I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade....
--W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"
Making foreign policy is a terribly complicated business, our sophisticates say when they're trying to sell us some line we find it hard to believe. Indeed, our leaders may not believe it themselves. For example, when they tell us the mullahs in Tehran can be trusted to keep their word when it comes to the nuclear deal they've just sold this administration. Or, if they don't keep their word, the United Nations or our State Department, those paper tigers, will see that they do. Ri-i-ght. Just as they prevented our new friends in Iran from test-firing a new ballistic missile the other day in violation of all those UN resolutions.
And all it would take to turn Vladimir Putin's new/old tsardom into an ally instead of an adversary would be to "reset" our Russian policy. You can see how well that's worked out.
As for the civil war in Syria this administration has studiously ignored for years as it sent ripples of death and destruction throughout the Middle East, it can be safely contained if we'll just follow Obama and Co.'s lead....
Or, well, you name it. For all those clever hopes continue to expire as this low dishonest decade does.
Gentle Reader may not believe any of these routines any more than we do. For he knows that some things are not complicated at all. They're simple, however much our pundits and politicians try to complicate them. Like this simple rule: Tell the truth, especially to ourselves.
Don't pretend that American foreign policy over the disastrous course of these last six years of retreat and retrenchment, defeat and appeasement, has really been a success, a matter of leading from behind.
Don't tell us that dictators around the world -- from Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to Vladimir Putin in Moscow -- have learned to respect this president as his red lines have faded to pink and then disappeared altogether. Whether we're talking about Syria or Crimea or Ukraine, don't act as though the ABCs of power (like helping your friends and opposing your enemies) are much too complicated for us simple folk out here to understand.
We the People understand all too well how America's standing in the world has deteriorated during this six-year disaster of a presidency. Not since Auden referred to the 1930s as this low, dishonest decade has the leadership of the West been entrusted to a crew less capable of exercising it -- although the malaise that Jimmy Carter presided over may be a close runner-up.
But never bet against this country. Or as Bismarck once observed, God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America.
There is still time to execute a long overdue course correction. A few simple if arduous steps, like rebuilding our armed forces, could work wonders. Standing by our allies instead of betraying them one by one would help, too. But above all, stop lying to ourselves and pretending that all's well with the world when it so clearly isn't. It's one thing to deceive others, which is bad enough, but deceiving ourselves is even more dangerous. For we just might start believing our own lies. And that way lies not just the decline but the suicide of the West.
Clio, unblinking muse of history, must be watching all this with her long-practiced eye. She's seen it all before, as she has most things, and can anticipate the story's end. It is not a happy one. Yet she can be surprised, too, despite her outwardly impassive demeanor, as when a Tory backbencher like Winston Churchill rose in the House of Commons after Munich to tell the truth, of all improbable things. Or when a country boy from Arkansas with the perfect name for one -- Tom Cotton -- rose in the U.S. Senate to risk the ridicule of all those wannabe intellectuals who would really rather not face the truth. So they tell us how oh-so-complicated it is. And yet Americans may yet listen to his distinctive voice, as the British did Churchill's -- and the result was their Finest Hour.
It can happen here, too.