These questions have been asked again and again over the last hundred years. The answers have changed radically from time to time.
Is it possible to trust the United States? What does it really want from the outside world? To what extent is it willing to defend its interests? Does it have an appetite for long-term commitments?
You can do what a Chinese newspaper did last week. He has been rummaging through the bowels of American foreign policy since the 1980s. He concluded that the United States had never maintained allegiance to its allies, not even to France, that it was only thanks to its military intervention that it was able to defeat the British in its War of Independence. When France needed American help, the Americans said they were sorry but had no intention. On gratitude was not a characteristic feature of their relationship with the outside world.
Their first president, George Washington, warned them, in his farewell letter in 1796, that God forbid they should whisper “permanent and ingrained hostility toward some nations,” or cultivate “sentimental closeness” toward others. “Our clear policy is to guard against permanent alliances with any part of the outside world.”
Loyalty is therefore inherent in their genes, the Chinese newspaper wrote with obvious joy to Ida of America in Afghanistan.
She saved, she revolted, she lost, she abandoned
Really? It is difficult to answer this, because over the years, American foreign policy has been far from consistent. She played a key role in two world wars. It saved Western Europe during the Cold War, which lasted 40 years or more. She saved South Korea, one of the greatest success stories of our time.
But it lost China, more than 70 years ago. And it lost Indo-China, more than 45 years ago. It lost Iran more than 40 years ago. And last week it lost Afghanistan.
These losses have been attributed to the collapse of the willpower of local allies and to the appalling corruption of their governments. This was certainly true in all cases: Chiang Kai-shek in China immediately after World War II; General Nguyen Van Thieu in South Vietnam; The Shah of Iran, Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan. They were the main failure.
But it is worrying how the US has released its commitments to protect its allies. In Vietnam and Afghanistan it has agreed to hold peace talks with its enemies, mainly to get political coverage, so that it can return its troops home. The North Vietnamese Communists invaded the south;
That they will manage on their own
I think that’s the most disturbing point. When America gets tired of its commitments, it develops a tendency to shake them off, whatever it may be. That they will manage on their own, damn it, she says of her allies, and lets them drown.
Had the U.S. applied these patterns of behavior to its NATO allies in the mid-20th century, or to South Korea at any stage in the last 70 years, it is safe to assume that they would all have fallen into the hands of the Communists. This was the military and political reality.
Why did she not apply? It is not always clear. What would have happened if a hot attrition war had broken out with the Soviet Union along the Elbe River in Germany? Was public fatigue from the soldiers “returning in zinc closets” convincing an American president to pack up and return home? Then, a Soviet army would have reached the Atlantic Ocean.
Fortunately, Israel did not have to stand the test of American combat fatigue, and it would be better if it did not have to pass it. Israelis, on the other hand, have no reason to complain about American infidelity. In 1973, the largest military air train ever made up for Israel’s heavy losses in the Yom Kippur War, rescuing it from collapse.
But Israel, too, needs to reflect on the far-reaching implications of Afghanistan.
Europe is already pondering. “The biggest failure in NATO’s history,” says the center-right candidate for next month’s chancellor. She did not mind, she did not listen to their reservations. This is a behavior that would not surprise anyone if it came from Donald Trump, but it left a deep disappointment on the part of Joe Biden, who promised to be the opposite of Trump.
“Domestic policy with a hat”
Hubert Humphrey, who was vice president and presidential candidate in the 1960s, one of the prominent statesmen of his time, said that “foreign policy is in fact an internal policy with a hat on.” He said this with a great deal of frustration. Domestic policy considerations weighed on America’s foreign relations, weakening its ability to make unpopular decisions. That’s reasonable. This is a matter for every democracy. The problem is, of course, that in this democracy the free world has become accustomed to trusting for its own freedom.
There is nothing finite here. The Vietnam disaster did paralyze American foreign policy for ten years, paving the way for heavy defeats (the revolution in Iran; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the Communist takeover of Angola, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua); But then came the great victory in the Cold War, forgetting Vietnam. Maybe Afghanistan will be forgotten too.