I picked a bad time to begin a blog. The next two weeks were taken up with the Republican and Democratic national conventions. I hate pep rallies (always have), I loathe political speeches (too much like my day job), and I can muster only two cheers for Romney and one cheer for Obama (when he ridicules Romney for naming Russia as our “No. 1 geopolitical foe”). With so little good to say about the conventions, I decided to say nothing (nihil nisi bonum, you know).
Then came the shocking and shameful events of last week—the murder of an American ambassador in Libya. I thought of writing several times. I started writing once. But sometimes the world seems so insane that writing seems a waste of time. No matter what you write, the world will not understand.
But a friend of mine did write, and his words are worth repeating now. I’ve known Srdja Trifkovic for nearly 20 years, since our mutual exile in Houston. A Bosnian Serb who grew up under Tito, he received a first-rate classical education in Yugoslavia’s old-fashioned gymnasium school system. (Say what you want about Yugoslav communists, they valued real education more than Americans do.) Srdja (or Serge) holds bachelors degrees in political science and international relations and a Ph.D. in history at the University of Southampton. Formerly foreign affairs editor of Chronicles magazine, he is now an independent scholar and the author of several books, notably The Sword of the Prophet—Islam: History, Theology, Impact on the World.
Srdja is the best authority on international relations I know, and his first three paragraphs on the Sept. 11 killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens are almost all one needs to say to show how criminally insane our present foreign policy is:
The Arab Spring has shown its true face. Ambassador Christopher Stevens did not create it, but he was directly involved in helping unleash the dormant monster which destroyed him. Every actor in the U.S. foreign policy-making establishment is responsible.
It is the nature of men to create monsters, says virtual counter-hero Harlan Wade of F.E.A.R., and it is the nature of monsters to destroy their makers. Mary Shelley and the Golem come to mind, but what happened in Benghazi on the night of September 10-11 is more reminiscent of Bram Stoker. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens did not create it, but he was directly involved in helping unleash the dormant monster which destroyed him. His death is the paradigm for the U.S. policy vis-à-vis the world of Islam since 9-11.
“In the early days of the Libyan revolution, I asked Chris to be our envoy to the rebel opposition,” Hillary Clinton said in her eulogy. “He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationships with Libya’s revolutionaries.” As an American liaison to insurgents who had just started to fight Qadafy’s forces, Stevens was instrumental in turning a local revolt into a fully-fledged rebellion. As ABC News notes, he was “literally on the rebels’ side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable.” Introducing himself as ambassador in a State Department video four months ago, Stevens said that he “was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights” during the uprising.
The rest of the article is well worth reading, but the point has been made: Ambassador Stevens thought he was doing Libyans a favor by helping them overthrow Muammar Qaddafi, and they killed him for it. What more proof of insanity do we need?
Perhaps you’re thinking it’s the Libyans who are insane, being an ignorant, backward people benighted by Islam. But that’s not the case. The Libyans knew just what they were doing. They know who they are and what they believe and who their enemy is. We Americans are the ones who are wrong about these things.
Imagine: A very large country dedicated to denying all differences of race and religion throws the full weight of its power behind a very small country dedicated to one race and one religion dominating all others, and for its efforts the very large country gets nothing—except all of the very small country’s enemies.
That’s our policy in the Middle East. It makes no sense based on all we say we believe as Americans, so we compensate by taking the side of Israel’s enemies whenever Israel itself isn’t directly threatened. We side with Muslims in the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo) and in the Caucasus (Chechnya). We point the finger of blame for unrest in the Muslim world not at Israel or even Islam, but at the region’s corrupt, autocratic, Western-style dictators and encourage Islamic revolutions to overthrow them (Egypt, Libya, Syria), believing that democracy will bring peace, prosperity, enlightenment, and secularization. And for our efforts, we expect thanks.
Instead, in Libya they kill the ambassador sent to help them, and in Afghanistan they murder the soldiers sent to train and arm them.
Folly is too nice a word for our fault. Stupidity is closer to the truth, but even stupidity fails to express the depth of the problem. It’s not that we aren’t smart; it’s that we are stuck with a set of wrong-headed principles we are not allowed to question, and however much we try we cannot reason from our principles to policies that achieve our objectives. This is not mere stupidity; this is insanity. When it comes to foreign policy, the United States is functionally insane.