06/14/2012 12:23 EDT | Updated 08/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Like Bad Wine, U.S. Foreign Policy Gets Worse With Time

We now see every week the crumbling of foreign policy of the United States. The War on Terror was not without mistakes, but the War on Drugs has been a disaster in every respect. Only 20 years ago, the U.S. bestrode the world, the only super power, strong by any measurement. Today it is quavering, waffling, semi-bankrupt, lurching from one mistaken and often hypocritical policy to the next.


We now see every week the crumbling of foreign policy of the United States. All the rubbish about reset buttons, renewed alliances, a realistic approach to tyrannical states, has simply degenerated into virtual chaos.

The second Bush administration led the world into Afghanistan as the source of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and then abruptly decamped to Iraq, leaving its allies under-strength for an unclear mission of involuntary nation-building in one of the most inhospitable countries in the world. The Iraq mission was part of a sudden effusion for democracy on the theory that democracies don't unleash aggressive war.

They do not, but a democratic election doesn't necessarily elevate a functioning democracy either, and the Palestinians chose Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah, two of the most virulent terrorist organizations in the world. The United States unceremoniously departed Iraq, after squandering billions on fruitless nation-building, leaving a very problematic patchwork country, still riven by terrorist attacks, where free elections were subverted by the incumbent government installed by the Americans.

The complete failure of the United States to reduce energy imports has effectively put it on both sides of the War on Terror, which it has otherwise conducted quite successfully, and the current reduction in those imports is due to oil extraction by fracking, which the present administration has not favored, as it has not facilitated domestic and off-shore drilling, because of petrification at the predictable response from the ecological lobby.

The War on Terror returned from wobbly nation-building in Iraq to Afghanistan and the embrace of Pakistan as an ally, despite Pakistan's generous support of the Haqqani faction of the Taliban, which kills NATO forces every week. It is hard to credit that the Pakistani intelligence service was unaware of the comfortable residence of Osama bin Laden just a few miles from the headquarters of the military unit that routinely performs military coups d'etat in Pakistan, a country that has been ruled by putschist generals for most of its history.

The escalation of civilian deaths from collateral damage from attacks by American drones has done some damage to the substantial numbers of terrorist cadres resident, otherwise undisturbed, in Pakistan. But it has so envenomed relations with dysfunctional and ambivalent Pakistan that it denies overland access to Afghanistan for its NATO allies, despite the generous proportions, until recently, of American assistance to Pakistan. Supplies have had to be rerouted through Uzbekistan, (no joy to deal with either).

The Obama administration's reset with Russia has led to Russian assistance to the nuclearization of the Iranian military, and the sale of attack helicopters to the Assad regime in Syria, despite American acquisitions of helicopters on behalf of Afghanistan from the same Russian supplier.

This was despite the American climb-down from a maximum security anti-missile defense system for Western Europe, in the course of which the Obama administration has effectively conceded Russia's right to a massive first-strike capability against the West. American resistance to Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons has also been desultory and inconsistent.

The United States ditched its Egyptian ally, Mubarak, as president Carter had ditched the much more progressive Shah of Iran, ditched the reasonably reliable Saleh of Yemen, now a failed state, but effectively endorsed brutally rigged elections in Iran, as well as the mockery of Putin's reelection in Russia, while Hillary Clinton described Syrian President Assad as "a reformer" and Obama declared that Qaddafi "must go" but declined to do anything about it until France and Britain took the lead, (and revealed their threadbare military capacities).

The United States has the muscle but not the will; a few of its allies intermittently have the will but not the muscle. Most have neither and the Western Alliance has fallen like a soufflé. The Alliance of the Willing was always a fraud, and an alliance of the willing and the capable would today have no members at all.

The second Bush administration achieved an important success in developing a constructive alliance with India and the Obama administration has at least been coherent in encouraging China's southern neighbors to preserve their independence, without inciting provocative or antagonistic actions toward China. The departure of Burma from the Chinese orbit and the start of democratization there has been a clear success.

Unfortunately, Latin American policy has been less successful. There was no excuse for siding with the undemocratic left in Honduras, and the failure of that policy was an unsought and undeserved American success. The United States has probably been correct to ignore the fatuous semi-communist regimes in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, as well as the shabby Evitaistic circus in Argentina.

But the War on Drugs has been a disaster in every respect. Internally, drugs are in more plentiful supply at lower cost and in greater strength in the United States than when the mis-named war, which has generated two million imprisonments of easily replaceable small fry and cost $1.5 trillion, began.

The United States has failed to control its own borders, despite having far more military force than would be necessary to do so, without diminishing legitimate commerce or tourism. It has trolled through the ghettos and over-sentenced African-American crack cocaine users and left the middle class drug users and vendors, in the universities and prosperous neighborhoods almost alone. All the while, the U.S. has demanded that Latin American countries, especially but not only, Mexico and Colombia, endure civil wars in hopeless combat against the drug supply, while being completely ineffective at reducing domestic American demand.

The contribution of the United States government to the financial crisis that it largely produced by allowing the world's financial markets to be inundated with worthless American real estate-based debt, and debasing its own currency with colossal budget and current account deficits, has been to urge profligate spending. Only 20 years ago, the U.S. bestrode the world, the only super power, strong by any measurement. Today it is quavering, waffling, semi-bankrupt, lurching from one mistaken and often hypocritical policy to the next. It is, of course, still a great and powerful country; such ascendancy cannot be squandered so quickly, especially when it has no real rival.

A staged and carefully executed retreat from over-exposure to the vagaries of world affairs would be justifiable and could be executed with dignity and no damage to American prestige and interests. But the genius that brought it from independence to the collapse of communism and the disintegration of its only remaining rival, the Soviet Union, in less than three full lifetimes, has temporarily vanished. When muscles atrophy and will evaporates, only weakness remains. No good policy can be made of that, and none now is.