Time for a Foreign Policy Paradigm Shift


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The greatest danger in foreign policy is a reliance on worn out paradigms and unexamined assumptions. This received wisdom acts as a mental filter that ignores new developments and lets through only that information which fits the preordained narrative. For nearly forty years American foreign policy has been compromised by a mistaken paradigm conditioning our analyses and policies.

That paradigm is a construction of the leftist interpretation of American foreign policy. In this narrative, the United States is the heir of the European imperialist regimes that used state power to further the interests of capitalist overlords by establishing colonies in the undeveloped world, where they exploited labor and natural resources, and established new markets to increase profits. In the process, the colonial powers destroyed indigenous peoples and cultures, politically oppressed the people, and violently repressed native efforts to realize their nationalist ambitions and enjoy freedom and human rights. Anti-colonialist revolution and violence are thus legitimate acts of “resistance” to these imperialist depredations.

The staleness of this simplistic analysis––one form of it appears as early as 1902 in J. A. Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study––and the bloody excesses and tyranny of anti-colonialist movements in the Third World didn’t prevent it from providing the template for the leftist-liberal attack on the war in Vietnam. The U.S. attempt to stop the violent expansion of communist tyranny in Indochina was cast as neo-imperialist adventurism furthering the interests of the “military-industrial complex.” Ho Chi Minh was described as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, the Viet Cong were the Minutemen fighting for nationalist aspirations and freedom from imperialist oppression, and the Army of North Vietnam was like the French troops that came to the aid of the fledgling United States. This narrative dominated the Democratic Party, the media, and popular culture, resulting in the calamitous abandonment of South Vietnam by Congress, and the subsequent horrors that followed the collapse of the South in 1975.

Even after the true nature of the North Vietnamese intentions were made obvious in the tyrannical regime they imposed on the South, with its grim apparatus of political murder, torture, concentration camps, and genocide, this narrative continued to condition the foreign policy establishment’s interpretations of events. A mere four years after the fall of Saigon, the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamist jihad against the Shah in Iran was misinterpreted as an anti-imperialist revolution against an American puppet oppressing his people’s democratic aspirations in order to ensure access to the oil on which global capitalism runs, and to provide a market for American arms manufacturers. Analysts ignored the religious foundations of the movement, which were based on disgust with the Shah’s programs of liberalization, secularization, and modernization. As Khomeini put it in 1963, the Shah’s regime was “fundamentally opposed to Islam itself and the existence of a religious class.”

When the Shah was deposed in 1979, however, events were filtered through the paradigm of anti-imperialism and democratic aspirations. The Islamist foundations and goals of the revolution, repeatedly articulated in Khomeini’s sermons and writings, were brushed aside by Carter’s foreign policy advisors, the power of the ayatollahs and mullahs was downplayed, and the true engines of the revolution were assumed to be the secular intellectuals, political liberals, and technical elites. As Barry Rubin writes, “Islamic rhetoric was seen as a mask, as a convenient vehicle for expressing accumulated economic, political, and social grievances.” But as Khomeini would say later, “We didn’t create a revolution to lower the price of melons.” The result of this blindness was the creation of an oil-rich Islamist regime that for four decades has financed and supported jihadist terrorist groups, and that now is drawing ever closer to possessing nuclear weapons.

Despite yet another repudiation of the paradigm, the violent assaults of jihadist terrorists on the West and its interests, and the support of many Middle Eastern regimes for these groups–– all of which have less to do with Western anti-colonialist orthodoxy than with Islamic theology–– many in the media and the foreign policy establishment have not awakened from their dogmatic slumber. The attempts of George Bush to destroy regimes harboring terrorists or facilitating their activities were interpreted through the old Vietnam paradigm: “Could Afghanistan become another Vietnam?” fretted New York Times columnist R.W. Apple at the beginning of the war. Soon “quagmire” and “escalation” returned as question-begging smears. The ubiquitous “Bush lied” mantra reprised the charge that Lyndon Johnson based his escalation of the war in Vietnam on fabricated attacks that led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. “No blood for oil” recalled the charge that profits for the “military-industrial complex” lay behind the Vietnam War. Resistance to the Patriot Act exploited the same rhetoric used against the intelligence establishment in the Vietnam era, for in the words of the ACLU, the legislation “puts [the] CIA back in the business of spying on Americans.” False analogies with the American Revolution were resurrected, as when Michael Moore called the jihadists in Iraq “Minutemen.” And the leftwing-driven anti-war movement–– with its rallies, “teach-ins,” “sit-ins,” protests, Marxist clichés about “imperialism” and  “colonialism,” and reflexive anti-Americanism that idealized a murderous enemy––channeled the anti-war protests of the Sixties.

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  • Fray222

    Of course Obama has betrayed the leftists that got him into power, he has expanded the war in Afghanistan, he is keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely, he is launching new wars in Libya and Yemen, he is threatening war with Syria. He has broken his promise to close Guantanamo. By any objective standard, the Obama administration is the most hawkish in modern American history.
    At least now the Republicans are starting to break free of neo-con control, not one of the Republican candidates today are willing to defend the war in Libya, the party is turning rapidly against a policy foreign intervention. And is actually beginning to defend the constitution on War powers and patriot act.
    Vietnam was a liberal war, it was started by Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, liberals have traditionally been far more supportive of military intervention than conservative, but of course the neo-cons would like you to forget all of American history prior to 9/11.

  • Dispozovdaburka

    It is too late for our foreign policy.
    Our friends are now the muslims and
    Israel is the bad guy on the block.
    Tipping point of the war was 9/9/09.
    Freemasons held the "Muslim prayer Day" later in September,
    thereby altering our future destiny to Islam.
    We have been sold out..

