Let the rest of the world go
"Foreign policy was a self-licking ice-cream cone before anyone living was born."
I was talking to a friend in the hard-right news business—let’s call her Janet. Janet, a kind and good person, was giving me something I get a lot these days: a quiet and understandable isolationist triumphalism in the supposedly-declining American empire, as made so manifest in the Afghan collapse.
Actually, I think, patriotic Americans just need to let the rest of the world go. The concept of an American empire is a slippery one, but there is no sense in which US foreign policy is, or even could be, useful to the US. Foreign policy has been a self-licking ice-cream cone since before anyone now living was born.
It is only natural that Janet feels the urge to participate in this deeply self-indulgent conversation. But, for me, the lesson of Afghanistan is not that the rest of the world will save us, but that the rest of the world doesn’t matter. America needs to let the rest of the world go—we cannot save it—nor can it save us.
None dare call it treason
Sometimes this sentiment goes so far as to actually invite foreign intervention, always a bad look. And I heard this from Janet too.
It is true that many foreign powers, even mid-sized ones, could produce strong effects on the American political system, if they knew what they were doing. But they have no incentive to—so it doesn’t matter.
When one considers what Janet or I could do, if the People’s Republic of China armed either of us with a mere billion dollars a year—roughly its revenue from pink stuffed giraffes—the mind boggles. Janet and I exist—but we are hardly overfunded. Politics, sensu lato, is the production of power from money; another billion or two would not produce much more progressive power; it would produce a lot more reactionary power.
But why would China do that? Janet and I disagree on many things—but neither of us is any friend of China. Actually, we’d both just love to disrupt the economic hippogriff called “Chimerica,” meaning Chinese industry plus American inflation. Disrupting Chimerica disrupts China by definition—which is exactly what the PRC hates. Duh.
Any foreign power has something to gain from America—even if it’s only money— and nothing to fear from America—since America is a toothless old bitch. Moreover, American isolationists also tend to have a violent Jacksonian streak. Therefore, any foreign power should prefer any kind of internationalist to any kind of isolationist.
Here is an American value: if treason against my government was needed to save my country, treason would be my duty. But for it to be needed, it would have to be effective.
While there are many effective instances of American intervention in foreign politics, these interventions are generally on behalf of left against right. There are no effective instances of foreign intervention in American politics on behalf of right against left. So there is no need for anyone to flirt with any kind of treason. (It should be noted that the libs, in 1688, had no compunction about riding to power on a Dutch invasion.)
Decline and decay
Even the thesis of “American decline” does not mean what it seems. The American empire is not an empire and it is not declining. It is an empire and it is decaying. And since its true power is not in domination, but in decay—its power is only growing.
Anyone familiar with the official narrative of foreign policy knows the difference between “hard power” and “soft power.” TLDR: since only hard power can resist soft power, American needs hard power to beat the hard powers that resist its soft power.
For example, Iran and the new Afghanistan are hard powers. Young Iranians or Afghans might succumb to American soft power—they might easily get into raves, polyamory, and/or postcolonial studies. Anti-Western hard power can solve this problem—by busting the rave, arresting all the ravers, and hanging them.
However, every raver is an American without a passport, and they have been trained to become super irrational any time you use hard power against soft power—for instance, by arresting all the professors of postcolonial studies and holding them, for their own safety of course, in Shea Stadium—people would make strange noises.
The purpose of Western hard power is simple: countering anti-Western hard power. Some of us have heard of “Germany.” It’s a little-known fact that when Kipling wrote of “lesser breeds, without the Law,” he was talking not about the Zulus or Congolese, but rather the Germans.
Indeed Kipling was a huge fan of World War I, which paid him back with the loss of his only son. We can see these two European civil wars as the ultimate imperialist moment, in which Anglo-America subjugates Europe itself. Hitler, like the Taliban, was not super into raves and/or polyamory.
In the golden age of Anglo-America, soft and hard power worked together to conquer the world. Liberal Anglophilia had become the cult of the Continental elite in the 19th and 20th centuries. Not even Hitler could build a regime immune to it. Hitler’s chief of military intelligence, Wilhelm Canaris, was an Anglophile who spent the whole war sandbagging the Third Reich; the German aristocrats who spent the whole war trying to overthrow Hitler, and eventually tried to blow him up, were Anglophiles, who expected Churchill and Roosevelt to welcome their fellow liberal aristocrats to power. All their secret advances were rebuffed, for this was a war of revolutionary empire.
After conquering the whole planet with the USSR’s aid, then realizing that Stalin was anything but a loyal ally and the Grand Design of UN world government would never work, this gigantic military machine learned to justify itself with a global civil war against its old Slavic pitbull. Each of the two revolutionary empires considered itself at risk of military conquest by the other, never a plausible scenario—but they still had enough love for each other to collaborate against prerevolutionary powers.
