THE PAST AS PROLOGUE: STROBE TALBOTT ON THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
"Ils n'ont rien appris, ni rien oublie." Talleyrand.
Tonight one had the pleasure of hearing speak, in the appropriate upper crust accent, at the Princeton Club in Mid-town Manhattan, the former Deputy Secretary of State on the future challenges of American foreign policy. At an event sponsored by the Oxonian Society (www.oxoniansociety.com), Talbott now President of the Brookings Institution, spoke at length, without notes on both the past and the future of American foreign policy. It was, dear reader on the whole a rather depressing event. Let me be first clear however that I have the highest appreciation for Talbott's personal and indeed diplomatic qualities. He is perhaps the third, best qualified individual, in the entire United States, to occupy the position of the Secretary of State (after of course Richard Holbrooke and Richard Armitage). With degrees from Hotchkiss, Yale and Oxford, a brillant journalist career, and his translations of Khrushchev's expurgated memoirs at the tender age of twenty-five, Talbott, was justly rewarded by his old Oxford chum, William Jefferson Clinton with high posts at the State Department in his administration (Ambassador at Large to the CIS, Deputy Secretary of State). Posts which it can safely be said that Talbott filled if not brillantly, than at the very least admirably. Safely in exile during the entirety of the Bush years at the Brookings Institution, Talbott spoke warmly and concisely tonight, from his quite comfortable perch, about how he sees American foreign policy: past, present and future.
The reasons for why I viewed this most intelligent man's critique of the policies of the regime of Bush the Younger (Talbott's second cousin, by the bye), are as follows: he has all of the novelty and originality of Talleyrand's Bourbons apres
1789. For Talbott, and I should add many of his ilk, time has stopped since the 20th of January 2001, and, it is his fondest hope, that the 'radical departure', that constitute the Bush years for Talbott, will quickly be relegated to the history books. As per Talbott, the cardinal sins of the Bush regime are: 'diplomacy suspended', 'allies and friends alienated' all adding up to what Talbott calls the 'consequential aberration' of the last seven years. American diplomacy needs to go back to, what Talbott calls the 'tradition of American multilaterialism', especially as displayed by Bush the Elder (another cousin of Talbott) who Talbott characterized as an 'arch multi-laterialist'. And of course by his old ami, former President Clinton. According to Talbott, those adherents of his brand of 'ethical realism' (of Kantian foundations no less...) and any of those disgruntled by the foreign policy of the Bush period, can rest assured that any one of the three remaining Presidential contenders: Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama, will in Talbott's words: 'move us back to traditional American diplomacy'.
Again, dear reader a most depressing evening and discourse. I say 'depressing' simply because like the Bourbons who thought (or at least we were once told that they thought) they could return France to 1788, so Talbott and his like-minded crew of Democratic foreign policy specialists in exile, running the gamet from second-rate (Tony Lake) to the egregiously sub-human (Samantha Powers) all have the perverse idea that by flipping the switch, one can turn back the world clock to anno domini 2000. Futile Illusions of the worse sort. The world has moved on, for bad or for good since 2000. American power, if not necessarily on the wane, is most definitely not what it was eight years ago. Both Russia and China are now immensely rich, with money (seemingly endless amounts of it) to throw around. Both are no longer content to merely nod and say 'da da,' to whatever the USA indicates is it's wishes. And, the Iraqi debacle, as well as the ongoing crises in the Near East has drawn both American power and attention away from any other concern. A situation which is likely to continue for much more than the year one of the Democratic-Clinton-Obama-ethical realist restoration. In short: 2009, cannot and will not be a return to 1999.