George Will on Biden's 'achievement'
George Will's recent column reviewing the first 500 days of the Biden presidency includes praise for the president's "deft diplomacy" and "stunning achievement" in the administration's response to Ukraine. According to Will, Biden's diplomacy is substantially responsible for nudging Germany to play a larger geopolitical role and persuading Finland to join NATO, thus extending the alliance's reach to more than 800 miles of Russia's border. Biden, he writes, has revised the concept of the West, but Will writes that Biden's achievement will not earn him political dividends because "what Americans usually want in foreign policy is as little as possible."
Perhaps Will should let the American people in on just what is so important about having Germany play a larger geopolitical role in the world. It did that twice in the 20th century, and we just paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen who lost their lives in two large German wars. And maybe Will can explain to the American people how the United States has benefited from NATO expansion, which has extended the American nuclear security umbrella to such vitally important countries as Montenegro, Slovenia, Albania, Romania, and North Macedonia, and cost American taxpayers plenty to make up for our European allies' unwillingness to provide for their own common defense. Suddenly Finland, too, has become a country that Americans should fight and die for.
It was Britain's General Hastings Ismay, NATO's first general secretary, who famously said that NATO's purposes were to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." During the Cold War, it succeeded in all three purposes. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, however, the Americans not only stayed in the alliance but imprudently expanded it, despite the prescient warnings of American diplomat George Kennan, whose grasp of Russian history and European diplomacy was somewhat better than George Will's.
Will was an ardent proponent of NATO expansion, writing in June 1996 that America's leaders should lessen their "tendency to trim foreign policy to accommodate Russian preferences and phobias." Not expanding NATO, he wrote, would send a "dangerous signal to Russia." He ridiculed the notion that NATO expansion could be provocative because NATO is a "defensive alliance." Will demonstrably lacks what the great British geopolitical thinker Sir Halford Mackinder said was one of the most important qualities of a statesman: the ability to perceive events from another country's perspective. But then Will is not a statesman. George Kennan was.
Kennan had that quality so prized by Mackinder. In diary entries in January 1997, he lamented that NATO expansion was "the greatest mistake of the entire post-Cold War period." This caused Kennan to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times decrying the "tragic mistake" of NATO expansion. In July 1997, after learning about the initial moves in Madrid toward NATO expansion, Kennan wrote: "How, one asks, are the Russians to take this? What NATO missions are there for which the new NATO members have to be so suitably armed? How is this to be reconciled with the assurances to the Russians that they need not worry, that the extension of NATO's borders to the east has no military implications?" In another entry, Kennan wrote that he was "heartbroken over what is now occurring," and he envisioned a "new Cold War, probably ending in a hot one, and the end of the effort to achieve a workable democracy in Russia."
Not only does Will lack the knowledge and understanding of Russia that Kennan had, but Will's condescending attitude toward the wishes of the American people is all too typical of an elite media establishment that thinks it knows best what role America should play in the world. What Will calls Biden's "stunning achievement" is a repudiation of the sensible and prudent foreign policy approach of George Washington and John Quincy Adams.
There is more wisdom in Washington's Farewell Address warning against permanent alliances and inveterate antipathies toward particular nations, and in John Quincy Adams's warning against going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, than in a hundred George Will columns where he instructs the American people, as if from on Mount Olympus, that they should pledge to lay down their lives for Finland and small Balkan nations.
Image: Gage Skidmore.