Donald Trump recently declared that he would “put the interests of the American people and American security above all else.” His campaign has already been exemplifying this policy through nativist hostility to foreign journalists. But Trump’s “America First” is merely the explicit expression of a creeping mindset, long in the making; the foreign policy manifestation of the rapid moral decadence in that society, whereby enlightened self-interest, which had undergirded the Pax America, devolves into raw self-interest.
During and for about the two decades following the Second World War, America showered the world with a great magnanimity, borne of an idealism which goes back to its Founding and an enlightened self-interest. America foreign policy sought to contain a growing military and geopolitical peril posed by Soviet Russia, and soon after Maoist China, as well as turn back the threat of communism spreading throughout Europe. Hereby, Harry S. Truman would fashion an ultimately successful policy of containment of the Communist bloc rather than direct engagement. This would include the Marshall Plan which gave $130 billion (in 2016 $) to Europe for rebuilding from the devastation. General Douglas MacArthur, in his capacity as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (1945–9), would not insist upon the demotion and trial of the Japanese Emperor and would embark upon an aggressive policy of reform in Japan. Even the Korean War stalemate, which was never popular but has proven beneficial in the South Korean tiger, was borne of high principle.
In could be said that American foreign policy was not only enlightened in its self-interest, but prudent and relatively knowledgeable about the world. Consequently, it became the prominent global power, establishing the Pax Americana, governing not through military and economic might alone but with a considerable degree of moral authority.
But magnanimity was undergirded by an inordinate degree of homeland prosperity, which Canada also shared, especially in relationship to the rest of the world. But as Europe and Japan recovered and other developing countries transformed, these latter began to rival the economic component of the American hegemony. Meanwhile, an imperial hubris would develop (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”), which would lead to an overreaching of its power and public support (e.g. Viet Nam). Nixon and Henry Kissinger would palpably begin that devolutionary process of conducting foreign policy from principled foreign policy to that of myopic exigency. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ensuing status of the United States as sole hyper-power, the arrogance of unilateralism and preemptive defense would creep into strategy, culminating in George W. Bush’s National Security Strategy of September 2002, the Iraq War of 2003, torture, drone strikes, and a collect-it-all NSA policy, which was sometimes used for aggressive economic espionage (and even for its employee to spy on spouses and girlfriends).
It is evident that America is no longer, and perhaps can no longer be magnanimous. Nor is its foreign policy governed by enlightened self-interest, which governed the Pax Americana for the benefit of all its allies, even as that Pax advantaged America most; such as the inherent benefits which accrue to a nation when its currency is the world’s reserve currency. And it is certainly obvious that the United States is far more ignorant about realities beyond its borders (and even within its borders) and less prudent, as evidenced in invading Iraq in 2003, an Islamic version of Yugoslavia. It is not unreasonable nostalgia for those growing long in tooth to proclaim that the WW2 generation was The Greatest Generation.
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There are two or three kinds of serious threats facing the U.S. currently. The internal one involves the incorrigibly hopeless ideological, socioeconomic, and political schism which is now reaching epochal proportions and threatens to become imminently violent.
Secondly, America has hitherto conceived of external threats in terms of being eclipsed by a foreign power. My suspicion is that the metaphor which may better describe a more serious peril is that of a lion facing off against a pack of hyenas. Different foreign powers, detecting weakness of will, ability, and knowledge in the White House are all, in their separate ways, depleting the strength of American foreign power. Already, America is retrenching, not unlike Britain in its last decades of Imperial Rule. And former allies, detecting weakness of will, inability, and imbecility in the White House are all, in their separate ways, seeking out new alliances and relationships. Furthermore, as American foreign policy becomes more myopic and self-centered, former allies will begin to act as rivals in order to safeguard themselves from a bullying hyper-power.
