Robert Kaplan’s depiction of President Elect Donald Trump’s
foreign policy (“An unrealistic foreign policy” 11-13-16 Washington Post) is a
perfect example of how today’s experts get things wrong. Kaplan’s deep emersion in national security
issues inside the beltway has blinded him to the real world where fundamental
principles underlie everything in the universe.
In Kaplan’s little world and Trump’s imaginary world, ideals continue to
be ignored or are viewed as irrelevant to their priorities.
Things that work are systems and structures based on fundamental principles. These three elements (like Trump and Atoms)
make up everything in the known Universe.
Take for example a nuclear power plant. The ideal nuclear reactor is one that
doesn’t leak, doesn’t meltdown after an accident, attack or earthquake, and
cannot be pilfered for dirty bomb ingredients.
In other words, its ‘systems and structures must be constructed on sound
principles’. This is realism. Realism based on sound principles not the national
“interests” that Kaplan asserts comes “before ‘values” .
Preventing a breech
or meltdown of a nuclear reactor (a large structure composed of thousands of structures
and critical systems specifically designed to work effectively relies on the
proper application of fundamental principles of physics, chemistry, biology,
construction codes, site and offsite security measures, as well as human psychology. Failure
in any one of these factors and catastrophic failure with systemic and
structural consequences locally, national, and globally can be expected.
Ignoring even an obvious principle, like using re-bar to
strengthen concrete structures were no nuclear operations exist can be catastrophically
lethal. Haitians (those who survived)
discovered this in 2010 when an earthquake (anticipated by geologists who had
surveyed the region) killed more people in 15 minutes than the two nuclear bombs
dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
The Haitian government’s failure to enforce this simplest building code
has since been corrected. Such costly reactive measures are not limited
to poor and poorly educated nations.
When the levies failed in New Orleans in 2005 from Katrina’s
level 3 hurricane it cost over 1200 lives and over $100 billion in structural damages. Approximately a year earlier weather
scientists cautioned of such an inevitable weather event on the city. Unfortunately their forecasts were ignored by
government experts. Experts who also failed to make adequate preparation for the
inevitable catastrophe. Japan’s
Fukashima reactor catastrophe is another example. This is not an isolated phenomena.
In 1776 our best government experts at the time failed to
incorporate a fundamental human principle in the building of our nation. That error led to more US deaths than both
modern World Wars combined. How could
our nation’s profoundly wise founding fathers have failed to incorporate their
own ‘self-evident’ principle when drafting our Constitution? What part about “all men are created equal”
did they under value for their immediate interests.
Mr. Kaplan’s limited perspective on traditional national
security threats makes the same mistake.
Applying existing dysfunctional
human principles to the real world is failing humanity daily. Any clear
understanding of world history, human psychology and modern exponential
advances in powerful technologies should shred any preconceived notions about
preserving our nation’s two most cherished ideals; freedom and security. Our Pleistocene brains have difficulty in
grasping exponential change. And Mr. Kaplan’s linear thinking has yet to
grasp the catastrophic consequences of our government’s affinity for ‘status
quo’ and/or “moderation” in the face of current threats. Nearly every dual-use technology is irreversibly
and exponentially yielding more and more destructive superpower capacity. A WMD capacity formerly confined to nation
states is now available to any individual with access to a computer or a bio
lab. The realistic threat of cyber and
biological WMD should change everything.
Especially, unprincipled linear thinking.
Kaplan is correct in asserting that Trump’s approach to foreign
policy is “unrealistic”. Trump’s lack
of worldly knowledge and grasp of fundamental principles could be compensated
for by those now being chosen for his Administration. But don’t count on it. Even if they see the world as Kaplan does,
both our freedoms and our security will still be compromised….just not as
This destructive claim is predictable for one reason. Our founding fathers incorporated another
profoundly flawed principle into the construction of our nation’s systems and
structures. The concept of
‘independence’. Nowhere in the physical universe is anything
independent from anything else. This
concept is nothing more than an imaginary mental construct that forces us to
risk both our freedom and our security by failing to see the links between our use
of military power to protect interests above valuing innocent life.
