From ACT For America <[email protected]>
Subject The Two Faces of American Foreign Policy
Date May 11, 2021 2:56 PM
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The Two Faces of American Foreign Policy
  By Dr. Alex Joffe
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The ongoing crisis in American culture has brought
two seemingly unrelated trends to the forefront: advocacy of
technocratic expertise aimed at solving global issues, and
condemnation of America’s allegedly irredeemable racism. American
diplomacy exemplifies these trends through the figures of Secretary of
State Antony Blinken and UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Both
trends are founded in Puritanical moralism, according to which
salvation is difficult if not impossible and “crisis” is a tool
for accumulating power.
Though American foreign policy has always vacillated, its actual
practice has managed at least the appearance of consistency. But in a
period when American society as a whole is undergoing a psychodrama
regarding race, class, history, climate, and “whiteness,” it is
not surprising that diplomatic practitioners have been affected.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UN Ambassador Linda
Thomas-Greenfield are telling examples of both intellectual trends
among American elites and the institution of American diplomacy. For
both, there are extraordinary crises that must be addressed
immediately by the global community. But the contrasts between
Blinken’s level presentation of globally oriented technocratic
“expertise” and Thomas-Greenfield’s full-bore anti-Americanism
cannot be more profound. In neither case do American interests come
first. Can they been reconciled or explained?
Antony Blinken’s pedigree as a certified internationalist (and
fluent French speaker) need not be recapitulated. His return to the
State Department was heralded as the return of American probity and
leadership. What are his priorities and methods? His remarks to
the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate
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indicative. “What the United States can do at home can make a
significant contribution toward keeping the Earth’s warming to 1.5
degrees Celsius,” he stated, without elaboration. “But of course,
no country can overcome this existential threat alone.”
Elsewhere, Blinken has depicted human-induced
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as a veritable Frankstein’s monster causing “[m]ore frequent and
more intense storms; longer dry spells; bigger floods; more extreme
heat and more extreme cold; faster sea level rise; more people
displaced; more pollution; more asthma,” as well as “Higher health
costs; less predictable seasons for farmers. And all of that will hit
low-income, black and brown communities the hardest.” Almost as bad,
“Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new
spaces. It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new
ones, including one just 300 miles from Alaska. China is increasing
its presence in the Arctic, too.”
To address these unfolding horrors, America will put “climate
crisis at the center of our foreign policy and national security, as
President Biden instructed us to do in his first week in office. That
means taking into account how every bilateral and multilateral
engagement—every policy decision—will impact our goal of putting
the world on a safer, more sustainable path.” The US will then
“mobilize resources, institutional know-how, technical expertise
from across our government, the private sector, NGOs, and research
universities” and “emphasize assisting the countries being hit
hardest by climate change,” notably by “leveraging instruments
like the financing provided by the Export-Import Bank to incentivize
renewable energy exports; the proposed expansion of tax credits for
clean energy generation and storage in the President’s American Jobs
Plan; and the Administration’s ongoing efforts to level the global
playing field for American-made products and services.”
Blinken expresses a modernist faith that problems can be overcome with
technology and the sharing of money. The subtext, however, is a moral
panic in which humanity and modernity are themselves scourges to be
tamed if not reversed, and which hints that conventional politics and
persuasion are inadequate. Technocrats wielding power is the only
possible avenue to avert disaster.
Thomas-Greenfield’s animadversions are more easily parsed.
In remarks she made at an event
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racist antisemite Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, she
lauded Sharpton’s “activism” and touted American global
engagement, warning that if “we go it alone, and retreat from the
world, then we let existing inequalities fester.”
Like Blinken’s, Thomas-Greenfield’s primary orientation is global:
> We rejoined the World Health Organization because we believe we can
> make the WHO smarter, nimbler, and more just by rolling up our
> sleeves and getting involved. We proudly rejoined the Paris
> Agreement because the only way to reverse the effects of the climate
> crisis is to join forces. And we know that if we don’t act, poorer
> communities and communities of color, especially in the Global
> South, will suffer the most. And we immediately re-engaged with the
> Human Rights Council, and have announced our intention to seek
> election to that body, so that we can advance our most cherished
> democratic values around the globe.
