of the status quo. In reality, America, Britain and France have traditionally been friends of the status quo since WWI. The Allies in WWI were dedicated to keeping the geopolitical order under their control. The revisionists lost, the status quo won. The same happened in WWII, where the Axis rebelled against the post-Versailles status quo and lost. The Cold War was the result of the attempt of America, Britain and their allies to ensure that the world’s revolutionary power did not overturn the post-WWII status quo. The story of the 20th century is in part the story of the failure of global revolution, at least when that revolution is actively promoted by a major power. No world power that is on top of the heap and wants to stay there encourages revolution. Indeed, no established government should want to encourage the fires of revolution elsewhere, as they will eventually turn back on the one fanning the flames in unexpected ways.
It keeps getting worse:
It was American Realism that informed the work of American statesmen in the early years of the Cold War – people like Truman and Vandenburg, and Marshall and Acheson, and Kennan and Nitze. It informed for years later by Kennedy, and Reagan, people who understood that we had to deal with the reality of Soviet power but should never forget the malignant nature of that state’s character.
I feel confident in saying that George Kennan did not belong to this school of realism, if it is realism at all. To list Kennan as being somehow similar in his foreign policy views to Kennedy seems especially bizarre.
Then there was this remarkable string of statements:
Trade is an engine not only of economic growth, but also of political transformation. Integrating into the global economy helps to open closed societies. It helps new democracies to deliver on the high hopes of their people. And it gives governments a stake in the international system.
I happen to agree with this, more or less, which is why I find it so utterly inexplicable that we should persist in our dead-end sanctions policies towards such states as Iran and Cuba. Were Iran not such an economic mess, Ahmadinejad’s economic populism would have had much less appeal. Had Cuba been open to American trade, it seems much less likely that the party dictatorship in Havana would be as strong and entrenched as it is today. At the very least, it would have been compelled, as Beijing has been, to accommodate the creation and creators of wealth. Instead, the actual policies of this most non-realist of administrations have sought to deepen the isolation of these nations.
Secretary Rice concludes with nauseating cheers for optimism. What more is there to say?