Current US military and foreign policy assume that these
independent agencies will not bring lethal
consequences back home. Our government
is currently bombing at least 7 ‘independent’ nations that ‘we the people’ have
not yet declared war against. Increasingly we are starting to grasp the
reality that the deaths caused abroad by our bombs (delivered by our drones or
by our close allies’ bombers) do have, and will increasingly have consequences
here. Consequences that have already
cost American lives and one of our most cherished freedoms -privacy. As the
war on terror evolves without abiding by fundamental principle of justice, it
will accelerate our risks and our loss of freedoms.
Imagine the loss of American lives and freedoms once
terrorists turn to cyber and biological weapons of mass disruption and
destruction. Even if terrorists limit their attacks on US
soil to Timothy McVeigh type Truck bombs or Nice, France style truck pedestrian
mower assaults, both our freedom and our security will rapidly diminish.
The fact is, we live in an entirely and irreversibly
interdependent world. A real world where
only an idealist approach can most effectively address the array of threats now
descending upon us. Our idealism of ‘life,
liberty and justice for all’ is the only realistic approach to maximizing both
our freedoms and our security. Unfortunately,
this principled approach is still politically unacceptable, but national security
experts like Kaplan. Just as the
abolition of slavery was originally rejected by both our nation’s Founding
Fathers and slave owners in the Southern states, there will be catastrophic
consequences. And in this era of
unprecedented killing capacity by both nation states and murderous individuals,
we need to get real by getting idealistic fast.
Ideally everyone in the world would have access to clean
water, sanitation, education, adequate food, and other basic human rights
listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That global ideal was agreed to 68 years ago (as
of December 10). It was intended to
prevent wars. Remarkably it could also have prevented most
terrorism, infectious disease outbreaks, refugees, and environmental pressures now considered
by the US Military, to be a national security threat. Some of these threats, are linked to war,
and some greater than war. But they all
compound our national security conundrum in trying to resolve our freedom /security
dilemma. A dilemma we continue to impose
on ourselves because of our addiction to ‘independent’ institutions (structures
and systems) incapable of enforcing fundamental principles thus resolving
globally interdependent problems. When
we recognize we face a trilemma and not a dilemma, we will see the fundamental principle
needed to maximize both our freedom and our security.
If our nation’s approach to terrorism, pandemics, WMD
proliferation, Climate change… depends on the full cooperation of 190+
independent nations with each national government appealing only to its own
short term self-interests we are in deep trouble. It would be like the 50 Governors in the US states
resolving our nation’s immigration problem with each state deciding on its own
immigration policies, and each state maintaining it’s freedom to design its own
driver’s license ID and voter ID laws.
This ‘fix’ would continue to have a national and global consequence if even
one US state remained unprincipled in engineering it’s systems and
structures. Insisting on independent
policies at any level threatens both our freedoms and our security at every
Kaplan said “Human nature is driven by
fear…self-interest…and honor.” But Thucydides’
definition of “realism” has only delivered us the world we have today -- a
world of interconnected mixes of insolvable problems because national interests
continue to trump universal values/principles.
This unidealistic path offers only a chaotic and deadly future.
If “realists worship truth” as Kaplan asserts, no realist would disregard
the ‘self-evident’ truths expressed in our nation’s Declaration of
Independence. Contrary to popular belief
this document is not about independence.
It is about universal principles essential to building and maintaining freedom,
security and justice for all.
Kaplan states “values follow interests”.
The Post may have a policy on objective journalism (in printing Kaplan’s
piece) over fact checking (is status quo politics and policy really working?). But any expert espousing a directional change
in US foreign policy and national security should do their best to rely on
facts, history and self-evident truths. Not
exiting national security experts.
Here’s another fundamental truth.
It is in our own self-interest to walk our talk and honor the profound
principles that this great nation was founded on, “That all men are created
equal [and] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” such as
‘life, liberty” and “justice for all’.
It’s unrealistic to achieve this when our nation’s experts continue to
insist on following old pathways. Doing
anything less than the ideal is profoundly unrealistic. Things are changing
quickly and unexpectedly these days. Can