Thomas-Greenfield’s faith in elite-run institutions is absolute, as
it is for Blinken, but her promotion of ill-defined “democratic
values” rather than American security and interests (much less
American values) is telling. More so is her indictment that “when we
raise issues of equity and justice at the global scale, we have to
approach them with humility.” She then offered personal testimony,
in the religious sense, regarding how bad American racism has been:
her great-great-grandmother was a slave and she herself grew up in the
segregated South during the 1950s.
But that evil is foundational and seemingly ineradicable. “I have
seen for myself how the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy
into our founding documents and principles,” she declared. She then
pronounced that “Racism is the problem of the racist. And it is the
problem of the society that produces the racist. And in today’s
world, that is every society.”
“White supremacy” is effectively proposed as the predominant
American and global form of racism, which she has experienced not only
in the US but around the world. And while acknowledging that in
“Burma, where Rohingya and others have been oppressed, abused, and
killed in staggering numbers[;] or in China, where the government has
committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and
members of other ethnic and religious minority groups,” it was the
Black Lives Matters movement and its spread from Minneapolis around
the world that offered the greatest hope.
Thomas-Greenfield’s bizarre statement was widely excoriated for
denigrating American failings rather than celebrating its successes.
Stating that America was born in sin, and that all share that sin, was
intended as an act of contrition that would legitimize leadership. In
the real world, it palpably undercut American leadership. But there is
little doubt that her animus is real. It unintentionally depicts not
humility but an open-ended condition of self-righteous victimhood,
from which will flow (in a vaguely Maoist fashion) endless
revolutionary power to condemn and accumulate.
Neither diplomat evinces a sense that America is special in any
positive way. This may be another reaction against Trump’s malaprop
advocacy of “America First,” but the problem is deeper. In one
conception, the US is merely the richest and strongest state in the
world, a condition that automatically brings onerous responsibilities,
primarily toward others. In the other it is uniquely evil, which
undercuts its ability to lead by word and perhaps by deed. Mapping the
premise of “white supremacy” on the world has consequences.
But in a sense, both approaches help explain otherwise bizarre
policies, such as the Obama-Biden effort to revive, empower, and
nuclearize Iran as an act of expiation and even self-erasure.
Certainly the current crisis at the US southern border, where close
to 200,000 migrants have suddenly flooded in thanks to the Biden
administration’s surrender of enforcement, may also be explained
this way. As always, self-loathing for real and imagined guilt and
self-love for righteous efforts to correct real and imagined wrongs
are one and the same.
The American imposition of local categories onto others and disregard
of individual histories is underpinned by the unique American
Protestant legacy of Puritanism and Wilsonian internationalism. This
unforgiving and always crusading moralism expresses itself through
devotion to modernist contrivances such as global governance and human
rights, which, along with environmentalism, have been elevated to the
status of secular religion and are presented as normative, salvific,
and liberatory. Blinken and Greenfield are thus two sides of the same
But an American leadership that is dedicated to the intricate
processes of global governance, which proposes to simultaneously
resolve planetary geochemistry and adjudicate incidents involving
local law enforcement even as it maps its own putative sins on to the
world—and which expresses self-hatred that must then be corrected in
others—is a fickle ally. As Saudi Arabia and Israel have quickly
learned, their situations can be swept up in America’s nervous
breakdown. Saudis have become the sole party in Yemen despite nightly
volleys of Iranian ballistic missiles launched by Houthis.
Israelis—battling their own quiet war against Iranian
imperialism—have, in the eyes of many American intellectuals, been
redefined as ”white” “settler colonialists,” somehow like
19th century Swedish farmers in Minnesota. Framing the world in
uniquely American terms, many of which don’t even apply to America
in the first place, is an exercise in vanity and a fight against
What is the future for this Janus-faced approach? The case of John
Kerry, former senator and secretary of state and now special climate
representative, is instructive in defining the bottom line. No one in
recent history had embodied both trends as much as Kerry, with his
globetrotting, high-minded internationalism and dark moralizing about
the ills of American history and endless responsibilities to others.
His latest trip to China was another of many meant to “woo”
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hosts away from fossil fuels. “Yes, we have big disagreements with
China on some key issues, absolutely. But climate has to stand
alone,” Kerry was quoted as saying. But, as the BBC put it, the
bottom line is that “China wants the US to give more cash to
developing countries to obtain clean technology and adapt to climate
change.” Sin might be insurmountable, but giving alms never goes out
of style.
Copyright © 2021. ACT for America,
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. Suite 190, #614
Washington, DC 20004
United States
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