After Afghanistan — Round Two

After Afghanistan — Round Two

With the following comment we continue the informal discussion among Dissent editors regarding the changed international situation after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The next issue will carry further comment by other editors.—Eds

The parochialism of American liberal intellectuals is nowhere more evident than in the increasingly acrimonious discussions about U.S.
foreign policy. The decline in influence by the two superpowers and the increasing difficulty they have in managing their respective alliances is seen by much of the U.S. liberal establishment merely as a decline of U.S. power and consequently an increase in the power of the other partner in this “competitive relationship”—the Soviet Union.

To most Europeans who share democratic and socialist values, the U.S. foreign-policy responses, in the past year especially, appear to be nothing short of hysterical. Sadly, that hysteria is not limited to the hawks but extends to liberal and labor-oriented intellectuals. A whole basket of issues is involved here, and it is difficult to begin to untangle them because they are so interwoven.

There is, to begin with, a state of general malaise that is centering on the issue of the governability of this society. Can the United States have any coherence whatsoever in foreign policy? The demise of the imperial presidency has resulted in a situation where the executive does not, and apparently cannot, offer a coherent policy while the competing interest groups in the Senate, the Congress, the military and foreign-policy lobbies all but cancel each other out. This incoherence is exacerbated by the peculiarly American, sanctimonious tone of this Administration, which is often shared by its critics. Carter’s personality accents even more strongly this general feature. producing a near-stalemate in policy-making. Second, there is the sense that the U.S. military power has somehow declined and that the balance has shifted perilously in favor of the Soviet Union. I believe that this feeling—for that is the only way I can describe it—is manufactured, wrong, and based on untenable premises for what can be a proper defense for the West.