Monday, July 21, 2014

End of “Dead White Men” Foreign Policy?

Barack Obama                           Sayyid Khamenei (Iran)
As a State Department intern 50 years ago, I was advised to choose a career either in EUR--the European Bureau--or FE--for “Far East” (could one be any more Eurocentric than “Far East”?). EUR and FE were where the action was. EUR meant dealing directly with our Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. And FE (shortly after, “EA” for East Asia), was the battlefield where real combat between “East” and “West” played out--Korea, China (Red China v. Taiwan), Malaya, Indonesia, and most especially, Indochina.

It was then a white man’s world--the U.S. against the U.S.S.R., white men confronting white men and seeking to expand or maintain their domination over Asia. And eventually failing to do so, just as Anglo-Indian poet Rudyard Kipling had predicted over 120 years ago that they would:
Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: "A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East."
FE became EA, the West stopped warring for East Asia, the Soviet Union collapsed, and EUR faded as the fixed center of U.S. foreign policy.

History never stands still. Barack Obama, raised on a diet of liberation philosophy that worked to put “dead white men” in their proper contemporary perspective, is a black president leading a political coalition built on color and sex--minorities plus unmarried women. The coalition was powerful enough to return him to the White House in 2012, even though he had failed for four years to recharge our economy--the first president re-elected since FDR to win with unemployment topping 7.9%. Obama knows the power of his coalition.

And Obama has used that power to reshape American foreign policy. His coalition is uninterested in “dead white men” foreign policy, so we don’t waste resources any more on fighting people of color or defending white people--not in Iraq, not missiles in Poland or the Czech Republic, not in Afghanistan, not in Libya, not in Syria, not in the Ukraine.

When it comes to “even-handedness” toward Israel and pursuing peace with Iran, two important pieces of Obama’s post-“dead white men” foreign policy, the president is hitting resistance from within his own, historically pro-Israel party. In over-simplified terms, supporting Israel represents the last beachhead of the “dead white man” foreign policy I knew as an intern 50 summers ago. Only when it comes to Israel (and Israel's deep concern about Iran with nukes) does a bipartisan coalition stand up to Obama and say, “Enough!”

Still, we know that on foreign policy, the Constitution puts the White (irony there) House in charge. Obama won’t yet confront Israel directly. But the reason Obama is so soft on Putin is this: he needs Russia to pull off his major unmet foreign policy goal: an opening to Iran that will be his “Nixon to China.” The loser in the end will be not only “dead white men” Israel, but also the last remaining piece of “dead white man” foreign policy.

Don’t believe my version of how this will go down? Doesn’t Israel have nuclear weapons it has no intention of using? And so does Muslim Pakistan. So what’s the big deal, really, if Iran has atomic bombs as well? As for Putin shooting down a commercial jet with 300 innocent people aboard, we already know it wasn’t intentional; Putin was only trying to kill Ukrainians and made an honest mistake, just like we did off Iran in 1988.

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