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FRAGMENTATION OR UNITY
LOUIS RENÉ BERES
René Beres is Emeritus Professor of Political Science
and International Law (Purdue University). He is author of many
books and articles dealing with international politics. His
columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington
Post, The Jerusalem Post and OUPblog
(Oxford University Press). This essay first appeared in www.moderndiplomacy.eu
a dark time,
the eye begins to see.
essence, Donald Trump’s ideas about “America First”
represent a retrograde vote for expanding global fragmentation.
Whatever decisional uncertainties we may have concerning any
specifically preferred course of US foreign policy direction,
one thing is certain. Prima facie, these crude ideas can augur
only disunity and an endless future of belligerent nationalism
and catastrophic war.
pertinent US national policy imperatives should not be difficult
to decipher. Now, instead of “America First,” this
country’s rational posture should firmly reject any stubborn
adherence to long-failed ideological orientations. Though generally
difficult to understand, what at first may seem pragmatic in
foreign policy decision making is only a prescription for despair.
To wit, any nation that seeks to maximize its own well-being
at the intentional expense of others – a zero-sum view
– will actually be acting against its own security interests.
about interpenetrations. In world politics, everything is interrelated.
Among other things, no single country’s meaningful success
can typically be achieved at the sacrificial expense of other
countries. Moreover, no such presumptive success is sustainable
if the world’s myriad “others” must thereby
expect a more violent and explosive future.
is interrelated, as system.
certain absolutely ore questions must give direction to relevant
strategic dialectic. More precisely, we must inquire, what should
we realistically expect from Donald Trump’s conspicuous
contempt for sensible notions of widening global unity?
history is instructive.
on earth, the basic story has never really been any different.
the tribe, in one form or another, has long undermined all indispensable
opportunities for authentic world order.
is this latest expression of a corrosive national tribalism
that is currently being championed by “America First.”
Ironically, when all cumulative policy impacts are taken into
careful account, America First is revealed as virulently anti-patriotic.
Starkly. What else could reasonably be concluded about a national
policy that injures one’s own country and various others
at the very same time?
America First represents an expression and posture that is dangerously
misconceived and prospectively lethal. Unchallenged, it will
reveal an atavistic mantra that would further harden the hearts
of even our most recalcitrant enemies. In brief, what is required
now is the literal opposite of an incessantly belligerent nationalism.
What is needed, at the core, is a substantially broadened acknowledgment
of human interconnectedness.
the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in
his masterwork, The Phenomenon of Man: “No element
can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the present fragmenting
moment, world politics has been shaped by a continuously shifting
balance of power, and by certain relentless correlates of war,
terror, and genocide. Ideally, hope should still exist, but
now it must sing more softly, unobtrusively, and in a decisively
prudent undertone. So, what now?
Finally, merely to survive on this imperiled planet, all of
us, together, must seek to rediscover an individual life, one
that is consciously detached from any ritualistically patterned
conformance, cheap entertainments, shallow optimism, or disingenuously
contrived expressions of American tribal happiness. At a minimum,
such survival will demand a prompt retreat from what US President
Donald Trump has termed “America First.” In this
regard, Trump’s so-called rallies are just the symptom
of a much deeper pathology, a know-nothing populism more closely
reflecting the philosophy of Joseph Goebbels (“Intellect
rots the brain”) than the pro-education credo of Thomas
was Donald Trump, after all, who said unashamedly during the
2016 campaign: “I love the poorly educated.” This
is the very same president who once exclaimed confidently that
the moon “is part of Mars,” and who openly lamented
that Denmark would not consider selling Greenland.
Jefferson and the Founding Fathers had earlier understood, there
is a respectable place for a proper erudition. Learning from
history, Americans may yet learn something from “America
First” that is still useful and redemptive. They may learn,
even during this national declension Time of Trump, a time for
authentic tribulation, that a commonly felt agony is more important
than astrophysics; that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential
than any transient financial “success;” and that
shared human tears may reveal much more deeply consequential
meanings than “everyone for himself” tax reductions
or porously unsuitable border walls.
The Decline of the West, first published during World
War I, Oswald Spengler asked: “Can a desperate faith in
knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?”
This remains a vital query, one that will assuredly never be
raised in our universities, on Wall Street, or absolutely anywhere
in the Trump White House. Still, we may learn something productive
about these “grand questions” by more closely studying
American responsibilities in world politics.
we might finally understand that the most suffocating insecurities
of life on earth can never be undone by further militarizing
global economics, building larger missiles, abrogating international
treaties, or replacing one abundantly sordid foreign regime
or movement with another.
the end, even in American politics and foreign policy decision-making,
truth is exculpatory. In what amounts to a uniquely promising
paradox, therefore, “America First” can express
a blatant lie that may nonetheless help us see the truth. This
peremptory truth is not really dense or unfathomable. Americans
require, after all, and above all else, a substantially wider
consciousness of unity and relatedness between individual human
beings and between nation-states.