Bad Ideas Breed Bad Foreign Policy

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine
Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Barack Obama’s foreign policy will go down in U.S. history as one of the most dangerously inept ever. Created by equal amounts of ignorance, arrogance, and partisan politics, the president’s policies have left behind a world in which rivals and enemies are on the march, while allies and friends are endangered and alienated. He deserves the opprobrium with which future history should load him.

But focusing on individuals and their personal flaws can prevent us from seeing the larger bad ideas that transcend any one person or party. We justly remember British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as the architect of the 1938 Munich conference that paved the way for Hitler’s aggression. And indeed, Chamberlain’s flaws of character––most important a vanity about his personal powers of persuasion that blinded him to Hitler’s brilliant diplomatic misdirection about his true intentions––contributed to that debacle. But we should also remember the delirious public joy that greeted Chamberlain when he returned to England, and the global acclaim he received for avoiding war with Germany. Millions of people thought Chamberlain had heroically succeeded because many shared the assumptions and ideas that drove his decisions.

So too today, Obama’s vanity and self-regard have from the beginning led to dangerous foreign policy decisions. His belief that he was a global “transformational” and “world-historical” figure drove him to court inveterate enemies like Iran, the Taliban, and the Muslim Brothers, who he mistakenly believed would be seduced by his brilliance and sympathy for their grievances. His fatuous Cairo speech in 2009 and his numerous groveling letters to Iran honcho Ayatollah Khamenei were predicated on Obama’s notion that as a person “of color,” who had spent a few childhood years in a Muslim country and was ashamed of America’s global sins, he had an instant rapport with hard, cruel men who despise the West as “Crusaders,” godless infidels to be conquered, converted, or killed. Indeed, Obama’s delusional self-estimation recalls Chamberlain’s comments to his cabinet that in the negotiations over Czechoslovakia “Hitler was speaking the truth,” and that “he had established some degree of personal influence over Herr Hitler.” Herr Hitler, in fact, considered Chamberlain “a little worm.”

But beyond these failures of character and self-knowledge, larger cultural ideas have contributed to this country’s mistakes in dealing with a resurgent Islamic jihad. Most important has been the triumph of secularism in the West, the marginalization of religion in our politics and culture. Anyone who believes the received wisdom that the U.S. is a religious country should ignore the polling data on churchgoing and look instead at our public culture. Sordid sexual content in movies, television shows, and popular music; 58 million abortions since 1973; the legitimization of same-sex marriage; the incessant demonization of any participation of religion in schools or politics––all bespeak a culture in which religion has been reduced to a private life-style choice and comforting holiday rituals, as Obama suggested when he reduced the First Amendment’s protection of religion to the “freedom to worship.” Anyone who does take Christianity or Judaism more seriously than that is considered, to quote Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, “shamans or witch doctors from savage tribes whom one humors until one can dress them in trousers and send them to school.”

More important, the animus against faith has contributed to the fashionable self-loathing and dislike of their home country on the part of many progressives and leftists, who have implicated Christianity in the crimes of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. Hence Obama’s bringing up and distorting the history of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition in a speech about religious violence. Meanwhile, a noble-savage multiculturalism masquerading as tolerance for the oppressed “other” considers Islam an exotic “religion of peace,” despite its 14 centuries of slaughter, invasion, pillage, slaving, occupation, and colonization. Those tolerant Muslims of Granada in 1066 killed as many Jews in one day as the Spanish Inquisition did in its 3 centuries of existence.

The triumph of secularization has disarmed us in the fight against modern jihadism. No matter how often jihadists evoke the religious foundations of their actions, no matter how many Koranic verses and Hadith they quote, we cannot imagine a people for whom the spiritual realm is more real than the material world. We cannot imagine a life permeated with the divine and directed by submission––what “Islam” literally means––to Allah and the model of Mohammed. We ignore, as Bernard Lewis has written, the fact that “in most Islamic countries, religion remains a major political factor,” for “most Muslim countries are still profoundly Muslim, in a way and a sense that most Christian countries are no longer Christian.” Hence the worldwide Muslim support for shari’a law and its codified sexism, intolerance, and penal cruelty.

