I ask because Andrew Alexander, a crusty Tory of the old school and a resident commentator at The Daily Mail, thinks so and he has written a book, America And The Imperialism Of Ignorance: US Foreign Policy Since 1945, in order to lay out his arguments. I haven’t read it yet but I am familiar with the general thrust of Alexander’s views, which appear frequently in his columns. However, the gist can be examined in a review by Tony Rennell in The Mail.
Alexander follows in the footsteps of his beloved guru, Enoch Powell, a man sometimes described as the greatest politician never to be prime minister and whose anti-Americanism was aroused by his experiences working with Americans during World War II. Powell recognized very quickly that one of the (mostly unspoken) war aims of the United States was the dismemberment of the British Empire and its replacement by an American “empire.” Powell, an ardent British imperialist, took great exception to this and fumed that so few people in Britain, fogged as they were by “hands-across-the-ocean” propaganda, failed to see what Roosevelt was up to.
However, what’s done is done and both he and Alexander (and other right-wingers of their anti-American bent) aim their most devastating criticism at what they see as the gross failures of American policy during the so-called Cold War. In his review, Rennell paraphrases Alexander’s conclusions thus:
“The Cold War would not have happened — should not have happened — if it had not been for America’s profound ignorance of the rest of the world and what made it tick. Between 1945 and 1991, Washington’s gigantic power coupled with immense naivety made the world a much more dangerous place than it need have been.
“What’s more, it’s still doing so. In the Cold War’s successor, today’s so-called ‘war on terror,’ only the enemy has changed. America’s skewed approach to international affairs remains the same.
“History repeats itself. Just as the US concocted the fantasy threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in 2003, so at the end of World War II it conjured up and exaggerated the menace of a rampant Soviet Union set on world domination.”
For this monumental misinterpretation or just plain ignorance (according to Alexander) and all that flowed from it, Alexander blames Harry Truman:
“It was the small-town politician Harry Truman, catapulted from vice president to President on the death of the revered Franklin D. Roosevelt, who found himself facing — as he was assured by his excitable intelligence service — a communist red tide that would sweep over Europe and Asia unless he stopped it.
“Afraid of being thought of as weak — a perennial paranoia of US Presidents as they look over their shoulders at the rednecks in their electorate — he acted tough, hence his roughing up of Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister in 1945.
‘I am tired of babying the Soviets,’ he wrote. The only way to rein-in Russia was ‘with an iron fist and strong language.’”
In 1945, the USSR was obviously a powerful force in the world but, according to Alexander, it was a battered and exhausted giant which, having secured its western frontiers by seizing control of eastern Europe, now only sought an accommodation with the great western powers, that is, the United States.
“Yes, it was now a superpower to be taken seriously, and would be formidable if not downright obstructive in negotiations. And, yes, it wanted to secure its borders with a firm grip on the countries around it. But global conquest was not on Stalin’s agenda.
“Government papers from the Kremlin archive show that, at that crucial point in 1945, the Soviets were intent on finding a working relationship with the West, not fighting it.
“If the Americans had been smarter, if they had grasped the intricacies of Moscow’s mindset, if they had ignored communist rhetoric and concentrated on realities, if they had stopped to think instead of rushing in like blind bulls in a china shop.
“Instead, the real possibility of a stable post-war settlement that would reduce tension in the world was blown out of the water by Truman’s wholly unwarranted and ill-informed belligerence. Moscow countered intransigence with intransigence. The descent began from mutual suspicion to outright rivalry and the brinksmanship of the Cold War.
“Behind his Iron Curtain, Stalin — cut off from the world community and with no one to answer to — purged the last vestiges of democracy from those East European nations whose fate Truman had been so concerned about.
“Not for the last time, American foreign policy achieved the precise opposite.”
This charge of culpable stupidity through ignorance against the world’s leading democracy is not confined to Russo-American relations. According to Alexander it pervades the whole of American foreign policy up to today!
“At the heart of the problem was — and is — America’s deep-seated ignorance about the cultures of the countries it wants to change. The average American takes little real interest in the outside world.
“On the eve of invading Iraq, for example, George W. Bush had to be briefed that its people were deeply divided. The words ‘Shia’ and ‘Sunni’ were new to him.
“And yet, though Americans don’t really understand the outside world, they think it’s Washington’s role to run it and police it. Imbued with an overweening sense of destiny, Americans believe they must impose their own type of government and economy on everyone else.”
Well, you might think, it’s “all blood under the bridge” but I would remind you that the “rivers of blood,” an infamous quote in a different context from Enoch Powell, himself, are still flowing - they never stop - and a rapidly weakening America is facing a real challenge to its world domination by a belligerent China, the new kid on the block, so to speak!
Handling this monster as it, too, blunders about trying out its strength here and there, is going to take a very high order of intellectual excellence to gauge prudent responses. The question then is simple: is the American political establishment up to it? Examining the current crop in Washington I’ll take that as a “no” shall I?
I should add that in my personal opinion, the views expressed by Alexander (and before him, Powell) have great merit and are mostly based on the facts. However, and here I confess my own unrepentant liking and admiration for America, I do not think they tell the whole story. To give but one example, if the US has indeed blindly blundered about the world since 1945, would we have been better off if, at war’s end, they had returned to their pre-war isolation during which they ran down their armed services to the size of a small European state? If in 1945 Western Europe had been left to its own devices would we have been content to take Enoch Powell’s words on faith that “good ol’ Uncle Joe” had absolutely no intention of shifting Soviet power even further westward? And, hey, who would have cared if they took over West Berlin anyway? And if American aid to Europe had not been forthcoming would we have worried if communist penetration of France and Italy had succeeded - which it came close to doing anyway?
Well, I don’t know about you but I would have been scared witless! Rather a clumsy, clod-hopping America blundering around with its usual mixture of friendly generosity and sharply self-interested cupidity than the iron fist of massed Soviet tank divisions across the Channel in Calais!
I must buy Alexander’s book because he is a shrewd observer but I will need to examine its entrails very, very carefully!
(David Duff lives and works in Britain. He can be reached at: email@example.com)