Establishment Democrats and Republicans have widely decried the 2016 presidential campaign for going off script. Indeed, both candidate Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side in his speeches on domestic policy and candidate Donald Trump on the Republican side in his speeches on foreign policy have blown huge holes in longstanding American-as-Apple-Pie thinking about national priorities and our matching policies.
They won so much attention with their statements precisely because the traditional wisdom they have questioned was untouchable for twenty, thirty years. In effect, on matters of great concern to the citizenry such as the balance of power between Main Street and Wall Street, or between one vision of America as a member of the governing board of the world and another vision of our country as the global hegemon and policeman, any dissent by lesser persons than these two candidates would be dismissed as unpatriotic heresy.
In what follows, we will direct attention to foreign policy, because the impending failure there and our going off the cliff into World War III has to be the country’s first concern. Come a nuclear war, which, sadly, is more likely now than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and all thoughts about the minimum federal wage, the sustainability of social security and transgender use of toilets will go out the window.
The clamp-down on our free speech about foreign policy began imperceptibly in the name of bipartisanship in the second term of Bill Clinton when a hybrid Neocon/Liberal Interventionist ideology fully replaced pragmatism and common sense at the State Department under Madeleine Albright and rippled out further to the Pentagon and Presidential Administration. However the real throttling of divergent opinions came after 9/11 when Vice President Dick Cheney and his minions initiated a purge of the federal security and diplomatic services that removed all doubters.
In this new environment emanating from the main source of funding and other incentives, our university centers and think tanks followed the gravitation lines and aligned with Washington. Our mass media snapped to attention. Newspapers of record like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal became unquestioning purveyors of the latest press handouts from the State Department.
The irony is that these and other mainstream media or MSM sources have picked up the old Soviet style and use the tone and expressions closely resembling the “Pravda” vocabulary which used the most vicious anti-American propaganda. The language used by Soviet journalists and commentators was so rude and hysterical that even people sympathetic to communist causes were turned off. For those who have any nostalgia for Soviet agitprop, welcome to western MSM.
Following President Putin’s famous speech rejecting Washington’s New World Order at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, the United States unleashed an Information War that has not let up ever since. From the Oval Office on down, we demonize the President of the Russian Federation even as we use this one person as a shorthand notation for an entire nation. Step by step, American mass media have been closed to those who think otherwise. A new McCarthyism has set in.
Silence is not agreement. As a poll of its in-house brain trust on Russia carried out by Foreign Affairs magazine in October 2015 revealed, fully one-third of these professionals chosen not only for erudition but also for “reliability” went on record as agreeing or strongly agreeing that the West was to blame for the crisis with Russia over Ukraine. But of that third, you will see almost nothing in the articles posted by Foreign Affairs or the other specialist journals of our International Affairs community today.
We are now in a situation similar to what Mikhail Gorbachev encountered in the mid-1980s when he tried to move beyond the official ideology of Soviet society and enter upon reform. He issued a call for Glasnost, meaning transparency and open discussion of issues that had been taboo.
The word entered the English language back then but we had the mistaken belief that it was a curiosity, that it pertained to specifically Soviet conditions. Now we know better: the United States badly needs a dose of Glasnost if we are to face domestic and international challenges that our ideology in place has proven incapable of mastering.
And the first thing to do is to scrap ideology in general. It is unworthy of a nation of 300 million, with vast depth of experience and academically trained minds. What we need is realistic talk from all sides so that we can update our policies based on the greatest wisdom we can muster.
The issues of NATO expansion, overseas interventions, the hopelessness of our state-building these past twenty years and the needless and heedless confrontations with both Russia and China going on today and aggravated by U.S. military encroachments on their defense perimeters: these and other issues of foreign policy which Donald Trump raised on the campaign trail during the primaries are too important to be left to this one candidate, to his speechwriters and his small coterie of advisers.
It is high time for our major electronic media including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg to open their air waves to full-blooded debate between authoritative representatives from all sides in the American professional community, to bring back into circulation those experts they have blackballed so foolishly and to solicit contributions from a new generation of critics of the status quo from the standpoint of efficacy, not ideological purity.
The same injunction applies to our newspapers of record: open your op-ed pages to real debate, not merely to those who toe the Administration line, as is the case today. Let us not be afraid, let the chips fall where they may. This is the only way we can prepare whoever wins the election in November to take us out of the present cul-de-sac.
Co-authored with Edward Lozansky, the President of The American University in Moscow