When Diplomacy is a Fetish
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When Diplomacy is a Fetish
How the idealism of the Biden administration could prevent it from pursuing sound policies abroad.
Published on: Dec 2, 2020  |  

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I suspect that the Biden administration is headed for early disappointments in its foreign policy, in large part because I believe it has chosen to focus on diplomacy and alliance-building not as means to an end, but rather as ends in themselves.

Part of my prediction rests on the assessment that many of Biden's advisors have parsed the last four years as an assault on what has been called the "liberal world order". My former boss Adam Garfinkle, in an essay that's worth your time, analyzed exactly what is deficient in this worldview. It's not that "the cooperative habits of mind, and the institutions that have arisen from them, that have stood us in fairly good stead for the past seventy years" have not been eroding—they have, and it's worrying. Nor is it that their erosion hasn't accelerated under Trump—it has, and that's nothing to celebrate either.

It's that this "order" never really existed independent of the logic of the Cold War. And it's that in conceiving it as an "order"—reifying it by naming it, something we only did well after the Cold War was done—we are doing ourselves a disservice. "Let us not through the warped psychology of retrospective naming distort the past," Garfinkle wrote. "Nostalgia, in any form, is an indulgence. And as any clergyman worth his salt will tell you, indulgences come with a price tag."

That nostalgia indeed has a price. By misunderstanding the nature of that which we seek to restore, we set the wrong priorities. Diplomacy and alliances, the restoration of which are at the top of the Biden agenda, are both fine things. But they are fine tools for achieving ends, not ends in themselves.

. . .

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