21 September 2021

The Ezra Klein Show: “The Foreign Policy Conversation Washington doesn’t want to have”

ROBERT WRIGHT: Right. We helped train some of the people who became leaders of the Taliban to expel foreign occupying forces, and it turns out they did that twice. They just did it to us. Now, I don’t want to suggest that we are exactly comparable to the Soviet Union by any means, or that the nature of our occupation was, but we do tend to take it for granted that countries around the world see things the way we do.

Like most people, we assume that we’re good people. We see our intentions as good, and that’s not always the widely shared perception. We are not always perceived as liberators, and the people in the countries that come into play in our contests with great powers do not always share the aspirations that we attribute to them. And I think, if there’s one thing I would propose is a miracle cure for the ills of US foreign policy, it would be for Americans to get much better at trying to see the world from the perspective of other people around the world.

EZRA KLEIN: And when you have this much bipartisan support for something, like, say, a Cold War with China or the war on terror, it becomes hard in a two-party system to find space for critique of it, to have people who see their political interests bound up in criticizing it, and they will try to make the American people aware of the failures in logic or the failures in execution. And I think, broadly speaking, in a bunch of these foreign policy debates, a problem is here that they are actually pretty bipartisan. And when things are too bipartisan, you actually get a suppression of contrary viewpoints, which I think has been true.

Ezra Klein

Interesting conversation, and very timely in this context. The remarks about how Americans should get better at recognizing and understanding the perspectives of other people (basically become more empathetic), apply perfectly to recent international events, from the Afghanistan withdrawal, when President Biden failed to acknowledge the Afghan soldiers who fought and died during these two decades, to the recent Indo-Pacific pact with Australia, who angered France. The reactions from the Anglo-American side were mostly dismissive of the French responses, ranging from entertaining and inconsequential to theatrical – not the best way to calm the situation if you ask me.

Everything about the Afghanistan withdrawal is tragic. But that tragedy is the result not of the withdrawal, but the occupation, and America’s profound misjudgment of its own power and limits.

I get the sense that the US political class and broader public have grown so accustomed to being unchallenged (first during the Cold War, when the world aligned either with them or against them, then in the three decades since, when there was no other power to match US influence) that it has become almost impossible for them to consider a different point of view. This myopia gets reinforced by the English-speaking media, because conveniently the UK has been mostly aligned with the US on foreign policy, and I doubt US decision makers are bothering to read newspapers in foreign languages for a broader perspective.

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