Scolding isn’t a foreign policy

Scolding isn’t a foreign policy. By Walter Russell Mead.

The usual spinners and makeup artists are doing their best to make the disorderly unraveling of the American-led world order look like a visionary triumph of enlightened foreign policy, but former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers expressed a more cogent view. Describing America’s increasing loneliness on the world scene, Mr. Summers said, “Somebody from a developing country said to me, ‘What we get from China is an airport. What we get from the United States is a lecture.’ ” …

When the Biden administration steps down from the bully pulpit, good things can still happen. … On Mr. Blinken’s recent visit to Vietnam, he …  chose morality over moralism, refraining from criticizing the Communist Party of Vietnam for its many policies that displease the democracy lobby in the interest of shoring up the coalition of states aiming to prevent Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific.

Morality in foreign policy requires more subtlety than the woke are capable of:

Dean Acheson, Harry S. Truman’s secretary of state, thought deeply about the place of morality in foreign policy. “The righteous who seek to deduce foreign policy from ethical or moral principles are as misleading and misled as the modern Machiavellis who would conduct our foreign relations without regard to them,” he said in 1964.

Too many self-described democracy activists want the U.S. to dissipate its diplomatic energy in moralistic posturing. They would rather we prioritized sermons and sanctions over building a multilateral coalition to check Chinese expansion. Their problem is not that they love righteousness too much. It is that they have thought too little and too superficially about what righteousness really demands.

Moral foreign policy often requires pragmatism. Defeating Nazi Germany required an alliance with the equally evil Soviet Union. And President Nixon’s rapprochement with Mao’s China, then at the horrifying acme of the Cultural Revolution, similarly was driven by the need to counter the greater threat posed at that time by the Soviet Union.

After the Cold War, many Americans thought that global moral improvement had replaced national security as the principal goal of American foreign policy and that pragmatic calculation was a form of moral cowardice.

Those illusions can no longer be sustained.

America needs friends now, and nobody likes or trusts the village scold.

hat-tip Stephen Neil