Foreign Policy in Blunderland

It was my last day at the Department of State when – already perhaps a few sheets to the wind from some private celebrating – I saw the White Rabbit. I knew it was a State Department rabbit from the pin stripe suit and air of self-importance. He was rushing down an interminable hall looking at a watch and muttering about being late, and I, free from the burden of government-mandated mendacity, thought as my last bit of service I would get to the bottom of this lapine mystery.

Racing after him I turned a corner just as he had and found myself tumbling head over heels down a long dark hole wondering all the while if there would ever in fact be a bottom to get to. I came to (having lost my tie somewhere on the way down) to find myself sitting comfortably in the kind of nondescript conference room I had come to know and hate, apparently at the sort of meeting at which important people discussed things in serious ways in order to arrive at a conclusion they had known from the beginning they would arrive at.

This meeting though was different. A tall, oddly angularly emaciated gentleman sporting an old-fashioned top hat called the meeting to order, “All in favor of the first proposition, say ‘aye.'”

“Aye!” Came the resounding cry from all the gathered creatures.

“Right then, it’s unanimous, we will change the Mission Statement of the Department of State to read ‘…to shape and sustain a warring, impoverished, unjust, and despotic world, and foster conditions for instability and decline for the benefit of American corporations and corporations everywhere.'”

“Now,” continued the Mad Hatter his heavy-on-the-cartilage visage puffing up just a bit with a newfound sense of accomplishment, “we can all say that U.S. Foreign Policy has achieved what it set out to do.”

“I say,” said a badger sporting glasses to my left, “shouldn’t we have some discussion before we vote on these things?”

“Discussion?” said the Mad Hatter, “Oh heavens, discussion causes disagreement, and disagreement is most disagreeable. No, what we need now, beset about as we are by enemies,” – and he looked around the room with an air of intense short-sightedness, stopping to look at me it seemed just a little longer than the rest – “is unanimity. All in favor of unanimity, say ‘aye.'” And a general period of hubbub ensued as all the attendees tried to be more unanimous than the next.

“And now,” said the Mad Hatter, waving around a piece of pound cake he had deftly plucked from the careening Lazy Susan in the middle of the table, “and now I propose to deal with the issue of American Deceptionalism in a similarly adroit manner.”

“No, no,” professorially interjected a rather charming weasel, “You mean American Exceptionalism.”

“Yes, yes, American Deceptionalism. Well the point is, since we’re all Experts about all things International (and here he gave a big wink to Alice, the intern) we know of course that no one has been fooled overseas: we are almost universally regarded as the most dangerous nation on earth!”

“Hurrah!” hurrahed the gathered.

“Better feared than loved I say!” piped up a Skunk sitting in a chair along the wall.

“And if We have anything to do about it We will remain that way,” came a deep voice from under the table.

“But,” continued the Hatter, “most importantly we continue to have the full support of the American People, no matter how ill-fated the project, as long as the magic words, ‘fighting terrorism’ and ‘supporting democracy’ are uttered. So I want all of you to fill your cables and your fables and your press releases and your speeches and your what have you with those magic words, ‘fighting democracy’ and ‘supporting terrorism.'”

“No, no, you’ve got it reversed,” interjected Dr. Weasel as everyone else scribbled furious notes.

“Well that’s the point isn’t it?” said the Hatter, “Everything we do comes out the opposite of the way we intend and so to turn things around we have to, well, turn things around!” and with that he gave such a vigorous twirl to the Lazy Susan that all of the food spun off into everyone’s faces, the custard in particular adding a lovely shade of yellow mess to the assorted gathering of cheeks, jowls, beaks, horns, fangs and maws. The spooks under the table all jumped out to take pictures and see if there was any food left and then re-hid themselves, of course, in quite a decorously professional manner.

It was at that point that I raised my hand and said, “If I could just be allowed to say something?” and there was a massive deadly silence, silent except for the sound of custard plopping down onto the table from various assorted proboscae.

“Who, let him in?” said a particularly well-endowed ostrich.

“Look I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s my last day and I really have something to say before I wake from this illusion I’ve been laboring under that somehow throughout it all, America was a force for good.”

“Let him speak,” squeaked someone timidly.

“Let him squeak!” squeaked a rather bold mouse who clearly wasn’t worried about his career.

“Very well, squeak away!” said the Mad Hatter who really seemed much more interested in licking up the custard that was dripping down his chin.

“Well,” said I.

“Well said!” said a none too bright Undersecretary for Somethingorother.

“All I said was ‘well,'” I said.

