Modern foreign policy discourses, particularly those found in the US, revolve around what I call a form of schizophrenia, whereby decisions are made reactively in relation to perceived and existing circumstances. Long term decision making and the cultivation of diplomatic relations are shunned in favour of a militaristic stance which favours aggressive posturing and a belief in strength via dominance.
Such a discourse seems to run through US foreign policy circles. Whether it be the stupidities of the Cold War, the failed interventions in the Middle East or the attempts at establishing liberal democracies across the world, American foreign policy seems determined at instituting particular governance structures despite the repeated failure to do so previously. Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria all testify to this. The old epithet of Einstein, that of madness being the act of doing the same thing but expecting different results, comes to mind when seeing this track record.
However this madness does not fully constitute schizophrenic foreign policy. Rather, the schizophrenic element can be seen in the supposed foreign policy successes of Western aggression and the expansion of the American empire. Here we see that far from constituting any real success, they are the reactive response of previous foreign policy mistakes and decisions, usually revolving around arming particular groups for the short-term outcome of maintaining hegemonic power against Soviet domination during the Cold War, and maintaining said power against Chinese hegemony and Islamist networks. The major part of schizophrenic foreign policy then is not its innate stupidity, which can be a characteristic of imperial relations or regional power blocs, but rather its ideological commitments which trump any major reform or proper diplomacy. By promoting political abstractions like humanitarianism and liberal democracy which require economic and political hegemony, foreign policy becomes schizophrenic because of its nonsensical commitments to abstract philosophies, which mean short-term outcomes are desired over long-term policies which promote international equality among political actors and units.
The first such example is the most obvious, that of the arming of the Mujahedeen by America during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was seen as an intelligent counter movement against Soviet expansion, allowing for the Soviets to bankrupt themselves fighting an unwinnable war. In that sense it worked, as the Soviets were pushed back with the knowledge that they had wasted vast amounts of money and resources in this region. It also showed the burgeoning power of guerrilla tactics and fourth generation warfare against hegemonic empires. With this fourth generation warfare there was the unleashing of powerful new forces of radical, militant Islamism, as seen in the development of both al Qaeda and the Taliban. America’s shortening of the inevitable demise of Soviet imperialism and its own desires to develop hegemony in the region led to the creation of new bulwarks of Islamist power. Many of the funds and weapons from America eventually went to groups like the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, who were both as brutal as each other. And of course this led to the ability of the Taliban to establish power and act as a base for terrorist activity, which led to the humanitarian intervention in 2001 by America to remove such terrorism. As a result, huge portions of Afghanistan are still controlled by the Taliban, and the need for America to negotiate a significant disintermediation from the region is seen as necessary today. Further, large elements of the military police hold allegiance or sympathy to the Taliban, and there has also been destabilisation in Pakistan near the Waziristan area of Afghanistan. Amazingly, but without irony, the US is now committing to a similar policy in Iraq with Islamist groups, ranging from the “certified rebels” of the FSA through to al-Nusra, due to the belief in American hegemony in the Middle East amongst its foreign policy establishment. By having stigmergic organisations of Islamists rather than the more centralised, anti-American states of Iran and Syria means greater US control over the region. “Raising the ‘possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality’, the Pentagon report goes on, ‘this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)'”. Thus we see American foreign policy being short-termist, and having to react to their ill-thought decisions, whether that be as a reaction to Soviet hegemony or as a means of maintaining their own regional power bases.
The NATO bombings and subsequent intervention in Yugoslavia are also an example of a supposed foreign policy success that came with much cost and baggage. In the first place, America armed and funded the Tito regime as a regional power that could rival Soviet domination during the 50s and 60s. This effectively prolonged the life of the fake multiculturalism that existed, disallowing a peaceful Balkanization of the Yugoslav regions and maintaining Tito’s iron grip over the country. Ethnic tensions were left to fester under the surface. Such processes of artificial multiculturalism have fixed life spans, yet American funding and support aimed to prolong these processes. However, when it became noted after the death of Tito that it was the beginning of the end for Yugoslavia, American officials began funding and arming secessionist movements and governments, paving the way for increasing ethnic tensions and the massacres, genocides and displacements that followed. By doing this America could maintain their dominance in the region, thus encircling Russia, and hone in processes of primitive accumulation which allowed for resource extraction and the enclosure of Yugoslav economies by mining the rich minerals of the region and taking control of the Caspian Sea. America’s short-term goals took precedence over long-term diplomacy and an intelligent policy of economic engagement, favouring supposed dominance and imperial hegemony instead. The schizophrenia shines through.
The third and final example is that of US funding for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. The Reagan and Bush administrations encouraged the funding and training of Iraqi weaponry, technology and troops, giving over chemical weapons and industrial developments as well as dual use technology and significant troop training. Intelligence was also provided that allowed Iraq to target Iran with chemical weapons. Such use of weapons was not seen as a concern by American officials as it contributed to the Iraqis winning the war. Of course they didn’t, and as a result Hussein used such weapons in suppressing the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War to stop them rebelling against his rule, as witnessed in the Halabja massacre. The use of chemical weapons by Hussein was a central reason for intervening in Iraq in 2003. When there are those who talk of how evil Hussein was, as many Labour MPs do when defending their shameful decision to vote for the Iraq War, they should remember that the US made a significant contribution to such evil.
Thus the tenets of schizophrenic foreign policy are laid bare. Rather than the exposition of simple stupidity or consistent failure, which are also present within US foreign policy outings, a schizophrenic foreign policy contains the essential ingredients of extreme short-termism combined with reactive policies which ignore long-term consequences and the ability to develop complex and intelligent diplomacy. Rather than the US and other countries, particularly those of the West, adopting Jeffersonian principles of diplomatic prudence and the avoidance of entangling alliances, many nation-states have followed the opposite path of entangling foreign relations through institutions like NATO.
The examples I’ve provided are only a small glimpse into the extent of this schizophrenic foreign policy. Many others abound, from the origination of ISIS through the destabilisation of Iraq after its invasion to the funding of Liberian regimes by the CIA, in particular Samuel Doe’s and Charles Taylor’s regimes, which led to the use of weaponry and funding provided to Liberia to be funneled into the Sierra Leone conflict, which itself then required intervention by Britain in 1998.
This schizophrenic foreign policy is costly, both in innocent lives and in monetary terms. Through debts acquired by maintaining a hegemonic American empire, with hundreds of bases around the world and the use of force in enforcing economic and political agendas, America is witnessing a fiscal crisis of the state, which is beginning to severely limit its economic capabilities. Hopefully, such economic crises can rein in the American foreign policy establishment, and make them realise that continual intervention is neither desirable nor intelligent. The main thing that hegemonic empires like the US need to do is make massive disengagements with the rest of the world. They need to scale back their commitments, allow for decentralisation of both their military capacity and their international nuclear arsenals, and allow for a more pluralistic world order of regional blocs and confederal governance systems, with a more equal world system of heterogonous political units and voluntary foreign engagements with diplomacy rather than intervention being the important, central factor.