I’d forgotten why I find the Clintons so objectionable but Hillary got me back up to speed this week with an interview on foreign policy. She wanted to dispute Barack Obama’s four-word summary of his approach, as reported in the semi-official journal, Foreign Policy: “Don’t do stupid s—.” He was responding to journalists on Air Force One who said he doesn’t have a foreign policy. Later references paraphrased it as “Don’t do stupid stuff,” with a nudge/wink on “stuff.” Hillary disagreed: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” I’m here to say I think it’s a great one.
Start with her notion that great nations need organizing principles, as if other countries are just dicking around shambolically. But it’s really us smaller fry who need our wits about us, so as not to be steamrolled. Or begin earlier, at “great nations.” There’s the original sin: that some are great and possess the right and duty to organize others. I know it’s always been thus; that doesn’t make it true or valid. Delusions of greatness are behind all major global messes. When their organizing doesn’t work out, they reorganize and eventually you can’t find anything in the garage. But enough abstraction.
Hillary’s gripe was based on the Mideast, starting with Syria. She wanted to give weapons to the good guys there and Obama didn’t. But what an example: everything that’s gone bad in the Mideast for 100 years is the result of western nations trying to organize the joint. In 1916, England and France organized it into Syria, Iraq, Palestine, etc. They used rulers to draw neat borders. When things went bad they reorganized: like bombing rebellious Iraqis with poison gas in 1926, a technique the locals took note of. In 1953 the West organized a coup in Iran to remove a democratically elected leader, installing the Shah and breeding generations of rebels till Islamists took power in 1979. So the U.S. “tilted” toward Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his conflict with Iran.
Then, emboldened, Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1991. So they attacked him from Saudi Arabia, earning the hatred of Osama bin Laden, whom they’d enlisted as an ally while manoeuvring to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Their 2003 invasion of Iraq left the most disorganization in the region ever. Now you’ve got ISIS, which only exists because of that invasion ten years ago, so they have to intervene again? Are we there yet? Does anyone spot the logical fallacy?
Stupid equals the notion that you can organize the lives of others based on whatever “principles.” Whole societies don’t just go to sleep and allow foreigners to run them. That’s the stupidest part. You forget there will be reactions to your actions. Has Obama stopped doing stupid? Of course not. He’s the president. He has to “project” U.S. power. He’s tried to avoid invading whole countries by using drones — but they engender the same venomous reactions. He let Hill and the girls (UN ambassador Samantha Power, national security adviser Susan Rice) goad him into overthrowing Qaddafi in Libya. Now it’s utter anarchy there with collateral effects spreading Islamism south into Africa.
Am I seriously suggesting great nations do nothing while tyrants romp and people die? Yes, because the evidence is in. Intervention simply worsens things.
The only success in the region, Tunisia, tossed a dictator on their own and are moving ahead. It doesn’t hurt that they don’t have oil to tempt the great.
I once spent a summer on a hillside in Provence with a dear English friend, trying to recuperate from the lacerations of a bad relationship in Canada. One night as the mistral blew, she spotted me trying to seal and conceal a letter home. She demanded to know what was in it and who to. “I just want to clarify the facts,” I mewled. “Facts?” she erupted about a nightmare I’d meticulously described. “There is only one fact! It is all messed up!” — though she used another word, in the manner of Obama. I handed over the letter and she destroyed it, out of sheer friendship. There’s only one real fact in the Mideast and it’s the same one.
This column was first published in The Toronto Star.