Foreign Policy Elites Don’t Have Superpowers

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 September 16, 2017|
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Like so many members of what Michael Walsh aptly calls the “Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party,” leading neoconservative Eliot A. Cohen still doesn’t get what happened on election night last year.

Writing in The Atlantic , Cohen served up a scathing (if meandering) critique of President Trump’s foreign policy. Cohen believes Trump’s administration has heralded the end of the American-led world order. What Cohen doesn’t seem to comprehend is that the American-led world order has been fading for years—and much of it is the fault of “experts” like Cohen, who encouraged Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to champion unrealistic foreign policies and break America’s unquestioned global hegemony.

Cohen argues:

Our politicians and our foreign-policy establishment—the former consumed by domestic matters, the latter largely by technocratic concerns—have lost the ability to make the case to the country for prudent American management of an international system whose relative peace for 70 years owes so much to Washington’s leadership.

Herein lies the flawed conceit of American foreign policy elites: the belief that a bipartisan cadre of technocrats can manage away all of America’s most vexing international problems (if only Americans resolved to use more military power). James Mattis once famously quipped to his troops that, “the enemy gets a vote.” But, in the mind of Cohen and his fellow Beltway foreign policy apparatchiks, this is not so. To them, other states are merely waiting to be awed by the awesome power of the United States (and the impressive intellects of those experts who manage America’s foreign policy).

Neither China nor Russia seem to buy into this conceit anymore. But don’t tell Cohen that.

Writing shortly after the Cold War, another neoconservative thinker, Jeane Kirkpatrick, observed that America’s “purposes are mainly domestic” and the passing of the Cold War freed up “time, attention, and resources to American ends.” Kirkpatrick believed that America needed to abandon its pretense of being a superpower, embrace a multipolar world, and return to being a normal country in a normal time. She warned her readers about a foreign policy elite behaving “like some priestly class that alone has the knowledge, experience, and wisdom to guide foreign policy.” Such an elite, she cautioned, would uncouple the democratic will of the American people from the preferences of the elite. Kirkpatrick feared the creation of a bifurcated society, where a small cadre of elites composed a ruling class that would lord it over the rest of us mere citizens in what Angelo Codevilla has called the “Country Class.”

The divide between elites like Cohen and the “Country Class” comes down to incentives: your neighbor has little incentive for pursuing more foreign policy misadventures, whereas Cohen and his ilk’s entire existence is predicated on greater levels of interventionism. Kirkpatrick clearly lost the post-Cold War foreign policy debate. The decades after the Cold War were defined by an increasing array of military commitments to causes that were of dubious importance to the national interest.

That the ruling class continues to show its disconnect with the rest of the country is apparent when Cohen asserts, “The administration obsesses about defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and yet intends to sharply reduce the kinds of advice and support that are needed to rebuild the areas devastated by war in those same countries.” He fails to address the obvious question that most Americans would ask: Why is nation-building important for killing terrorists?

The experts refuse to address this question because they know that the answer will be unsatisfactory to the millions of “Country Class” Americans who actually bear the burdens of war. Like an ancient pagan priest unable to prove his absurd claims when challenged, Cohen prefers to stifle informed inquiry by flashing his credentials and informing us that he is a member of the “chosen” priestly class. Others should bow before his divinely inspired “wisdom”—or else.

Even as Cohen bemoans the death of the foreign policy expert in the Age of Trump, he decries Trump’s embrace of authoritarians in the Middle East. Trump “seems to dismiss the larger problems of governance posed by the crises within Middle Eastern societies as internal issues irrelevant to the United States.” Internal governance issues of foreign states are irrelevant to American interests! Propping up such autocratic states as is sometimes necessary and as we did, very often, during the Cold War, is an inexpensive way of hurting the terrorists, while protecting our interests.

As Cohen’s jeremiad winds down, he laments that “A freedom agenda, in either its original Bush or subsequent Obama form, is dead.” Yes, exactly! The moment George W. Bush opted to remake the world in America’s  image, our foreign policy truly took a turn for the worse. We squandered our “unipolar moment” in the sands of the Middle East.

Clearly, Eliot Cohen doesn’t get it: the American people do not want war without end and without victory. Who could blame them? All that these ongoing wars have done is to weaken America while empowering China, Russia, and Iran. If Cohen and his priestly foreign policy elites believe that’s “winning,” then we should be thankful that such a “novice” like Trump is in the White House.

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About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs "The Weichert Report" (www.theweichertreport.com), an online journal of geopolitics. He holds master's degree in statecraft and national security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an associate member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in political science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
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16 Comments

  1. Andy September 16, 2017 at 9:42 am

    The US has been an empire in decline ever since the Nixon administration. Failure to see that is just ignoring the obvious. As such, the US needs to stop acting like a super power that can dictate to the rest of the world and instead needs to realize their place much like England did. Germany and China are the true powers in the world and fighting against that will only hurt the US in the long run.

    • william couch September 16, 2017 at 11:32 pm

      Try Johnson, 1964.

