0507 GMT May 26, 2022
The Biden administration has been a huge disappointment, but it is not all his fault. The U.S. Congress is sharply divided and two conservative, Wall Street and lobbyist beholden, corrupt Democrats are sabotaging efforts to do things that the American people desperately need. Biden does not have many cards to play. The Republicans are even worse. They are simply obstructionists with no interest in policy or legislation. The American system is dysfunctional. That said, Biden is indeed responsible for his backward foreign policy.
He has surrounded himself with 16 hawkish top advisors from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) who have guaranteed that Biden’s foreign policy is more of a continuation of Trump’s policy than a clean break with it. His Secretary of State, who vociferously condemns any idea of a Russian “sphere of influence,” has advocated the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and the bombing of Syria.
Hence, the U.S. is on the verge of war with Russia and China and has made no progress with Iran, despite Biden’s promise to restore the JCPOA when he came to office. Here he has again taken a page from the Trump playbook. He seems to recognize the seriousness of Putin’s demands over Ukraine, NATO expansion, and broader security issues, but he seems incapable of responding in a way that can defuse the crisis. Hence, the world holds its breath.
You have a knack for debunking American myths. (Among the cases you argued, one of the most interesting was that Soviet intervention, rather than the atomic bomb, caused Japan to surrender in WWII.) What about the 21st century? What significant American myths, if any, have been created or promoted so far?
In 2002, neocon strategist Charles Krauthammer’s asserted that his 1990 declaration that this was America’s “unipolar moment,” a position of unchallenged strength that might last 30 or 40 years, was now outdated and that it was America’s “unipolar era,” which would last indefinitely into the future.
By 2006, with the situation unraveling in both Iraq and Afghanistan, even neocon Krauthammer recognized that the unipolar era was over and the unipolar moment was coming to an end. But the efforts to salvage the American empire did not end.
Obama tried to restore American unipolarity in a kinder, gentler form than Bush — giving American empire a smiling face — but that didn’t work either. Trump embraced unipolarity, but had no idea how to achieve it except through the barrel of a gun as support for U.S. global leadership plummeted. Now Biden says “America is back” and his lieutenants Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken dutifully assert their belief in “American exceptionalism,” but the Chinese dressing down they received in Anchorage in March and the recent demands by Russia, accompanied by the troop buildup on the border with Ukraine, make clear that America’s unipolarity/exceptionalism train has left the station.
The future will depend on whether we can create a truly multipolar and peaceful world in which all nations rise together and some of this toxic nationalism can be squelched. With China’s booming economy and growing military capabilities and Russia’s completed modernization of both its nuclear arsenal and its conventional forces, the U.S. is no longer in a position to dictate to others, but it is still in a position to end life on this planet.
That’s the dilemma we face. The future, as a result, is no longer guaranteed, but until that happens, we have time to change course and forge a different outcome. The mobilization of global youth against global warming and the UN ratification of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are a good start. We must maintain and accelerate that momentum.
*Peter Kuznick is professor of history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at the American University.