William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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Columns : Ignorance and Innovation in US Foreign Policy
on 2015/3/25 14:40:00 (717 reads)

Paris, March 25, 2015 — The first foreign policy speech given by a major Republican presidential prospect, Jeb Bush, in mid-February, was notable for its display of ignorance about the world and its menaces — unfortunately a common Republican characteristic. Among these was the claim that the army of the Islamic State numbers some 200,000 men under arms, ten times the number generally accepted in professional and intelligence circles.

Mr. Bush also said the Islamic State is a new phenomenon. Actually, it derives from the so-called al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, whose existence in 2003 was notoriously cited in Washington as a motive for invading Iraq.

Jeb Bush's brother, President George W. Bush, is on record as blaming Barack Obama for the continuing shambolic condition of Iraq, claiming that Obama refused to keep American troops there after 2011. In fact, Obama had nothing to do with it. The U.S. withdrawal was dictated by the 2008 Iraq-U.S. agreement signed by the Iraqi government and by George W. himself.

Despite these errors, Jeb Bush is better informed than most members of his myth-addicted party. Consider the credulity and ignorance Republicans displayed at the congressional address of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Netanyahu delivered a twisted discourse on the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, congressional Republicans cheered as if he, rather than Barack Obama, were President of the United States.

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Columns : Alliance Crisis
on 2015/3/18 12:10:00 (1684 reads)

Paris, March 18, 2015 — Britain, Germany and France are all posting signs of dissent in the West. Last week Barack Obama’s White House found two good reasons to angrily criticize the British government, its most faithful and docile ally and client in the post-World War II period. This was perceived by some in the press as evidence of the weakening of the “special relationship” between the two nations that has prevailed throughout the 20th century.

The United States has always found this relationship flattering, convenient and inexpensive, as it was paying next to nothing for services rendered, including Britain’s being first in line to dispatch solders on missions primarily of interest to Washington. The exception was Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson begged in vain for London to commit as little as “a damned company of the Black Watch” so as to cause the war to seem an international crusade of democracies against communism. The British sensibly said no.

The poodle has recently taken to biting its master, a bad sign despite the London press’ habitual assertion that the United States is “the UK’s most important strategic partner,” as Whitehall also is wont to put it.

Master bit back when last week a White House official deplored London’s “constant accommodation of China,” something that has been going on since 2013 when Britain began cultivating Chinese trade and investment. The remark was occasioned by Britain’s decision to join the Chinese-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a potential rival to the international financial institutions Washington controls, such as the World Bank and the IMF. U.S. allies are expected not to stray, but they definitely are doing so. Germany, Italy and France have just announced that they too will join the Chinese AIIB.

Britain — together with nearly all the other major European NATO members except Poland — has also recently been reproved by Washington for failing to spend more than 2 percent of GDP on defense. How can NATO frighten Russian President Vladimir Putin into liberating Crimea and eastern Ukraine if it spends less than 2 percent of GDP on its armies and navies?

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Columns : History's judgement on Obama?
on 2015/3/11 15:00:00 (2730 reads)

Paris, March 11, 2015 – The most devastating reproach historians are likely to make concerning Barack Obama’s record in the White House is likely to be his devastating failure in foreign policy. This has been due to his willingness to leave in office the warrior ideologues already in place in the State and Defense Departments when he became president,

To them, he added ideologues of a new persuasion which he found congenial. They supported equally interventionist humanitarian action, scarcely relevant in resisting the Islamic Caliphate that became a major force in the concluding half of his second term. By then he faced a Republican Congressional majority distinguished by its ignorance --worse than his own in foreign policy matters -- and by vindictiveness.

He arrived in office to confront a military leadership lacking a political strategy to shape its tactics in the Middle East and Afghanistan. When he asked for options and political counsel on ending the Mideast wars – as he had promised the electorate -- the generals insolently gave him settled plans for prosecuting the wars to victory.

Iraq in fact was eventually abandoned in a condition of political wreckage and sectarian conflict, and Kabul’s leaders have convinced the United States to remain in Afghanistan beyond its planned departure to prevent the same outcome, which one fears will nonetheless eventually arrive.

He and the military leadership insisted on a useless and destructive intervention in Libya, with devastating consequences throughout northeastern Africa, and in the Syrian civil war they searched in vain for “moderate” rebel allies to overturn Basher al-Assad. Mr. Obama was subsequently to rue the lack of Assad’s cooperation when ISIL, or the Islamic Caliphate, arose. With respect to Israel, President Obama accepted complaisantly – until one week ago -- the defiance and disdain of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Columns : Leave Well Enough Alone in Ukraine
on 2015/3/4 14:20:00 (1277 reads)


Paris, March 2, 2015 – What has the past year of war inside Ukraine been about? The night of the coup or putsch in Kiev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament called for a law prohibiting the use of the Russian language in Ukraine – a supremely stupid act, quickly repudiated by his fellows. But was this what the Ukrainian-language majority sought, and for which it had obtained the support of the United States government? Certainly not.

On the other hand, was the war the debut of a Russian offensive, as Washington claimed, meant to produce the annexation to modern Russia Crimea and other territories that once belonged to Imperial Russia at the height of its extent and power? A certain number of people in Washington think that this is what Vladimir Putin intended, even though this would seem a large and extraordinarily dangerous undertaking in the face of NATO opposition.

A Russian acquaintance of mine has argued that the American-promoted coup was meant to provide for Russia the example of a liberal and pro-Western government, inspiring an eventual new democratic “Maidian” uprising by the Russian people, deposing Mr. Putin and led – why not? – by the late Boris Nemsov.

The immense demonstration inspired in Moscow by Mr. Nemsov’s murder suggest that he would have been a plausible candidate to lead such an uprising, but the opinion mostly expressed in Moscow now is that he had lost favor. But then, when since the revolutionary events of 1917-18. have the people changed the course of Russian events? And that was not a popular movement by the “masses” but a violent seizure of power by a revolutionary cabal of intellectuals.

The fear in the countries on Russia’s margins today is of a conspiracy developed among the minority of Russian loyalists in one or another of the Baltic states, possibly with the assistance of those little green men who appeared in Crimea and the Russian-speaking East of Ukraine to assist in overturning Ukrainian institutions and installing new pro-Russian authorities.

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Columns : Outrage at Israel is not Anti-Semitism
on 2015/2/25 14:20:00 (2099 reads)

Paris, February 25, 2015 — A fundamental theme of Israeli propaganda — and virtually its sole theme under the governments of Benjamin Netanyahu — has been that anti-Semitism is responsible for the growing criticism of or hostility toward Israel and its policies expressed in Europe and the United States (especially among college students and teachers, and liberal intellectuals generally).

Netanyahu has beaten this drum constantly in his campaign for his own and the Likud Party’s re-election in the parliamentary election that will take place in mid-March.

This is a fallacy. Much of what he calls anti-Semitism is merely justified outrage at Israel, and not only that of Muslims. Israel’s repression of the Palestinians whose land it occupies, and its brutal treatment of its enemies and their families, as in Gaza recently, and its unwillingness to settle the hatred its policies have engendered in its region have — certainly since the beginning of the Netanyahu era — steadily and inexorably increased enemies for his country everywhere.

Netanyahu has made dramatic statements that European Jews — in particular French, Belgian, and (because of recent terrorist incidents) Danish and other Scandinavian Jews — are in danger where they live and must flee to Israel, the true homeland and the guardian of all the world’s Jews.

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