A short course on foreign policy

By Joseph Bauers

Some years ago I wrote that the biggest problem with American foreign policy is that there is too much of it. I stand by that. For my cues on this subject, I ignore those alleged statesmen of recent memory, people like George W. Bush, our torturer-in-chief; Barack Obama, keeper of the kill list; Richard Cheney, lover of the Vietnam and most other wars — as long as he didn't have to do the fighting; and Henry Kissinger, our very own Dr. Strangelove. Instead, I prefer singer/songwriter Randy Newman, who summed up the situation perfectly in 1972's "Political Science," the first verse of which goes like this:

"No one likes us, I don't know why,

We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try.

All around, even our old friends put us down.

Let's drop the big one, and see what happens. ..."

If they had countries on Facebook, the United States would have been defriended by much of the world. Consider our history: We are still a relatively young nation, yet in our short time, we have: A) enslaved people we kidnapped from Africa to serve us as human machines; B) engaged in our bloodiest war to rectify the problems created by A; C) performed genocide on native peoples who were here long before America officially existed; D) engaged in all sorts of land grabs via military aggression; and E) killed countless innocent civilians in lands far away in the full throttle of our military might. And that's just the short list. Yet we fancy ourselves the moral arbiters of the world — and we wonder, seriously, why anyone could possibly not like us.

Which brings us to verse 2:

"We give them money, but are they grateful?

No, they're spiteful and they're hateful.

They don't respect us, so let's surprise them,

We'll drop the big one and pulverize them."

Yes, indeed, we give them money, and no, they are not grateful. While our bridges crumble, while our highways crack and buckle, and while our antiquated schools look shabbier day by day, we haul pallets of cash to countries like Afghanistan and Egypt, in the hopes that we can bribe our way to acceptance by someone who might be less hostile to us in the long run. It almost never works. And when things start to look bleak after we have plied a country with cash, we often resort to the pulverizing idea—napalm in Vietnam, for example, and drone strikes in Pakistan.

And now, verse 3:

"Asia's crowded, Europe's too old,

Africa is far too hot, and Canada's too cold.

And South America stole our name,

Let's drop the big one,

There'll be no one left to blame us."

America has something like 700 military bases worldwide. We have about 2.2 million personnel on the military payroll, if you count reservists. We spend far and away more money on our "defense" than many of the next several big spending countries combined. In effect, we have colonized the world with weaponry and warriors. That's the side that the world sees — often, the only side. Yet for all that, just 19 true believers with box cutters invaded our land and our minds and put us on psychological lock down for a decade since.

Which brings us to verse 4:

"We'll save Australia,

Don't want to hurt no kangaroo.

We'll build an all-American amusement park there,

They got surfin' too!

Boom goes London, boom Paree,

More room for you, more room for me.

And every city, the whole world round

Will just be another American town,

Oh how peaceful it will be,

We'll set everybody free,

You wear the Japanese kimono baby,

And there'll be Italian shoes for me ...

They all hate us anyhow,

Let's drop the big one now!"

The notion of Americanizing the world is one of our all-time great delusions. Other countries have their own cultures, their own world views, which is obvious to anyone who has done any traveling outside the United States. Yet we persist in the belief of our superiority. But Americanism, as delivered via a cruise missile or a drone strike, may have succeeded only in creating a permanent hatred for all things American.

Militarism is our national drug of choice, and it's a tough one to kick. President Eisenhower, no wimp he, warned us of its dangers a half century ago — but we ignored the Supreme Allied Commander. And six years before Randy Newman wrote his song, Sen. J. William Fulbright titled his book with a phrase that described perfectly our national disease: "The Arrogance of Power."

Randy Newman's song was recorded in the waning years of the long Vietnam War. For many of us then, there was the thought that, surely, a blunder of this magnitude would never be repeated in our lifetime. But of course, it was.

When Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassioned speech on behalf of American intervention in Syria, I thought of a younger Kerry decades before, fresh from his experience in Vietnam, appealing to the U.S. Congress not to continue a war that was a "mistake." But his two statements, on opposite ends of a career in public service, illustrate perfectly our national amnesia, and prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the validity of the philosopher's assertion: The only lesson we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Joseph Bauers is a freelance writer in Champaign.

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