“Yes, and that ‘well’ was quite well said, especially for someone who isn’t even an Undersecretary to an undersecretary to an undersecretary.”

“Yes, well thank you. Now as I was saying, I have something to say,” and momentarily, as all the high-ranking animals stared at me, at a loss for words, I fumbled around in my pockets as if I would find what I wanted to say there, and indeed I found an old coffee-stained speech and proceeded to read:

“Ahem,” I said clearing my throat, and deciding to read the speech even though it had SCREED written all over it. I started out timidly at first, but my courage seemed to build as the words tumbled from me. “There is an unwieldy, ungovernable behemoth bestriding our country and the world, sucking the blood out of our economy, and snuffing the life out of millions of human beings because they sought economic or social justice or just wanted to be left alone or were of the wrong color or of the wrong persuasion or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is a behemoth bloated by the stoked and amplified fears of the mis- and under-informed, crossbred with the greediest of the greedy, the most corrupt of the corrupt, and a class of politicians, scientists, engineers, and technicians who have sold their soul for a monthly paycheck or a slim sliver of infantile power. It is fertilized with the effluvia of corporations that feed on death, and it is disguised with a thick and reeking patina of patriotism and paranoia which even so should not blind us to the fact of what it really is if only we would look away from the advertisements blanketing us long enough to read the record of destruction and death we, wielding it as our instrument, have so clearly written in history.”

“What kind of a Moth is a BeheMoth?” whispered a rather kindly looking Senior Foreign Service Grizzly to the Armadillo in uniform next to her.

“It’s a very big and dangerous one, Ma’am,” said the Armadillo, whose name tag said, “General General,””but don’t worry we can track their movements and we have countermeasures and countermeasures to their countermeasures, and in fact are developing new technologies for every possible outlandish contingency.”

Feeling a little bit of a letdown from the lack of any other reaction, as the group seemed to return its attention again to the table centrifugally littered with food, I plucked up my courage once more and said, “What I’m trying to say is that we spend all of our blood and treasure trying to solve problems militarily when they do not have a military solution, and then we feel forced to intervene militarily when our previous intervention has resulted in a big mess. What we need to do is find a sense of compassion that is as powerful as our aircraft carriers. We need to find a type of patient wisdom that focuses on root causes, a wisdom that runs as deep in national policy decisions as our deepest nuclear submarine. We need to reverse the funding levels of the Pentagon and USAID, and make the US Institute for Peace our first line of defense. We know what causes conflict: it’s poverty, injustice, inequality, and the ravages of climate change; and of these climate change I might add is going to drag us all over the cliff. What we need is a recommitment to international law as a way of solving conflicts, a recommitment in which the US doesn’t somehow absolve itself; we need a new international Marshall Plan to combat inequality; we need a new Manhattan Project that brings together the best and the brightest to find breakthrough 21st century technologies for conflict mediation, for otherwise, armed to the teeth as we are, the wars are going to kill us all; and we need real US leadership and a total commitment to a worldwide project of rapid decarbonization coupled with a Great Transition to sustainable, nurturing ways of living with and on the Earth. For if we don’t, in the very near future, abrupt, over-the-cliff climate change is going to dash all of us against some very hard rocks that are very far below. But what is most hopeful about all of this, is that all of it is well within the realm of the possible, and much less expensive than the wars we have been waging so stupidly for so long.”

And then the reaction came: laughter, unrelenting gales and peels of unabashed, unabating laughter. In the end I awoke on a bench in a little park across the street from the State Department, the creatures’ howls of derision still ringing in my ears. I recognized the place as one where the homeless often congregate, drawn by the warmth of the vents and the occasional handout from sheepish diplomats. Captain America (an Iraq War veteran with a cardboard Captain America shield) came over to me and held out a bottle and said, “Here Bro have a beer.” I thanked him, and the ringing in my ears ceased and I felt at peace among these men, huddled together in the shadows of the State Department’s mother ship. More at peace than amongst the luminaries of the Department of MisStatement and the pontificators of the National Insecurity State. Those who had the privilege of serving on the prow of the ship of state, and yet couldn’t see the climate chaos blooming all around; those who could find within themselves the ability to sacrifice the lives of children as somehow a necessary part of the equation of national security; those who continued to reach into their tool chest to solve complex problems, and found there only bombs and guns when it was bombs and guns that were more than half the problem; these so-called leaders of the Free World of whom the White Queen wouldn’t have even been able to say, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” For indeed, theirs is a memory that doesn’t even seem to be able to work backwards; and theirs is a heart seemingly only beating, for their own kind.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of State or the US Government.