So We Are Told.
Back in the Old Country, the SWAT Teams are busy as ever, manipulating Americans into what their overseers currently want them to believe. One group holds that it’s no longer sufficient for Americans to regard Russia (and Russians) with the traditional post-Cold War mixture of pity and scorn. Russia must now be decreed the world’s leading threat to peace.
The government has said so.
The Pentagon, obviously. Plussing-up against a nation-state threat, however nonexistent, might shake loose a few additional shekels. Anti-Putin forces also stand to benefit, as do America’s all-purpose Voices of Conscience on their sempiternal quests for unearned moral stature.
And of course, the more we worry about Russia, the more lies we hear, the less room we have in our brain boxes for consideration of more benignly-intentioned peoples, such as Iran and globally metastasizing Islamism.
So what has this to do with Israel?
Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps, maybe this. If Russia, a nation capable only of low-grade local mischief-making and deep into its own malaise, can be deemed a Global Threat to Peace, why not Israel, too? After all, you don’t have to do anything in particular to earn the title. Just get in the way of, say, an Iranian “deal.”
So Israeli intransigence now endangers . . . expect the SWAT Team broadcasts soon.
Would that it were so simple.
We come now to something that Israelis must understand about American history and its enduring patterns, something Mr. Netanyahu might want to consider as he goes pushily about opposing a disaster that has already irrevocably occurred, whether the “deal” is ever approved or not.
Back to the history books.
Woodrow Wilson had a problem. By 1917, his domestic presidency, though far from unproductive, was moribund; any future claim to historical greatness would come in foreign affairs. He would not take American into the Great War for normal reasons of state. He had to do it as a good Progressive, busting Kaiser Bill the way he’d longed to rack up America’s Robber Barons. He would make the world safe for democracy, and be deified thereby.
Was America buying it?
Hard to tell. Historians work with what’s visible to them. What’s visible is a lot of over-torqued speechifying and erudite nonsense. But you can argue, I think persuasively, that American support for Wilsonian global idealism was three thousand miles wide and six inches deep. The joyous ease with which America turned upon it in the 1920s offers strong support. Idealism bereft of achievement had become embarrassment and, even worse . . . boring.
America wandered off.
FDR made no such mistakes. America was genuinely unified after Pearl Harbor, but it was a unity perhaps best expressed in the slogan of a popular poster:
This Time, Let’s Finish the Job.
But what, beyond victory, was the Job? And how far did it extend into what was certain to be postwar turmoil? Military service was “for the duration plus six months.” The duration of what? The American people had been asked to fight what was originally expected to be a ten-year war, with scant mention of what might follow. They won in four.
In 1946, George Kennan, then America’s chargé d’affaires in Moscow, was asked by DC to explain why the Soviets were behaving like, well, Soviets. He answered in “the Long Telegram,” so-titled because it was long and sent telegraphically (telegrammatically?). This document became the basis of his 1947 briefly pseudonymous Foreign Affairs “X” article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which gave America and the world the concept of “containment.”
Kennan got it far more right than wrong. Stalin may have been monstrous, but he was no Hitlerian psychopath, intent upon some Slavic Gotterdammerung. Soviet expansionism could be contained, patiently and without war, until the USSR morphed into something more human and amenable to the common life of the planet. It took a few decades longer than Mr. Kennan had anticipated, and came about in a thoroughly unanticipated way. But he knew whereof he recommended.
Containment, unfortunately, did not remain a purely anti-Soviet affair. By 1950, it had been promiscuously militarized and globalized — “A defeat anywhere is a defeat everywhere,” as bright young policy-wonk Paul Nitze proclaimed in NSC-68. And thus began seven decades of American military and covert mucking-about on the planet, to decidedly mixed results.
But were the American people buying it?
To get at this, we quote in full the peroration of Mr. Kennan’s “X” article:
“Surely, there was never a fairer test of national quality than this. In the light of these circumstances, the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will find no cause for complaint in the Kremlin’s challenge to American society. He will rather experience a certain gratitude to a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history plainly intended them to bear.”
Brave words. But containment, in reality, didn’t ask a whole lot of the American people. They didn’t have to do very much. Basically, just sit tight, go about your business, and let the professionals take care of it.
Future major wars were not expected. When they came about, time after time, the American people (all those SWAT Teams notwithstanding) less approved than gave the benefit of the doubt to their government. When the wars dragged on too long, or ceased to gratify, the American people lost interest and wandered off.
Are they losing interest now? Did they lose interest long ago?
Certainly a plausible explanation. And of course, losing interest means not having to bother to understand. That’s for the SWAT Teams to provide.
In sum, America’s stance in the world since 1917 might be viewed as a series of cycles: idealism versus cynicism, engagement versus disengagement, whatever. But there’s another way to look at it. Time after time, the American people, clinging to their notions of “world leadership” but losing interest in whatever’s going on . . . wander off.
Or perhaps Congressman Charlie Wilson put it best at the end of that fine movie, Charlie Wilson’s War:
“America always f**** up the end-game.”
And no one seems to care.
Next: Israelis Just Wanna Have Fun