Given this failure of imagination, we have misunderstood jihadism ever since it burst onto the global scene in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution, when our foreign policy establishment ignored or dismissed its religious roots. Thirty-five years later, Obama continues the same mistake, refusing to identify ISIS as an expression of Islamic doctrine, or to use the adjective “Islamic” to describe the numerous jihadist movements active today, or to recognize the apocalyptic messianism and genocidal aims of the Iranian mullahcracy. This blindness reflects widespread delusions like the long mischaracterization of Islam as the “religion of peace,” the reinterpretation of jihad to mean a self-improving “inner struggle,” or the historical fantasies of Islamic “tolerance” in Ottoman Turkey or Andalusian Spain.

Behind this Orwellian rhetoric lies the assumption that all religions are basically the same and preach the same doctrines of “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This reduction of religion to Hallmark-card sentimentalism is yet another instance of the refusal to take spirituality seriously, and to acknowledge that all spiritual aims are not the same or compatible. How much easier it is to indulge a flabby ecumenicalism and dismiss the jihadists as “evil” or “barbaric,” as though we are dealing with psychopathic serial killers rather than fervent believers in a worldwide faith with doctrines and practices dating back to the 7th century.

Finally, the dismissal of spiritual causes leads us to focus on material ones, which in turn creates the preposterous analyses of jihadism as a reflection of material conditions or psychological dysfunctions created by them. Hence this administration recently has talked about “root causes” like “lack of opportunity for jobs” (State Department spokesman Marie Harf); the need for “peaceful democratic change” and “economic growth and devoting more resources on education, including for girls and women” (Barack Obama); “alienation, poverty, thrill-seeking, and other factors” (John Kerry); and “the perceived effect of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world” (Rashad Hussain, recently named Obama’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counter-terrorism Communications), to name a few.

Yet even some Christian and observant Jewish conservatives have ignored the power of spiritual imperatives and religious differences, particularly in their focus on democracy promotion as the cure for jihadist terror. George W. Bush, in his 2002 National Security Strategy, focused U.S. foreign policy on promoting a “single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise,” for “these values of freedom are right and true for every person, every society.” These dubious ideals became strategic aims during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And for all he styles himself the anti-Bush, Barack Obama has made the same claims, as in his 2012 remarks at the U.N. “Freedom and self-determination,” he said, “are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values—they are universal values.”

But no matter how potentially true these claims may be, to those pious Muslims who consider themselves the “slaves of Allah,” freedom and democracy as we understand them are incompatible with shari’a law, and “national success” will be achieved by restoring Islam to its original purity, and following the “model” that empowered Allah’s warriors to create a global empire stretching from the Atlantic to China. If we take seriously Islam’s spiritual aims––the necessity of obeying Allah’s precepts in order to create for Muslims a totalizing political-social order of justice, piety, and equality, and to ensure an eternity of bliss in paradise––then we will see that our notions of earthly freedom, leisure, confessional tolerance, and prosperity are to millions of Muslims mere temptations to abandon their faith and risk their eternal souls. And we will understand that waging jihad against those responsible for those temptations, especially a rich and powerful infidel West, is the communal duty of the Islamic ummah, and death in that battle the key to paradise.

Trapped in our own secularist and materialist assumptions, we mistake the nature of the enemy and thus create policies––most important the appeasement of Iran through negotiations and concessions that will end with the world’s foremost terrorist state in possession of nuclear weapons––doomed to fail and damage our security and interests. But Barack Obama will not be the only father of that failure.


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16 thoughts on “Bad Ideas Breed Bad Foreign Policy”

  1. Gee, in WWII the Allies fought against a Tribal Japanese. The war ended not in the West acquiescing to Tribal Japanese worldview, but rather the view of two nukes that ended such ideas in in minds of Japanese.

    Ditto for the German Controlling weltanschauung, the end result obtained was abandonment of Nazi Socialist Controlling ideas in the minds of men, so that these ideas were not entertained in minds by 1946.

    The solution to the Muslim Extreme problem will have to be that millions of Muslim minds discover, by some action of the West, that the extreme Tribal worldview of Muslims… simply evaporates from all such mindsets.

    Shall it not take the West once again rejecting 3rd World Tribalism? And simultaneously reject 2nd World Progtard Evil-Control? And understanding that the 1st World Tragic View, wherein gov’.t is dedicated to individual liberty empowerment so that demons on the shoulders of men never gain advantage… shall not this worldview prevail?

    In essence, the Allies of WWII were forced to become of a 1st World Tragic mindset; so that the 2nd World Controlling mindset could be beaten and subsequently abhorred by all who might be enticed by it; so also that the 3rd World Tribal mindset could be beaten and then abhorred by all who might be enticed by it.

