I was rooming with two others students in a giant concrete block apartment complex. It was walking distance to campus and very cheap. The occupants were a cultural and ethnic mix but we all had one thing in common, everyone was poor. The concrete block was a rough and dangerous place to live. There were other male students that roomed in the concrete block house but no female students, young females generally wouldn’t even visit and certainly wouldn’t live there. I hadn’t been worried about the area, I had a live and let live attitude and I just didn’t mess with my neighbors. I was worried about surviving calculus not surviving my neighbors. I didn’t understand the thievery, poor stealing from poor seemed hardly worth the effort. In our apartment the most valuable items were text books (no demand at the pawn shop), our furniture had been stolen from dumpsters and our clothing had holes. None of us had permanent employment, living off a series of part-time jobs. These days are some of the best memories of my life.
One night a loud argument came from the parking lot, not an uncommon event. We stepped out to watch the evening’s entertainment. A man on a motorcycle was yelling at a man in a broken down car. The man in the car got out with a sawed off shotgun. Suddenly the biker held the biggest hand gun I had ever seen in my life. I was too dumb and young to run while one of my roommates had disappeared (He was from Pittsburgh and understood these things). A woman appeared and stood between the men yelling at both. I had a chilling realization; these men had nothing to lose. The only thing either man had was his pride. I had a perceived better future; I had something to lose, while these men were beaten and poor with little to no future. The fight never came to blows and the woman somehow defused the bombs and dragged one of the men away.
Now today I watch Muslim radicals blowing up embassies and shooting their fellow Muslims. The American wise men tell me “they” hate us because we are free, “they” hate us because we love liberty. I think not. They have nothing to lose. They are poor and beaten, even the best educated have no employment opportunities. Nations that have lived for generations under dictatorships, the national experience is one of controlled media and secret police. Never knowing firsthand what freedom and liberty mean. The only thing they have to fight for is self respect and pride. When everything has been stripped away a man still has his self respect and pride. Male pride is often misplaced and irrational but it is always powerful and dangerous. I have noticed that women do not suffer this form of pride which explains the very small number of female radicals.
Our foreign policy is based on chauvinist fantasies. The Democrats think “if we can just get them to love us” while the Republicans think “if we can just get them to fear us”. Neither position understands or even acknowledges male human nature. The Muslim radical will never love America nor will they ever fear America.
No nation in history has ever had a coherent and rational foreign policy. Most have a limited self concern of realpolitik based on power and material factors, short term views that result in long term disaster. The Great Game (also called the Tournament of Shadows) was Great Britain’s moment in the sun as a world power, for all the cleverness and intelligence attributed it by historians we are still living with the catastrophic remnants.
Domestic politics drive foreign policy, the longest war in American history, the Afghanistan war, continues due to domestic political fear. Whether we exit now or two years from now will make no difference to Afghanistan or history. It will make a tragic difference for many military families. We lack the honesty to acknowledge that America doesn’t even have a purpose for this war. Originally a response to the 9/11 attack and legitimately based on defeating al-Qaeda. That task was finished in short order and we should have left then.
The gunboat diplomacy of Commodore Perry in 1854 was given a moral dimension by President Woodrow Wilson’s commitment of spreading democracy internationally. Woodrow Wilson or Teddy Roosevelt never allowed domestic politics to trump international objectives. The bad ending of the Vietnam War gave republicans a blunt club for domestic electoral victories. Now national politicians use foreign adventures for political gain. Remember our last “War President” running for reelection. Our current President hasn’t claimed the mantel of “War President” but he has nursed the Commander in Chief aura exceedingly well.
In addition to the political advantage of “projecting strength” there are strong special interest groups that benefit from war. Dropping bombs and crashing helicopters is very profitable to some industrial segments. Supplying an air craft carrier group is very lucrative. This waste of our national treasure is not creating any positive feedback. We are getting the same results as Pax Britannica and headed for the same ending.
A foreign policy based on an understanding of human nature mated to a clear sense of our long term national needs could serve both America and the world. For the Middle East and Muslim radicals we need to acknowledge the role of male pride. Gunboat diplomacy is adding gasoline to a fire. For the grand strategy we need to move beyond Woodrow Wilson’s vision