Question: (Coming together to generate ideas for a new foreign policy agenda). In the end, the 2016 US presidential campaign did what democracies are supposed to do: it gave the electorate a clear choice between two different visions of the country’s future and the policies each party proposed to take us there. When faced with the prospect of “more of the same,” meaning more impoverishment of the middle and lower classes, more risks of new wars: it ‘threw the bums out.”
Unfortunately, on the way to this happy outcome the level of political culture on display by the presidential candidates and their campaign staffs sank to unprecedented lows and vicious personal attacks on each other often obscured the policy differences between the candidates.
Nevertheless now that the outgoing President Obama and the incoming President Trump have shaken hands at their first transition meeting in the White House, it is time for the rest of us to make our peace with one another. This, however, should not mean ending our differences of opinion on policies. On the contrary, what the country needs now is a good dose of debate and in particular partisan, as opposed to nonpartisan discussion of our foreign policy issues, since we have for the past 4 years at least been stumbling into a very dangerous confrontation with both Russia and China without the benefit of free public discussion of our options.
What concretely can we all do to force the media, the foreign policy establishment to ‘come out and play’ now rather than sulk and spit venom at the victorious Trump team?
The encouraging truth is that reality eventually triumphs; the discouraging truth is that it only does so over a long and painful time. Trump’s victory is, in its way, a victory for reality but a mighty effort remains.
What can we do in forums like this one? Keep talking about reality I suppose: the reality that the neocon domination of Washington has failed in every way possible; the reality that Washington’s endless wars have been failures; the reality that every failed war has planted the seeds of the next; the reality that a extraordinary opportunity was squandered in the 1990s; the reality that making Russia into an enemy is stupid, unnecessary and extremely dangerous; the reality that “exceptionalism” is exceptionally dangerous, destructive and stupid; the reality that the MSM is lying about Syria, about Russia, about Ukraine and about almost everything else; the reality that Putin is not a “thug” determined to re-create the USSR; the reality that Russia is not “isolated”, in “economic freefall” or on the edge of “regime change”; the reality that “The West” has been on the wrong course for two decades. The reality that the neocon/liberal interventionist route leads to destruction.
We may eventually hope that our little drops of water wear away the stone. Perhaps some of us have had an effect on Trump’s thinking, or Flynn’s thinking, or Bannon’s thinking. But we will probably never know and, in truth, it’s almost impossible to work out the influence.
But if Trump can get the Russia relationship right, then a great number of Washington’s international entanglements will be easier to remedy. And he does seem to be interested in getting that right.
But I think, in the last analysis, we have to agree with the great physicist Max Planck:
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
In short, a new foreign policy for the USA will have to advance, to paraphrase Planck again, “one political funeral at a time”.
But it’s encouraging that Trump’s election has produced so many political funerals.