Finally, fiscal and more importantly monetary policy has continued to be grotesquely irresponsible, which will likely lead to a mother of all asset booms and busts. Being a reserve currency allows its civic leaders to violate standards of financial prudence. However, excessive and enduring abuse of that position may lead the world to choose, en masse, another reserve currency or basket of currencies. Consequently, the country which loses that reserve status, like Britain in the 1920s and 1930s must face up to a new economic and financial disciplinary rigor.
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There is little point for Canadians to rail against America, its foreign policy, and its interfering narcissistic hubris. American Exceptionalism and an enduring, irrational level of paranoia about foreign threats makes for deaf ears. If God is in His holy temple, as I believe Him to be, Canadians are going have a front row seat to a dramatic fall from grace. (Pride goes before destruction” Proverbs 16:18) But because we are currently so tied to the American colossus, we will suffer inordinately in its oncoming conflagration and decline.
Canada has far too much trade with the United States (approximately 75% of all exports), which nominally accounts for 25% of our economy. (Trade disintegration between the two counties, would not ultimately result in that size loss of GDP, as a large component would be reclaimed by local businesses transitioning after a severe interregnum.) However, this country’s economy has long been vulnerable to social and civic convulsions in the U.S., which imminently threatens.
Furthermore, Canada has benefited from a hitherto benign American attitude of enlightened self-interest. However, we are the proverbial mouse to this neighboring elephant. And an aggressive, self-centered, Realpolitik approach from a position of relative economic strength, will mean America bullying Canada, just as it will do others, in the coming decades, regardless of which American political party acquires the Commanding Heights of their body politic. And if there is an earthquake, whether a civic conflagration or another even more dangerous asset-bust financial crisis; in being so close to the locus point of that earthquake, we will experience the ensuing tsunami.
I suppose that our leaders and diplomats can forever pander in supplication for mercy from this will-to-power Realpolitik actor on the world stage, and act like Dudley Do-Rights as it has in past with regard to Mother Britain and America. However, I suggest that Canadians grow up and act boldly and briskly to reduce our exposure to this American colossus.
This country should look to immediately find ways to get Alberta oil to the West and East coasts. By making that oil available to the larger world, rather than just to America, Canadian leaders could aggressively court for both free trade deals and fair trade deals with every country it can, using a guaranteed long-term supply of oil as a bargaining chip.
This does not mean that environmental issues need be sacrificed. The relative economics of fossil fuels compared to its alternatives at the present time, means that the former will continue for some time. Canada can pursue an aggressive environmental policy internally with a view to the future, including developing alternative industries, partially from government revenues from fossil fuels. However, concern for economic self-preservation and political autonomy requires a medium-term policy of using our natural resources to disperse our trade relations and become less dependent to the wacky and wayward directions of those political elites to our south. Indeed, I would suggest pursuing a long-term policy goal of reducing our overall trade with the United States to less than a third of overall trade, and less than 10% of our economy.
The dynamics of American politics may require a quick build-up of our own defenses, in order to reduce the power leverage that the American government could potentially impose upon us, in our currently protectorate vassal-like estate.
If American administrations have become lawless in their own jurisdiction, violating their constitution with impunity, it is difficult to conceive how they will behave towards foreigners in a manner superior to their conduct of their own. Therefore, since American Presidents can no longer be relied upon to back up their rhetoric and international agreements, Canada might need to find new geopolitical allies, and even consider acquiring a few nuclear weapons of our own, in order to protect our sovereignty and independence.
These thoughts do not proceed from that stereo-typically smug Canadian anti-Americanism. I am more familiar with American history, civics, and its heritage than most Americans. But the American dream, in all of its permutations, has died. And Canada must respond to an “America First” foreign policy, with a “Canada First” trade, economic, foreign, and defense policy.
Is this all madness? Without doubt. I cannot conceive of boldness and shrewd prudence in our political leaders, especially in Prime Minister Zoolander. But these ruminations are no more wacky and insane than what is proceeding from the incoherent mind of their People’s CEO.