It is a commonplace observation concerning the American character, and American political culture and statecraft, that Americans are bereft of a tragic sensibility. Most probably, this is a consequence of a profound psychological association between what was once the newness and remoteness of the New World, and its geographic and social openness, and the opportunities this afforded those intent upon forging new lives away from older societies which dissatisfied them in various respects. Americans seem to lack, on the whole, and in the mainstream of thought, a capacity to enter into the tragic consciousness of other peoples, or to assume a tragic posture even temporarily, as a heuristic for the evaluation of their own condition. For example, all such circumstances as that of Georgia are assimilated to a narrative of a plucky people attempting to escape the dead dominion of the Past, represented here by Russia, here assimilated and reduced to its Soviet incarnation. The complexity and, indeed, tragedy of the intercommunal relations and tensions of diverse peoples and their histories and aspirations is compressed into a quintessentially American narrative - the attempt of one people to forge for themselves a version of the New World, a Novus Ordo Seculorum. This, of course, holds true when Americans either have an interest in some foreign region, or are stirred by the press into a state of interest in some region, or are told by their superiors that they must manifest concern for some foreign region; when Americans have no interest in a conflicted region of the world, as was the case during the Balkan Wars, they dismiss its tensions and tragedies, blithely, as just so many ancient, senseless, and incomprehensible tribal feuds. In doing so, Americans ratify their native view of the world: that is the Old World, the old way, in which people continuously reference the past; we Americans, by contrast, are optimistic and forward-lookinig, willing to jettison such atavisms for a prosperous future.
Ironically, a nation bereft of a tragic sensibility will usually manifest tragedy in its dealings with the world, and this is the case, I would argue, where America is concerned. Without intending to dwell at great length upon the theme, American foreign policy incarnates tragedy in at least three related senses.
First, because American grand strategy endeavours to unify material interests and ostensibly noble ideals, Americans tend to be blind to the ways in which the pursuit of either inhibits the realization of the other. The Iraq War represents an attempt to conduct American policy on a firmly idealistic basis, and yet it is proving materially ruinous along any number of metrics. American policy in the Caucasus aims to mitigate what is regarded as an excessive dependence upon Russian energy and energy transport routes, and clearly inhibits the promotion of ostensible American ideals, as the Alievs in Azerbaijan, and the mercurial Saakashvili in Georgia, are scarcely representatives of the ideals we openly proclaim, regardless of the press coverage of the latter, in particular. Moreover, Americans frequently indulge in a measure of self-delusion concerning their own motivations in the conduct of policy, as might be suggested by such examples. Are we promoting a set of political ideals, or rather a set of chess moves in a pointless Great Game? Even on the assumption that we have simply chosen to maintain a national friendship of sorts with Georgia, how credible is it to advance such claims when we apparently permitted enough strategic and diplomatic ambiguity to encourage the Georgians to pick a fight they could not win - ie., one unjust at least in that respect?
Second, Americans tend to envision ideal geopolitical scenarios, or, at a minimum, possible geopolitical worlds, which are objectively preferable to geopolitical reality, or subjectively preferable for some or other group we intend to shower with our favouritism. This is tragic in a double sense: first, there are always unintended consequences, which prompt anguished protests on the part of Americans, to the effect that an ungrateful world does not appreciate the purity and nobility of our intentions, or that we could not have anticipated the fallout; second, few of these entanglements are actually in the interest of the American people, the welfare of whom is the principal obligation of American statesmen. Even on the assumption that the world as a whole is better off, given the conduct of American policy X, the American people themselves are seldom better for it.
Third, American foreign policy is often a reflection of flaws in the American character, in the sense that its formulation and conduct reflects domestic defects with which we have failed to reckon. The two most obvious examples are, in my estimation, first, American involvement in the Middle East, motivated primarily by a concern for the regular and orderly flow of oil shipments to global markets - not "blood for oil", but an acknowledgment that America, uniquely dependent upon those resources for the perpetuation of the American way of life, must be uniquely concerned for the correlation of political forces in the Middle East, that is, with "stability", however differently the Bush administration has elected to define this. The second illustration would be the role of the military in both our foreign policy and in popular culture. Military force has become increasingly emblematic of our foreign policy, largely as an assertion of faith in American ideals, after the tumultuous years of the Vietnam war associated for many a skepticism of American ideals and opposition to war. A readiness to employ military power has become symbolic of an affirmation of Americanism at a profound, subconscious level of the American psyche. Not merely this, but among some quarters, gestures of support for American foreign policy, affirmations of the rectitude of American missions and intentions, have become so fervent - not a bad thing in itself, in abstraction - in inverse proportion to the concrete commitment of the American people to the policies themselves. Laying aside questions of the wisdom of American policy, while there have been many token demonstrations of support for the troops, such as the application of magnetic ribbons to the backs of automobiles, there has been no dramatic upsurge in enlistments, or a willingness on the part of the people to sacrifice materially by paying in taxes what would be required to finance American foreign policy, as opposed to borrowing from foreign creditors. In this, our leadership reflects our own character; we were told, after 9/11, to go shopping, not so much because this was simply the role our leaders felt appropriate for us, but because that was pretty much all we would be willing to do in connection with a war effort.
American foreign policy is occasionally malign in an obvious manner, as in Kosovo; but even in such instances, it is malign, not on account of some nefarious intention, but on account of the profound flaws and lacunae in our own understanding - of ourselves, and of the world. In criticizing American foreign policy, those of us on, or nearer, the paleo right are essentially summoning America to an heroic undertaking, that of self-examination.