Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

A Failure of Imagination: US Foreign Policy

Thesis:  If we were to imagine the world we want, and then pursue policies that work in that direction, we’d might have better foreign policy outcomes.

American foreign policy is easy to criticize.  No one is sure what we are doing in Libya or why, Afghanistan keeps getting worse, we are trying to get the Iraqi government to ask us to stay longer, Israel and Palestine still can’t get along, and our foreign policy seems increasingly militarized.   I propose that part of the failure in American foreign policy is a failure of imagination.  We don’t lay out what we want the world to look like, therefore we don’t know in what direction our policies are supposed to be working.

In my imagination, one of the basic tenets of our foreign policy would be peace.   I realize peace is a broad term with an ill-defined meaning, but remember, I’m imagining here.  It is okay to have lofty ideals; it doesn’t tell you exactly what you should do, but it gives you a sense where you should be going.

If peace was a basic tenet, we might rethink our continued intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  We can always stop fighting a war. It is true that there might be a civil war in Afghanistan (Actually, I think it likely) after we leave, and Iraq still sees levels of violence far above what should be considered acceptable.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be a part of it.  We need not contribute to wars, especially when we don’t face an existential threat.  We could go a year without using a drone to drop a bomb on any group.

We might decide that the flow of guns to Mexico is contributing to appalling violence and take measures to enforce laws against gun running. We could reduce our inventory of nuclear weapons to just a few dozen, because why maintain the ability to blow up the world several times over?  We could reduce the size of our standing Army; maybe even attempt to restore the connection between the military and civil society.

Of course deciding not to fight does not mean that we can’t attempt to mitigate risks.  We could start a crash course to discover new sources and types of energy, allowing us to disengage from the Middle East.  We could develop an “offshore,” intelligence focused strategy in Afghanistan to keep the pressure on terrorist groups.  We could agree to ratchet down the fear mongering perpetrated in the newspapers by mostly anonymous government officials.  We could recognize that a mild risk to terrorism comes with the territory of having an open, liberal democracy.

I could be wrong, and I definitely come with a built-in ideological bias towards peace.  But it seems to me, the potential outcomes of imagining peace would be better than the status quo.  Heck, we been trying something else for ten years now, and no one seems to be happy.   We could just try it for a few years; if we hate it, we can go back to the old policies.

I freely recognize that this “imagination” is pie in the sky thinking.  It would require the questioning of foreign policy consensus, and there seems to be no real effort in Washington to do such a thing.  But we are, in a way, a nation of dreamers.  Our country was founded on lofty ideals, and our collective entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity drives people to start small businesses, invent new products, and dream of a better life.  It is all in our power to do so, if we will just use a little imagination.

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Written by keithboyea

August 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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