    Then, 2nd World Progtardism took over the US school system and Journalism factories, and the result was the election of a 2nd World idiotic thinker: Obama. Yesterday, a 1st World thinker gave a speech to Congress.

  2. Because Herr Obama really, really wants to see Iran have nukes–they have them already and only the means of delivery to Israel and the U.S.A. need to be refined—the free world has a reprieve until the nukes can be unleashed into our major centers of Israel and the U.S.A. He and mooch and the children will be safe in the deeply underground bunkers below the capital. Obama may be many things but first and foremost–he is muslim. He wants to see Iran kick the a$$ of the U.S.A. he may even visit the mullahs in Iran to have a safe secure window of the nuclear holocaust Iran is planning to unleash upon the free world.

    1. If both the Obamas and Valerie Jarrett ever both go on extended holiday or “foreign policy” visits together, away from the US mainland, you may want to ask yourself, “What do they know that I don’t…?”

  3. Agreeing with your assessment is very easy. Unfortunately the secular/progressives have captured the culture and have opened our Republic to dangers no one could have realized just twenty five years ago. The common dream of a first black president has turned into a nightmare.

  4. Gary Westgeest

    Truly an excellent analysis. But which is the greater threat, atheistic liberals embedded in every governing institution in the West, or the stone age Jihadis to the east? The liberals hate discipline. They hate Judaism and Christianity because these religions actually have commandments prohibiting much of their selfish behavior. The Hebrew word for punishment and guilt is the same. A tremendous insight into their ontological and necessary connection. The liberals will be happy to punish themselves with their own blind destruction, but this fella, for one, doesn’t want to be collateral damage. Keep on thinking; keep on writing, Victor Hansen.

  5. Dr. Hanson, this brief overview should be required reading at every level of formal education in our country. Each person in every class should be required to discuss their understanding of it and argue both for and against its premise. Perhaps at that moment the light will suddenly come on that this nation hasn’t really understood it’s talking about. Then, perhaps, people like my socialist older sister will stop thinking like Chamberlain and start being realistic about the future.

  6. I have come to accept that the grand arch of history bears out the truth of your article: “Bad Ideas Breed Bad Foreign Policy.”

    The “arch of history” however, runs in great cycles like an Elliot Wave overlaid with a Fibonacci sequence. The next phase – The Age of Aquarius – the rise of the feminine – may well recast some of what we currently perceive as constituting “Bad Ideas,” on foreign policy, as “Good Ideas.” That we can not see this now, is not our fault; those who own this material world, operate it to continue and enabled our disarray and have insured that we always find an enemy to fight. The old standard of fear maintenance was our operational “Good.”

    How then might this world change when secret societies linked to secret shadow government are no longer socially acceptable? — a plausible shift brought on by the rise of feminism.

    Can one transmute a bad idea into a good idea? Perhaps. Rejecting the consolidation of bankers powers (those powers seen formerly as “good”) is a good place to start.

    Nationalizing the Federal Reserve and issuing Treasury-direct dollars would likely commence a virtuous cascade of re-balancing adjustments in society, and equally important, alter our perception of China and Russia from enemy to partner. And the test of this shift as virtuous and good, will only be proven day by day, as war recedes to a distant memory and liberty blossoms once again.

  7. The thesis of this piece is absolutely correct. However, I will not forward it to friends because of ad hominem attacks on President Obama. Any clear thinking individual can come to their own conclusions about the man.

  8. A very perceptive article, Prof. Thornton.

    Several Middle Eastern countries first tried socialism as a cure for their malaise; their attempts at hijackings etc. were defeated without major perturbation. So the Islamic countries went back to their roots. Their warriors affirmed their submission to Allah, overcame their fear of death, and are prospering. We, as you say, have abandoned any meaningful religion. On the basis of the evidence we have made a serious mistake. The oft ferocious God of the Abrahamic religions (in whom we affect to believe, as do the Muslims), has become a psychotherapist. Or we wish Him to become a psychotherapist – the God who motivated Jews to take up their ancient religion and reconquer their Holy Land – the God Who motivated, or perhaps mis-motivated, the ferocious suppression of the Huguenots – the God Who motivated the Puritans to brave the raging North Atlantic – the God Who defeated Communism in Soviet Russia – this God, reduced to an advice columnist?

