A grand restraint strategy needs a “counter-elite”


Most REALISTIC (and even the most liberal) international relations theories follow certain fundamental assumptions – that the world is anarchic without a global policeman and that global hegemony is unsustainable. Nation states, the main units of international politics, seek to survive in this anarchy. Among them, the major powers are the main players. States seeking hegemony are often balanced, because balance is the norm. The system is amoral and Darwinian, and most hegemonic powers stretch and collapse, although some smart powers manage to retreat, or even “pass over” to other states in times of stress. Different schools of realism can, of course, claim and predict different ways of determining whether and how states seek to survive. Some will say that states are power maximizers, while others will say that states are mostly security maximizers. Different schools of realism also conclude different behaviors even when analyzing from the same theoretical basis. For example, all realists agree that China is the greatest potential threat to US interests. Some might argue that the United States must arm Taiwan and actively balance China by facilitating an alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region. Others might prefer the US to be an ‘offshore balancer’ and shift the security burden to regional powers, drawing attention to the fact that China is virtually allianceless and surrounded by powerful and wealthy states. (most of them ideologically aligned with the United States or opposed to possible Chinese hegemony), one with nuclear power and all with large navies. Asia-Pacific in 2021 is different from a shattered Europe in 1949, susceptible to an expansionist Soviet Union.

Either way, all realists agree that America is a very secure great power, with geographic advantage and hemispheric hegemony, and overwhelming global power relative to its rival peers. Most of the top universities are in the United States, as are most of the major industries, businesses, and defense companies. The United States still commands the global commons and is the main destination for trade, and while there may be trade rivals such as the EU and China, there is unlikely to be a big challenger. of power that will knock America off its perch at least for the near and foreseeable future. According to the logic of realism, there are two regions that are of primary interest to American strategic security: Western Europe and the Eastern Pacific. If dominated by a rival hegemon, these regions can leave the American coastline vulnerable and can result in consolidated economic power in rival hands, crushing American commerce. In other words, these are areas where the United States has done and would do anything to prevent an expansionist hegemony from a rival peer. That said, there’s no threat of Russian armor sweeping the Belgian prairies anytime soon, and there’s no likelihood of Chinese marines landing in Japan and Australia in an expansionary war. If China starts a war with India, Taiwan or Vietnam, it will at worst be bogged down in a horrific war of attrition comparable to World War I, and at best will be mired in a bloody counter-insurgency over a long period of time. much worse term than Iraq and Afghanistan. . Either scenario would almost certainly end any potential Chinese expansionism.

One of the reasons China has become so powerful is that it hasn’t fought a war since 1979. Meanwhile, nearly all of the problems the United States currently faces are domestic, ideological, and interrelated. Chief among them are falling education standards; militant teachers and the culture war; the collapse of increasingly partisan institutions, with subsequent decline in public confidence in them; an increasingly confined elite, disconnected from their own compatriots, leading to flawed analyses, policies and conclusions; massive migration problems at the southern border; frayed social contract; and a neoliberal-neoconservative ideological duopoly, most of which are more determined to secure women’s rights in a semi-feudal backwater than to solving problems like crippling addiction in their own country.

While realists have historically focused on human interests, modern academic realism is more aligned with structural analysis, often at the cost of ignoring variables at the level of national unity. Kenneth Waltz, for example, has argued that a theory of realism in international relations should focus only on systemic behavior, not on individual states and their foreign policy predictions – a claim he himself made. even repeatedly mined. Nevertheless, most academic realists are, therefore, obsessed with theoretical studies. Similarly, no political realist will ever satisfy the academy, because politics must invariably consider messy compromises. Daniel Drezner wrote a few years ago, by the standards of the ivory tower realists, “there will only be a realistic president if this elected official has obtained a doctorate. in international relations from the University of Chicago, then hired the ghost of George Kennan to be secretary of state. It’s too restrictive. Similarly, Justin Logan asked,

The vast majority of realists oppose the war in Iraq, the build-up in Afghanistan, and support pressure on the Israelis to stop expanding settlements and make a deal with the Palestinians. Given the alleged pre-eminence of the realists in Washington, how come they constantly lose arguments?

Drezner also demonstrated in his writings that the American tradition is one of small-r republicanism, and that the majority of the American people apparently have realistic sympathies. They repeatedly voted for the presidential candidate who was more restrained than his counterpart. “The persistence of the anti-realist assumption may be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed to liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.” Nowhere has this disconnect been greater than during the election of Donald Trump.

TRUMP, FOR the first time, began to speak in the foul language of amoral power, which should have given the realists some satisfaction. The only academic realist to endorse candidate Trump was Randall Schweller in Foreign Affairs, and almost no political realist other than Nadia Schadlow early in her administration, and Douglas Macgregor and William Ruger in the final days, have joined the Trump administration. In fact, Trump, for all his bluster, has been consistently betrayed by his own administration, by the people he himself hired, including John Bolton, James Mattis and HR McMaster, all of whom repeatedly opposed the fallback instincts of the President of the Middle East and Afghanistan.

This was the central paradox and conundrum of the Trump era: was he underserved by the establishment for lack of a “counter-elite” who could follow his campaign policies, or was he just just not smart enough to figure out he was on his knees? It now appears that the president was indeed frustrated. ABC News reported, “Choosing Ruger was one of many personnel moves Trump made in his final months in office to build a team committed to one of his primary policy goals: a complete removal from the American army.”

The total withdrawal was ultimately executed by President Joe Biden, who did what Trump could not: go against his own military hierarchy and argue in language heavily criticized by the same political elite. foreign but which was completely in tune with public opinion. opinion. Blaming Afghans for their own incompetence, dishonesty, corruption and failure, Biden argued, sounding suspiciously like Trump to some observers, that “there is nothing that China or Russia would rather have, want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down”. another decade in Afghanistan. He added that from now on, the era of nation-building is over and the United States will only go to wars with clear and achievable goals and a set end date. His assessment of the Afghans was shared by an unlikely source. The German Defense Minister also claimed that it was the Afghans who “did not defend these achievements as we had hoped”, and that the Afghans did not take full responsibility for their security. It was a polite way of saying that the Afghan security forces, with a four-to-one advantage over the Taliban, surrendered and simply switched sides; In the end, Afghan men were unwilling to protect their wives from the Taliban regime, and a considerable number of draft-age men simply fled the country and did not fight.

Compare this Trump-Biden realism to the reaction of the establishment. A former NATO chief argued in Foreign Affairs that it was a mistake to leave Afghanistan because “…a whole generation knew an Afghanistan where girls could go to school and where civil society flourished”. Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute was apoplectic in the pages of the New York Times in the same way Bill Kristol on Twitter. Mark Malloch-Brown, President of the Open Society Foundation, maintained that the crusade against a misogynistic Taliban must continue and

…donor governments and private funders must support local Afghan groups and individuals who have courageously stood up for good governance, the rule of law and human rights. They include women’s groups, independent journalists and voices representing religious and ethnic minorities whose views must be reflected in any negotiations between the government and the Taliban.

The list continues. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright tweeted on how America should continue to focus on saving the lives of Afghan women, a sentiment echoed by a hyper-emotional Mark Milley, David Petraeus and HR McMaster, as well as major liberal think tanks.


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