It was not military force that brought down the Soviet Union. It was cultural decay. Blue jeans accomplished what MX missiles could not. “Soft power” is no more than fashion—and, just as America was more fashionable than the Third Reich, it was more fashionable than the USSR.
Our Greek future
Will the (inarguable) decline of American hard power reduce the effect of American soft power? For example: will the fall of Afghanistan reduce American reputation—making Harvard and the New York Times less influential, or raves, polyamory and postcolonial studies less fashionable? Will everyone stop wearing jeans, and start wearing turbans?
Not at all, for “America” is not even a concept with a reputation. America does not have a reputation. Harvard has a reputation. While it may be true in some sense that Harvard is responsible for the fall of Afghanistan, there are not ten thousand human beings on the planet who could understand so subtle a connection. As for jeans…
The fundamental fallacy of these Afghan whitepillers is the idea, created by this attractive but oversimplified caricature of an “American empire” which is “falling,” is that global cultural decay can be stemmed by American military decline—not just in Afghanistan, but in the “rise of China,” etc.
China’s military power is rising. This would only matter if anyone in China actually wanted a war, which they don’t. Many want to pretend they do for various reasons, eg, funding. Money doesn’t grow on trees in China either—and since the last thing the CCP wants is instability, the last thing the CCP wants is a war.
Surely Taiwan is worth way more to China without a war than with one. And even if I am wrong and they are crazy, how many Americans are supposed to die for Taiwan? As our President has said: c’mon, man.
But let us indulge in a reductio ad absurdum. Suppose the US replaced all its weapons with squirt guns and China invaded and conquered the entire Western Hemisphere without a fight. Would this reduce the power of Harvard? Of course not—this would just be like the Roman conquest of Greece.
Roman Athens was not a wasteland, but an educational center very like Boston. Why would China destroy Harvard, if it were in China’s power? Everyone in China loves Harvard! In the new Greater China, Harvard is the leading university. Why not? The PLA would come not to destroy Harvard, like Frodo—but to capture it, like Saruman.
And this would be extremely painful—for them. The CCP would have zero chance of actually imposing Xi Jinping Thought on Harvard Yard. Instead, like a predator who underestimates the prey, it would be they who would be vulnerable—in the new Greater China, there can be no firewall between Boston and Beijing.
Decay does not care who broke the barriers down, or why—decay just spreads. Even removing America from the planet entirely would not do the job—it would be like removing the prostate of a man with metastatic prostate cancer. Yes—the cancer did in fact come from the prostate. But now—
So international relations are completely useless to any dissident party. If it has the power to do so, it should just turn diplomacy off—if possible, permanently.
The whole embassy system is an 18th-century relic. No one would site all these onsite diplomats in the age of the telegraph, let alone the Internet. Not even to mention the military bases! We’ll need big planes, folks—the biggest. For now—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, not forgetting to stop in Germany and Japan—America is coming home.
But this ultra-isolationist strategy of “just letting the world go” suggests an exception to the otherwise-watertight rule above. Foreign policy can affect domestic power, in this one case.
When Moscow let its little own world go, and all the “socialist brother republics” of the Warsaw Pact—which was not exactly a Polish organization—decided that they had had enough of building socialism and wanted porn, Coca-Cola and the Internet, there was no way to hide this preference defalsification from the citizens of Russia itself. While these events had no direct impact on Russian politics through military force, they had an immense indirect impact on Russian politics through propaganda power.
Since American diplomacy exerts a tremendous left-wing force on every country in the world, a world without American diplomacy is a right-wing world. If the world chooses the right, perhaps even a right farther right than anyone today can imagine, and it works—in this case, the American voter might possibly notice how badly he is governed. Then again, he hasn’t noticed how much better China is governed.
Consider, for instance, Brazil. In today’s world, a world with American diplomacy, a military coup in Brazil will result in the shutdown of banking and/or energy flows to Brazil. The coup will be strangled, because America cares who governs Brazil and can make its power felt—this is the purpose of the embassy.
Without American diplomacy, who rules Brazil? As Alexander the Great said on his deathbed—“The strongest.” It could be the Brazilian army. It could be the Brazilian workers and peasants. Why not try it and find out? There should be some way to take bets on the blockchain. The payoff on this bet will be terrible, but I’d go with the…
Imagine this happening, not just in Brazil, all over the world—unpopular progressive governments, propped up in power by American progressive diplomacy, collapsing everywhere like the towers at the end of “Inception,” replacing themselves everywhere by simple, manly forms of government based on monarchy, coercion and command… everywhere cleaning up the slums, the shantytowns, the tent cities, the trash and the graffiti, the no-go zones and the tower blocks, striding rapidly forward into a clean and safe mall-destination future, but one which yet is somehow also cool…
Then, do you think, Americans would notice? Nah. Probably not. But, in theory, this is the backwave: the rush of local energy created by liberating foreign territories. You can only get that backwave rush once—so use it all at once, and use it well.