“Mistakes” and “Failure”

Otherwise known as Foreign Policy

It’s quite common to see western foreign policy labelled as “mistaken” or a “failure”. A recent article by the respected writer and professor of economics Rodrigue Tremblay, for example, was titled “US Policy of Isolating Russia and Expanding NATO Is a Dismal Failure,” and the equally respected historian Mark Curtis wrote this:

Anglo-American attempts to shape the Middle East in accordance with their interests have largely failed in Iraq and Afghanistan.1

It’s not unlike those well-meaning folk who sometimes talk about giving power “back to the people”. They don’t seem to realise that the people have never had any power – not officially anyway; the people actually have immense power but have never been able to organise themselves for long enough to use it in any coordinated and coherent way.

Perhaps it’s deemed acceptable for critics to explain western foreign policy in these terms, but in my view there’s one small problem with it: it isn’t true. The events which become labelled as “mistakes” or “failures” are neither mistaken or failures, they’re intentional and highly successful.

The evidence for this is fairly convincing. Consider, for example, Robert Asprey writing in his substantial tome, War in the Shadows:

We have grossly misused our political power — if it may be called that — by planting the CIA in some 60 countries to carry on its work of subversion. We have misused our military power in forcing our weapons on scores of nations around the globe, maintaining military organisations and alliances like NATO and SEATO – the first of which has outlived its usefulness, the second of which never had any usefulness to begin with…. history may yet find the United States chiefly responsible for exacerbating the disunity of Germany and the division between East and West by exploiting Germany for cold war purposes. That seems to be the de Gaulle interpretation of our role in Europe, and de Gaulle is more often right than wrong.”2

And the historian David Fromkin, writing about events a hundred years ago, provides a little more hard evidence of the possibility that “mistakes” and “failure” are anything but mistakes and failures and are, in fact, the deliberate intentions of empire:

[A] memorandum from the Foreign Department of the Government of India, forwarded to the India Office with support from the governors of Aden , Bombay, and elsewhere, explained that, ‘What we want is not a United Arabia: but a weak and disunited Arabia, split up into little principalities so far as possible under our suzerainty – but incapable of coordinated action against us, forming a buffer against the Powers in the West.’3

So it’s not helpful to suggest that the foreign policies of today’s western governments are “mistakes” or “failures” because those words suggest some sort of prior intention to do something good and noble which, unfortunately, went a little awry this time; but never mind, “lessons have been learnt” and we’ll try very hard to get it right next time. Calling the consistently unmitigated disasters of Anglo/French/American foreign policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, Egypt and Occupied Palestine (to name but a few of the more recent debacles) “mistakes” and “failures” is basically to justify and excuse them, to allow the same people to try the same thing again and again and again. In fact, just a little thought on the subject shows that it’s quite impossible to find a real success of western foreign policy – when viewed through the eyes of the 99% anyway.

This goes to the heart of the problem: who gets to decide what is success or failure, the 1% or the 99%? It is, of course, a rhetorical question. The 1% decide everything; they always have and until there is significant constitutional reform, they always will; and if western foreign policy were really disastrous as far as the 1% were concerned, it would have been changed a long, long time ago. As far as the 1% is concerned western foreign policy is a stonking success.

The evidence is obvious. All one needs to do is look at the winners and losers. Let’s do the losers first because that’s quickest: the losers are the people, the 99%, in their hundreds of millions – their murdered families, shattered lives and ruined countries.

On the other hand the 1% have made vast fortunes from western foreign policy and secured for themselves power and glory. There are all the arms-makers and dealers for a start, the scum of the earth who have always showered themselves with riches by selling death and destruction to anyone who’ll buy it – and there’s never any shortage of customers. Ideally these subhuman monsters sell their death and destruction to both sides in a conflict. Then there are the bankers who, as a species, are not very much further up the food-chain than arms-makers. Their vast profits come from arranging loans – mainly to puppet governments in the form of “aid”, “aid” which must be spent buying from approved one percenters, obviously. There are a whole multitude of other corporations – the creatures of the 1% – drooling in the wings of western foreign policy initiatives, waiting to sink their fangs into juicy “aid” contracts: the construction companies profiteering by jerrybuilding infrastructures shattered by the products of the arms-makers; energy and utility companies poised like vultures to monopolise control of ruined energy supplies and communications; “security” companies ready to protect all the assorted scavengers; mining companies and agricultural monstrosities ready to loot any natural resources… and so the list goes on.

Then, of course, there are the mighty organs of state – the military and so-called “intelligence” services, organs of state which have absolutely no interest or desire in seeing a peaceful world. No general in his right mind wants a smaller army or less of the planet’s real estate to spread out over and seek new wars in. No spymaster worth his salt ever pointed out the fact that his trade serves very little practical purpose whatsoever (certainly not as far as the 99% are concerned), or bothers to remind anyone that today’s great empire somehow managed to grow to such an extent that it could take over the world without the need of any formal “intelligence” services at all. And there is, of course, the mainstream media who love nothing more than a war, and have never in their entire history let the truth interfere with a “good story”. The very last thing the one percenters who run all these great corporations and institutions want to see are foreign policies which would allow the 99% to quietly run their own spaces in their own quiet way.

If all this were not quite enough evidence of why the “mistakes” and “failures” of western foreign policy are not, in fact, mistakes and failures at all, we could always pose the question about secrecy. If the foreign policies of our trusted leaders were for good and noble reasons, why do they need to maintain such secrecy about their actions? Why do they need to ensure their records must remain hidden for decades into the future? Why do they have to victimise those who would try to spread a little light on those actions – people such as Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden? Why do ordinary citizens have to have their every movement tracked and their every conversation spied upon whilst those who would try to reveal to us the actions of our trusted leaders must live their lives as political prisoners or persecuted fugitives?

Saying that western foreign policy is “mistaken” and a “failure” fails to recognise the real nature of western foreign policy. Our great trusted leaders are not interested in acting in the best interests of people living in foreign countries, and they never have been; they’re not even interested in acting in the best interests of their own people, let alone those living thousands of miles away. Calling these things mistakes and failures suggests previously held noble intentions, intentions which have sadly failed to materialise this time – intentions which, in fact, never existed.

Western foreign policy is all about pursuing the short-term interests of the 1%. It’s about making quick and vast profits for big business, and empire-building for spymasters and generals; and getting out and moving on before the balloon goes up and well-intentioned folk start talking about “mistakes” and “failures” and “lessons to be learnt” and “returning power to the people.”

  1. Secret Affairs by Mark Curtis, p. 322 []
  2. War in the Shadows, Robert Asprey, p. 1503 []
  3. A Peace to End All War  by David Fromkin, p. 106 []

John Andrews is a writer whose latest book is The People's Constitution. He can be contacted through his website. Read other articles by John.