    • And How to Get It September 19, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Remind me how large the German Navy is…

  2. carl Jung September 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    how would you determine if the cohens of this world were “wrong” as opposed to intentionally hobbling America? what would a test be? and if there is no such test, then how should the cohens be treated?

  3. Attila_the_hun September 16, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    What those foreign policy geniuses don’t get is. Peace is byproduct of victory. Where the Victor imposes its will. As The USA did to Japan. Unfortunately since Korean war The USA abonded the will to win and settled for half of peace. Which is no peace proved by NK. It repeated in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afganistan and still repeating it against Islamic terror. War is kill or be killed. There is no third option

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  4. MarkSPQR September 16, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    hmmm … lets see, Obama’s foreign legacy is destabilizing Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine while giving Iran billions for some promises. Trump has attacked a Syrian chemical weapons depot, to universal praise

  5. msher_1 September 17, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Cohen’s statement about American-led world order is rich – American policy elites for years have been working towards globalism in which America not only has no leadership, but loses clout or actual sovereignty. Foreign policy elite support EU – a bloc formed to compete with U.S. as separate economic superpower (while depending on America for its defense). Foreign policy elite favor NAFTA, TPP and Paris Agreement – in all of which we subordinate to vote of other members. Foreign policy elite laud various UN inItiatives – all aimed at penalizing America and/or spending our money. Foreign policy elite had no problem with U.S. giving away control of internet.

    Foreign policy elite applauded Arab Spring, toppling of Gadaffi and arming of Syrian “rebels” which turned out to be ISIS – the latter two policies catastrophic mistakes which will lead to the doom of Europe. And where were the foreign policy elite as our military was over-extended and deliberately under-funded and social-engineered into incompetence?

    Once Soviet Union crumbled, what has America done to its advantage?

    • Brandon Weichert September 17, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      THIS. Yes, exactly. I’m glad you enjoyed the read and thank you for your time. #MAGA

      • msher_1 September 17, 2017 at 9:05 pm

        Do you know anyone in Trumpworld? (Anton?) Trump is tweeting and doing a few rallies – but doing nothing to mobilize support into visible ACTION. This is HUGE GAP. Why aren’t supporters being mobilized to bombard GOP Congress? Where is central source of info about primary challengers? Etc, etc. Someone private – not in Admin. – in Trumpworld needs to run a well-publicized web site/facebook page with precise info and instructions telling supporters what they can do. I used to own an internet company, I know how easy it would be for someone with resources and access. I have a fuller description I can send.

        Also a new thing: What the hell are Breitbart and Bannon doing? They are crucifying Trump. Doing a hell of a job of whipping readers into fury. Needs to be place where Trump’s actions explained, misinfo corrected. In better detail than Trump’s tweets. Should be on same website/facebook page.

        #MAGA.

      • D4x September 18, 2017 at 6:24 am

        Principled Realism America’s foreign policy needs more echo than the lamentations of those still clinging to the failures of the 70-year- old ‘liberal international order’ that has bought “relative peace” by freezing conflicts, e.g. Korea; millions of multi-generation refugees, e.g. Afghans in Peshawar, Pakistan; no-enforcement UNSC Resolutions, e.g. 2006 UNSCRes 1701 Hezbollah not supposed to have weapons in Lebanon (my keyboard is sticking like a tongue-in-cheek).

        These foreign policy technocrats are getting stealthier in perpetuating the myth of ‘amateur chaotic dysfunction’, already tainting coverage of Trump at the 72nd UNGA today.

        Don’t ignore them, expose their specific myths: “09 13 2017 Markey, “The South Asian Vortex”
        https://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/09/13/south-asian-vortex/ The restructure at State is NOT a “dismantling”; the 4,000 new US troops include 2,100 paratroopers to train the Afghan ANDSF combat
        http://www.ktuu.com/content/news/Spartan-Brigade-honored-before-Afghan-deployment-443341913.html
        troops including Afghan Special Forces how to deploy safely from those new Blackhawk UH-60s, to be operated by Afghans providing close-in air firepower support to the Afghan troops fighting the Taliban on the ground.
        Aug. 10 report details those new Blackhawks: http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/686477.pdf

        EAC moved over to The Atlantic after the commentariat at The American Interest unmasked him with every post. Stop giving him echo: expose his myths.

        No one in any media platform is fighting the many forms of obstruction that have created a false caricature of what is a true paradigm change in TeamTrump’s foreign policy.
        Start with primary sources:
        https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/21/remarks-president-trump-strategy-afghanistan-and-south-asia to
        Add a dose of positivity:
        https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/06/26/remarks-president-trump-and-prime-minister-modi-india-joint-press

        my unmasking those poisoned myths gets no echo. and I need a new keyboard.

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  6. Dean September 17, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Kind of funny that experts seem smart until they open their mouths.

  7. And How to Get It September 19, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Cohen is one of Bill Kristol’s Insidious Minions. Keep him as far away from power as humanly possible….forever.

Comments are closed.