Samuel Huntington Was Not Like Steve Bannon

Samuel Huntington Was Not Like Steve Bannon, by Wiliam Smith.

The late Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” paradigm has been taking a beating lately. His critics have warned that such a worldview portends a millenarian war between the West and Islam.

One reason for the pile-on is that Huntington’s theory has become associated with the views of Steve Bannon, who, as a call-in participant in a conference at the Vatican in 2014, was thought to have echoed Huntington when he declared that the West is now “in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.”

The [US] foreign-policy establishment has never recognized the truth in what Huntington wrote about the New World Order: “In the post-Cold War world, for the first time in history, global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational … the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political or economic. They are cultural.

By stigmatizing, discounting, or ignoring a cultural analysis of world events, the [US] foreign-policy establishment has been able to retain a deeply flawed worldview that has plunged the United States into a series of fruitless and costly military interventions. These have been motivated by what Robert Kagan called a “universalist ideology,” one with which he is in agreement, calling for exporting the values of the Declaration of Independence to all nations. …

The Western effort to occupy and fundamentally change Iraq was a huge blunder:

The 2003 Iraq War was the crowning blunder of the establishment’s post-Cold War foreign policy. Marching under the banner of globalist democracy promotion and the need to cashier a supposedly rogue dictator, the U.S. initiated a destabilization of the entire Middle East, in effect delivering Iraq to Iran. It unleashed horrific sectarianism, wiped out ancient Christian communities, and helped to create a virulent terrorist cult that has spread throughout the Middle East and into Western Europe.

The Iraq War should have made clear that the greatest failure of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment in the post-Cold War period has been its inability to recognize that the world is increasingly organizing around civilizational categories and that the removal of rogue dictators in other civilizations does not midwife world order. …

The new world order is contrary to US wishes, but in line with Huntington’s analysis:

Most U.S. policymakers seem not to realize that the three main foreign-policy challenges of the U.S. have a prominent civilizational component: Islamic civilization wants the United States, and its culture, out of the Middle East with many groups resorting to terror tactics to accomplish this goal; Orthodox civilization, led by Russia, wants to limit U.S. meddling in historically Orthodox regions such as Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and views the U.S. and NATO as putting their civilization under pressure; and, in East Asia, China wants to limit U.S. influence as she feels herself the natural leader of a Sinic civilization. …

The US is going about this the wrong way:

Why is it that “clash of civilization” advocates recognize the cultural problem of millions of Islamic migrants invading Western Europe but are seemingly oblivious of the deep resentments created by there being tens of thousands of Western troops in the heart of Islamic civilization? A clash between civilizations is always a two-way street, and civilizations that tend not to mix well tend not to mix well anywhere.

The failure to take into account civilizational tensions of the deeper sort identified by Huntington continues to bedevil our foreign-policy decisions. “Liberals” and “neoconservatives” in the Obama administration conducted one of the most reckless foreign-policy initiatives of recent decades when, in the name of universal “democratic” values, they backed an anti-Russian coup in Ukraine, a nation with deep historical and cultural connections to the Orthodox civilization of Russia. The Russian intervention in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine after the coup was a not unpredictable reaction by the core state and representative of Orthodox civilization. Backing the coup was a civilizational provocation on the part of Western elites who seemed not to understand the deep bonds that unite those who have a common civilization. …

In a world dominated by civilizational competition, the most provocative and foolish policy that a great power can adopt is to meddle directly in the affairs of a different civilization, as the United States continues to do as a matter of policy in numerous places around the world.

Neither the Bannonites nor the establishmentarians seem to recognize how perilous and ultimately counterproductive this policy can be. … A great danger with the current Trump foreign-policy team is that it is divided into two factions, neither of which seems to have the knowledge and sophistication necessary to formulate strategy for a world of civilizational tension.

hat-tip Stephen Neil