Publisher's Note — June 9, 2017, 4:24 pm

The New Nonalignment

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on June 5, 2017. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

Normally, I wouldn’t applaud the audacious rhetoric of a German chancellor, especially one speaking to right-wing activists in a Munich beer tent. Apart from the bad associations with Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, I find that Angela Merkel is already sufficiently reckless in her conduct on the European scene, where her fiscal intimidation of the Greeks and the Spaniards continues without letup.

But we’re not living in normal times, and the chancellor’s recent speech, in which she advocated for a German foreign policy more independent from the United States under the leadership of Donald Trump, seemed utterly appropriate to me. At the present moment, with an American president so ignorant and dangerous – and under fire from all sides for his more or less criminal conduct – it would be absurd for the heads of European Union member states to act as if nothing but business as usual was taking place internationally. With almost 68,000 American soldiers in Europe, 36,000 of them based in Germany, there’s plenty to worry about.

Historically, U.S. foreign policy has consistently been bound up with its domestic politics. Two examples are the invasion of Mexico in 1846, which was part of the great project of America’s so-called manifest destiny, and the dream of expansion to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. More recently, Trump’s strike against the Assad regime in Syria was more a symbolic strike than a real military intervention, launched for the sole purpose of silencing American critics of his tendency to favor Russia and appeasing the supporters of human rights who consider Assad a war criminal. Just as President James K. Polk in 1846 had no intention of conducting diplomacy with Mexico or of guaranteeing and respecting the borders between the two nations, Trump is uninterested in resolving the civil war in Syria or stopping the slaughter of innocent people trapped between the Islamic State, the various rebel factions, and the Syrian government.

The Mexican-American War, which was provoked by the United States, underscores how the U.S. is motivated more by the ambitions of politicians than by a desire for peace, for cooperation, for constructive alliances, or even for the good health of the country’s economy. Trump doesn’t have Polk’s intelligence, but all the same there are some psychological links between the two men that pass through Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. The slogan “Make America Great Again,” as well as verbal assaults against the “criminal” Mexicans, who are impugned for stealing American jobs, arise from atavistic impulses that go directly back to prejudices common in the nineteenth century. When Trump labels as “unfair to the people and taxpayers of the United States” Washington’s allegedly disproportionate expenses for NATO’s maintenance, the subtext is nearly the same: foreigners of dubious character, simultaneously cunning and lazy, are seizing what rightfully belongs to the honest citizens of Middle America. Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord sounded a similar note: “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore…. I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

However, instead of lingering to consider the numerous stupid remarks spouted by Trump, it would be more useful to think about ways of protecting Canada, in conjunction with Europe, from an aggressive, powerful, unpredictable, and obviously unstable neighbor, led by a head of state so narcissistic as to be capable of causing serious damage to the Middle East as well as to the Korean peninsula. Ever since the Kennedy Administration, Washington’s foreign policy has been made entirely in the Oval Office and at the National Security Agency, not at the State Department. Any appeal to the cultivated diplomats of Foggy Bottom is out of the question.

My idea would be to revive and reform the Non-Aligned Movement, which was all the rage during the Cold War, in order to erect a protective barrier made up of usually pro-American countries currently confused by Trump’s incoherent foreign policy. “Neither Washington nor Moscow” could become a mantra again. An unrealistic notion, perhaps, but Canada’s Justin Trudeau could serve as a leader in this endeavor, together with such partners as Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron. The Non-Aligned Movement is still technically in existence, but it’s handicapped by the hypocrisy of its key members, such as Saudi Arabia (a country obviously allied with the United States and Trump), and by its exaggeratedly third-world, anti-West image. Instead of proclaiming its allegiance to neither orthodox communism nor unbridled capitalism, as people said during the era of General Nasser and Marshal Tito, a new non-aligned movement, supported by a “Little Entente” of Trudeau, Merkel, and Macron could have as its slogan: neither national narcissism (à la Trump/Putin) nor nationalist aggression.

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

From the January 2018 issue

The Human Factor

How I learned the real meaning of dissent

Publisher's Note December 13, 2017, 7:25 pm

McCain’s War

“Although McCain participated in a morally unpardonable war in which the United Sates killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, one can’t help sympathizing with him in his reduced state.”

Publisher's Note November 10, 2017, 5:29 pm

Industrial Tourism

NAFTA is an investment contract that protects American and Canadian goods and interests against Mexican expropriation, regulation, and pestering by local authorities.

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2018

The Bodies in The Forest

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Minds of Others

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Modern Despots

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Before the Deluge

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Notes to Self

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Within Reach

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Minds of Others·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
Article
Within Reach·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Before the Deluge·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Post
CamperForce·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Minimum number of shooting incidents in the United States in the past year in which the shooter was a dog:

2

40,800,000,000 pounds of total adult human biomass is due to excessive fatness.

Trump’s former chief strategist, whom Trump said had “lost his mind,” issued a statement saying that Trump’s son did not commit treason; the US ambassador to the United Nations announced that “no one questions” Trump’s mental stability; and the director of the CIA said that Trump, who requested “killer graphics” in his intelligence briefings, is able to read.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today