    Do we really think that such a God will tolerate the pornographic insults heaped upon the likes of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, who whatever their many faults have always sought to serve Him and reclaim your once-great Republic for him? It is rational to view Barack Obama as a scourge sent from God to punish Americans for their insults.

    That sentiment will strike hard-boiled “realists” as absurd; but it is the most economical explanation for the Obama. And the hard-boiled “realists” are LOSING in Iraq, LOSING in regard to Iran. America WON when Americans feared and respected God; now that so many Americans are mockers, you are losing.

    The notion of Barack Obama as a scourge sent by God will seem ridiculous to many; not, I think, to Caliph Ibrahim; not, I think, to Mullah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. They most probably would regard my statement as trite and obvious. They also are agents of divine retribution, as well as builders of nations in their own right. They have much more in common with George Washington (he did not share their cruelty, by a long shot; and was a much better man than they) than they do with Barack Obama.

  9. An omnipotent god needs the hands of man to ‘do’ anything? Why? Says who? Can this god not speak today as he supposedly spoke centuries past? Can he/she make silly rules? Says who? The actions and beliefs of militant Muslims and certain militants of other religious strains, reflect not any omnipotent god which common sense can accept but rather strongly indicate a god these strivers of violence find reflected in their own mirrors every morning.

  10. Human nature cannot be changed by wishing it so. Change is not only an illusion, it is a delusion.

    Each one of us will always deal with lust, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, anger, and pride (LEGS GAP).

    What is true about the individual is true about societies. Strife is normal. The promise of peace is a delusion.

  11. I am afraid you are wrong about Obama. I am convinced Obama is not interested in foreign policy to begin with. He did deliver a speech in Berlin talking about the Air Lift while he was campaigning. He did not return to celebrate the anniversary of the fall of the Wall. In other words, foreign policy to him is but a tool to win votes inside the US. From my neutral standpoint how can one expect sound policy from a president who is not interested?

    Second, Obama commands but poor knowledge of foreign countries. I refer to his ideas about the language spoken in Austria and the so called “Polish death camps”.

    Third, the presidency as an office concentrates too much power in the field of foreign policy. Checks and balances don’t really apply to the extent they do to domestic affairs.

    Fourth, foreign policy makes slow progress compared against a maximum of two terms adding up to eight years. The election cycles interrupt sound foreign policy all too often. This means a disadvantage on any elected politician compared against dictators and the like.

    The easy solution out of this is to reduce the volume and scope of foregin policy. One can delegate to international institutions like the UN or even go isolationist. Obama pursues both paths.

    If one wanted to exploit the full scope of foreign policy fields open exceptionally to the US I am afraid another institution is required. I believe the US needs a dedicated elected representative body to take care of foreign policies with a longer tenure.
    I know of one example of a decicated elected institution to take of precisely one subject. The Netherlands are a country with a a large proportion of its territory below sea-level. Pumps get rid of the rain water that would not drain otherwise. That system divides the country into water regions. Each of those regions elect a dedicated water council to run the drainage.

  12. Mr. Thronton, thank you for your excellent treaty on this important topic of people who are directed at a specific global world view (their philosophical outlook of life) which guides their actions.

    For many Muslims there global world view is guided by the Koranic philosophy.

    For many westerners there global world view is guided by the good feeling liberal non-sense philosophy or the man-can-do-alone arrogant conservative philosophy.

    I firmly believe those three global world views are the kindle that continues to add fuel to the ongoing strives that exists in the world in which we live.

    Our founding fathers and mothers of this great constitutional republic which they formed had a global world view which was primarily guided by biblical philosophy and clear thinking Enlightment philosophy and Newtonian philosophy. The fruits of this type of thinking are the incredible progress never seen in the history of mankind by a single nation.

    It should be obvious to any clear thinking American that a biblical world view together with Enlightment and scientific thinking is the BEST way for our nation to succeed way into the foreseeable future. We need to get back to the basics in this country of ours or we are all doom…

  13. Prof. Thornton very accurately describes “the animus against faith” which has contributed the plight of the few remaining Christians in Iraq, as shown this past Sunday on “60 Minutes”. (His paper was most likely written prior to Sunday)

    If this was not a wake-up call, what will it take to come up with a cohesive response to stop the bloodletting and persecution of Christians, Jews and Yazidis?

    All of this is summarized by the lack of any outcry-either by citizens/public, governments, MSM or God forbid -“our president” – “Neville Obama” .

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