  • Amused

    Oh gimme a break Thornton . Study the history from WW2 to present . Democrats AND Republicans have played an equal part in playing "cops of the world " , Democrats AND Republicans haved pressured Israel , for one reason or another over the decades from the settlements issue , to halting Israel's advances after Arab initiated wars . There are several examples, from toppling governments in Iraq , to supporting the oppressive Shah of Iran , refusals of military aid to Israel as a lever to placate the arabs for the sake of Saudi Oil , taking the side of West Pakistan in the 70's amidst of the obvious slaughters perpetratedon the East , support Sukarno in Indonesia , man the list goes on . Political Spin bordering on revisionism ! Better get out TWO signs to hang on the backs of BOTH parties .

    • ObamaYoMoma

      There are several examples, from toppling governments in Iraq , to supporting the oppressive Shah of Iran ,

      The government of Iraq should have been toppled a long time before it happened but without the subsequent insane fantasy based nation building mission that followed and that inevitably turned into an unmitigated disaster.

      I hate to rain on your clueless parade bud, but the Shah of Iran wasn’t oppressive. He was trying to lift his country out of 7th century Islamic barbarianism and into 20th century modernism, and, of course, the Muslims waged very violent and extremely brutal jihad against him and his government as a direct result, which was also joined by opportunist leftwing useful idiots. Thus, those so-called oppressions you stupidly refer to were really a manifestation of the jihad that was being waged against the Shah and his government.

      Nevertheless, that self-hating loon Jimmy Carter pulled the Persian rug out from under the Shah, which enabled Islamic strongmen to take over Iran, which the Left like loons consider to be a success and a major accomplishment of Jimmy Carter to this day, but in reality is one of the biggest strategic blunders ever in history, as the Islamic regime that Carter enabled to take over Iran executed a hundred times more people the first year of being in power, including all of the leftwing useful idiots that stupidly assisted them to cease power, than the Shah ever came close to doing in his entire career, and the level of oppression and brutality of the new Islamic regime made the Shah look like a rank amateur when it comes to brutality, torture, and viciousness. Your problem is not only are you completely oblivious of Islam like most delusional useful idiot leftists, but you also adhere to the same self-hating leftwing ideology that Thornton just railed against.

  • Richard Ong

    A most interesting and impressive article. Your new paradigm is vastly more appealing than the old one.

    I did cringe at the "power in service to American goodness" thought. Do we really want our diplomats at punch bowls around the world thinking they're there in aid of "American goodness"? Do French or Russian diplomats act as though they are serving the cause of French or Russian goodness? I care about the French and Russians, good or bad, depending on whether they oppose or support us.

    Let's just advance American interests on the assumption that our country is just fine and entitled to protect and advance its unique interests because they're our interests and forget about whether some damn foreigner thinks this is a good nation. I want ours to be a tough, realistic, formidable nation.

    • http://www.okcteaparty.org dan

      Excellent observation. Agree with tough, realistic (based on needs, not fuzzy "wants"), and (always) formidable. While what's "good" is in the eye of the beholder and can be ideologically twisted, we should always have a grasp of and not be afraid to identify and stand up to what's wicked (like,er,uh, man instituted and managed Theocracies and Sharia Law).

      • Richard Ong

        Thanks, Dan.

  • zsqpwxxeh

    Good historical analysis. One thing, though. Before paradigms can be shifted, Obama has to be shifted out of office. That's the indispensible precondition. And then the real work begins. It's not just damage control and cleaning up the mess that lefty fools like Obama and Clinton have made; it involves positive assertion of what we stand for as a great nation. Only a true conservative foreign policy can restore American status and influence in foreign affairs.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Leftists control the Congress, have political appointment and civil service
    positions that destroy conservative values while serving a President of
    enmity towards America as his chief pursuit. A good third of Americans
    are indoctrinated and active leftists which will continue to work towards
    destroying American identity, create world socialism and use Islam as
    a tool for subverting our National security. America must be purged of
    the anti-American leftist destruction, it is infesting every aspect of our
    lives and all we do is under attack, everything is shrouded in false guilt.
    Communists that found a new home in the environmental movement
    have destroyed our wealth from plentiful natural resources and made
    us dependent on Nations who are our enemies and we have transferred
    wealth unheard of in human life and with it our future. Conservative
    foreign policy with a hard line pro- American attitude is all that will
    return America to a position of leading the world, but one we are not
    being made chumps by……………………………………….William

  • Zanabear

    This infusion of leftist guilt into American politics is sordid at best. I prefer PM Stephen Harper's unwavering support of Israel and no more 'land for peace' deals.

    Obama is trying to play on leftist sympathy while opening up a chasm that may lead to yet another full-scale war in the Middle East. Refusing to stand firmly by Israel is going to cost him in the long run. Mark my words.

    • http://Unclecephas.blogspot.com Cephas

      Stephen Harper makes me proud to be 1/4 Canuck.

      • Zanabear

        I am a dual citizen (American and Canadian). I'm glad you're a proud Canuck, as am I. When Harper won the majority I was the happiest I'd ever been in my new home (well, 15 year home) of Canada and I was even more pleased to hear him stand firmly with Israel.

        Obama seems to be forgetting that he leads the American nation and can firmly put his foot down in the roots of Israel and the nation will admire him for it. This wavering support looks bad for him. I've been trying to figure out for weeks why he's obsessed with some notion of '67 borders? What is driving him to do this? Is he giving Ahmadinejad a baby bottle to make him go nigh nigh?

  • http://none Danika Calligaro

    Hi there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a hard time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!