Depending on the point of view, there is much chortling, derision, lamentation, praise, affirmation, bewilderment, and indignation over the foreign policy gaffes, puzzlements, and elucidations of the pontificating tribe of candidates now in pursuit of the presidency, as well as the Chief Executive they seek to defeat.
It’s enough to make us think we have tumbled with Alice into the crazy, contradictory and confusing realm Lewis Carroll called “Wonderland.”
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense,” said young Alice in her stage of naiveté. “Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Yes, dear Alice, we can see, because foreign policies come and go like the whimsical worlds of Wonderland. What made great sense yesterday is nonsense today.
Consider the last 111 years alone: The rollicking adventurism of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson’s smarmy chit-chat internationalism, the ostrich-style foreign policy of the late twenties and thirties, the war-driven policy of the later Roosevelt era, Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson Cold War containment, Nixonian Realpolitik, Carter’s policy of naiveté, Reagan’s in-your-face summitry, Daddy Bush’s new-world-order dreaminess, Clintonian judicialism, George W. Bush idealism. All in their time become nonsense to the policy-minders of succeeding generations.
Actually, there are only two categories of foreign policy: idealism and realism. Lump Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson and his immediate successors, along with Carter, Clinton, both Bush chief executives, and Obama in the idealism camp. Their tents have different shapes, but they sing Kum ba yah around the same campfire every night.
FDR and Nixon were forced into realism, and Reagan was there from day one of his presidency. Obama continues the idealism that is the foreign policy of Wonderland – with an occasional awakening into realism. At times, the Mad Hatter might as well be Secretary of State.
Idealism to Obama takes a different form from that of George W. Bush, but they’ll sit side-by-side at the tea party. For Bush, idealism was democratizing errant nations. For Obama, idealism seems to mean blending the United States into the mish-mash of the rest of the planet.
At the end of the Obama era one suspects he and Bush, ironically, will have pursued the same foreign policy goal of global idealism. Bush sought to democratize by force, and Obama seeks to talk nations into a democratic zest.
In a fallen world where the fine art of diplomacy is refined deceit, Realpolitik is the best course, even though it was the style of crusty Truman, brooding Nixon, and that old smoothy, Reagan.
The biblical worldview places little stock in human-contrived optimism. The Bible is starkly real – patriarchs have temper tantrums, apostles pout at one another, and all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. Wistfulness is not joy, idealism is not truth. Only Kingdom-based hope is valid, but foreign policies and the institutions that birth, nurture, and implement them will never bring in the Kingdom. That wistfulness died with Harry Emerson Fosdick and all the other social gospelers of the early 20th century.
Alice got over her hapless naiveté after she had come out on the other side of the world of rampaging absurdity she had earlier idealized. Experience is a wonderful teacher – and maker of maturity. We pray Obama and whoever succeeds him won’t have to find out the hard way that idealism in foreign policy is, as Alice puts it, nonsense.