How to Think About Foreign Policy
in a Schmittian way
A couple of years ago I thought to myself: “I ought to read a few books by Henry Kissinger.” And so I bought his On China, that centers, of course, on his own role in the Nixon opening to China, and gives us a lot of information about China’s leaders from Mao to Deng. Then there is Leadership, that talks about six leaders that Kissinger knew, from Konrad Adenauer to Charles de Gaulle to Richard Nixon to Anwar Sadat to Lee Kuan Yew to Margaret Thatcher. Now I’ve started a book of his essays on American Foreign Policy.
His American Foreign Policy starts with talk about the likelihood of an “adventurous foreign policy” and “conjecture” about chaps like Hitler in 1936. And then moves on to the problems of heading up a bureaucracy.
Then I’m reading a paper about relations between Russia and China in the last 20 years, how events have brought them together, especially when both of them have problems with the US: for China it’s Taiwan and Hong Kong and for Russia it’s Ukraine and Crimea.
It all seems like a big boy’s version of chess.
But I’ve been infected with the ideas of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt and his idea that the political is the distinction between friend and enemy. To me this means that every political leader is involved in taking the battle to the enemy.
Or rather, if a political leader is not engaged in a fight for his supporters what is the point of him? A political leader that has not found an enemy to fight is irrelevant.
Of course, the interest of the average person has nothing to do with wars and rumors of wars. The average person needs peace and prosperity and very little of his earnings going to fund the military and war. And the United States, defended by two vast oceans, certainly does not need to spread its military power all over the world, although it is tremendous fun if your name is Wilson or Roosevelt or Biden.
The fact is that the President of the US instinctively feels that he needs to throw his weight around. So, after winning the Cold War we don’t wind up NATO, not at all. Instead we extend it eastwards. Just to show those Russkies who’s boss.
And, of course, the monarch of Russia, presently Vladimir Putin, gets to show his muscles by standing up to the global hegemon. It makes sense. If you are going to be president for life, then you obviously must have a transcendental war to fight that cannot be handed off to a lesser man. Otherwise you could just serve two terms and go away.
Same thing with President Xi of China, especially now that China’s magnificent Deng-inspired era of growth has slowed down. Fact is that anyone could be the leader of China’s CCP and direct traffic in its administrative hierarchy. And then serve his two terms and hand over to another Communist functionary. But President XI is president forever! He needs a glorious achievement to underline his endless presidency. I know! How about bringing Taiwan home to the One China! Then the name Xi Jinping would live forever!
Back home, what is the point of US foreign policy? Because right now the point seems to be to give Russia and China an excuse to combine against the American threat.
Yet, back in the day, when Nixon went to China, with the able assistance of Henry A. Kissinger, the whole idea was that China needed to push back on the Siberian ambitions of Soviet Russia.
Hey, things could change! Maybe the chaps in Kazakhstan and the rest of the -stans might get riled up about their Uyghur Muslim brothers getting imprisoned and sterilized in Xinjiang, and The Russians might tender some support and… well, then, of course, China would want to be a bit closer to the US, just to keep the Russkies honest.
And all I have to say is: what’s the point?