Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A prescient voice

Reading a New York Review of Books essay on "The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy" by William Pfaff, I seem to be learning about a man who, over the past 50 years, has always gone contrary to the conventional wisdom, and has always been right.

For instance, those of us who are old enough will remember cold warriors strutting around and beating their chests about "Finlandization." (This was about that country's craven buckling to the Soviet Union after World War Two.) In fact, as Pfaff wrote at the time, Finland was attacked by Stalin in 1939 and heroically defended itself until forced to cede some territory. After the war, as a former German ally and facing absorption by the Soviets, Finland was in a terrible situation. But it maintained a careful neutrality, had to make some uncomfortable compromises, but managed to maintain its independence and democracy. Now, of course, Finland is an open country with a successful high-tech capitalist economy, state-of-the-art public health care, and a much-admired public education system. And it sure outlived the Soviet Union - thanks to restraint and patience. That's something that's been sorely lacking in the United States, which hasn't unequivocally won a war (excepting the dashing Reagan attack on the island of Grenada) since 1945.

Over the years, Pfaff has continued to be correct. Nearly 50 years ago, he argued that Soviet communism was inherently weak and eventually would collapse on its own. He advocated careful containment until then. But no, we had to put 54,000 names on the Vietnam War Memorial. He was right 20 years ago, when he argued that with the end of Cold War American's military should be reduced and adapted to new circumstance. But no, it was hugely increased - handy for our failed attempt to catch Bin Laden and impose democracy in western Asia. Now, in his 80s, Pfaff doubts the "enormity of the Islamic radical threat." Don't bet he's wrong.

Not being one to sit around reading scholarly articles on foreign policy, I hadn't come across Pfaff. But I wish he could live another 80 years. We need people who can see behind what the reviewer called the "received ideas, attitudes, and platitudes of the age."

No comments:

Post a Comment