“The Prime Directive is a nice ideal, but have you noticed it never works in practice?”
― Una McCormack
From the last few weeks we have seen that Hillary has promised to continue the idiotic foreign policy of Obama (although it is more likely, judging from her own limited independent actions, that she will be more like her husband—and we’ll get to the difference there later). Meanwhile we have Trump committing numerous acts of out and out treason in telling foreign nations to steal our intel and giving away classified data that will only aid enemies like Iran and ISIS, but don’t worry he’s promising to be very different and either turn us into a puppet for Russian expansionism or into our own empire building genocidal tyranny. And most of the public eats up one of these two forms of idiocy and thinks only in petty either/or thinking that everyone who follows my candidate is right and everyone who doesn’t is wrong. From this you get really dumb statements like “Hillary and Obama were pushing for regime change in Libya” Sadly foreign policy is one of the most complicated fields of study on Earth because it so often like playing multiple games of chess at once where your moves on one board affect how things go on other boards; where long-term goals often require multiple temporary sacrifices of principle to meet higher principles; where the board shifts constantly, and the boards aren’t even on one plane but shifted around in a bizarre three dimensional mishmash of insanity…kind of like what we all imagine Star Trek’s 3-D chess to be like.* And I go to this image because in light of the recent terrible movie coming out Star Trek** and the announcement of hopefully a better Star Trek returning to primetime TV (I hope), Trek was on my mind…and that’s when I realized that Star Trek provides the best metaphors available for describing the main branches of foreign policy theory. Because someone does need to clear this up, as so many think of it as only a hawk vs dove kind of thing.
Now there are several branches of foreign policy theory: you have Isolationists like Jeff Sessions and Bernie Sanders, Liberal pragmatists list Obama, moderate pragmatists like Bill (and probably Hillary) Clinton, conservative pragmatists like the Bush’s, Neoconservatives like Reagan and Romney, colonialists the likes of which we haven’t really seen since Teddy Roosevelt but now have an even worse version of in the form of Trump and his vile supporters.
And these correspond very closely to some names that every Trekkie should be familiar with. In policy they correspond to the Romulan Empire, Capt. Janeway, Capt. Picard, Capt. Sisko, Capt. Kirk, The Klingon Empire, and finally the Dominion
So let’s go through these philosophies and see how they worked (or didn’t) in both the real world and the fictional world.
The Isolationism of Jeff Sessions, Bernie Sanders, and The Romulan Star Empire
“Your presence is not wanted. Do you understand my meaning, Captain? We… are back!” —First appearance of Romulans in The Next Generation…they proceed to then spend the entirety of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager being nothing more than window dressing, McGuffin, and barely even there. 1988-2002 they do absolutely nothing.***
On the far end of the foreign policy spectrum we have isolationism. The belief that your country only needs itself, maybe some colonies which are still technically part of the country and that everyone else should leave you alone. You don’t need trade, you don’t need contact, you certainly don’t need foreigners with their foreign ideas. Here you find such ideas in Bernie Sanders’ statement that “Unfettered free trade has been a disaster for the working Americans.” Granted foreign trade is anything but unfettered, and what limited trade we do have has been nothing but an absolute and unquestionable good for American workers….but isolationists don’t deal anywhere near the sanity. Basing their ideas on an incredibly poor understanding of economics, that ignores all long term gains to focus on short terms losses of a few in industries that have become obsolete but held onto by people so foolish as to not understand that you must learn and adapt to new ways, isolationist be it socialists like Sanders, or cronyists like Jeff Sessions (which is really just socialism by another name), with more than just a dash of abject racism, see everything from the outside as the cause of all their problems. This has nothing to do with reality, nor is the problem even real…or when there are actual problems they fail to see that their policies are actually the cause of the problem not the solution (not a single problem complained about from isolationists, from high unemployment to stagnating quality of life, would not be worried by less free trade, and not a single problem they point to would not be made better by more free trade).
And this is very much like the Romulans in Star Trek. The half brained Vulcan cousins are the most paranoid and isolated idiots you can get. They want nothing to do with anyone else. They close themselves off from all their neighbors, only seeming to ever get involved when to sparking wars between their neighbors that will weaken both sides (Star Trek VI) or because they feel their very existence is threatened in the immediate future (Season 4, 6 and 7 of Deep Space Nine). Other than that they’re for the most part perfectly happy to ignore everyone, have almost no commerce with anyone (the only thing they seem to export anywhere in the universe is the most intoxicating and migraine inducing beverage in existence…which for an interstellar empire seems too little on the light side of trade), and they don’t do much in the way of dealing with anyone at anytime. Which is not surprise for a society**** whose most characteristic point is a cloaking device which hides them from everyone.
Bernie and Sessions would love to be Romulans. Because, like the Romulans who are utterly convinced of their superiority as a species over everyone else (which appeals to racists like Sessions and Sanders), but also because to cut off contact with all other nations. People like Sessions and Sanders and their followers would jump at the chance to put a Neutral Zone around the nation that no onto get in or out could cross either getting in or going out. They want nothing to do with the outside world because they erroneously feel that their life would be better having no contact with anyone. If the US had actually embraced such an ideal we would be ranking with North Korea right now in terms of economic prosperity, meanwhile if the Romluan Empire had actually had some encounters with other races they might not have been suffering from the same universally bad haircut for the last six decades of TV shows.
Other examples of this in real life might be Pat Buchanan, Jill Stein, Ron and Rand Paul, and Gary Johnson. Put the whole bunch together and you wouldn’t have enough IQ or ethics to fill a shot glass.
Now only slightly less bad than the Romluan desire for absolutely no contact is what I will call liberal pragmatism in modern foreign policy, or an actual devotion to the short sighted idiocy of the Prime Directive in Star Trek.
The Liberal Pragmatism of Barack Obama and Capt. Katheryn Janeway
“Space must have seemed a whole lot bigger back then. It’s not surprising they had to bend the rules a little. They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers. Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. “—Capt. Katheryn Janeway condemning the more intelligent actions of her predecessors.
It goes without saying that the writers of Star Trek for all their good intentions at making a feminist statement, made the first female captain of a Star Trek show the single dumbest Captain in the entire canon.***** According to the Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha Janeway violated the Prime Directive twice (the first episode and the last episode)—which quite frankly is just sad.
And it is Janeway who most resembles Obama in her idiotic devotion to the Prime Directive. For those who don’t know, the Prime Directive is Star Trek’s ideal of non-intervention. It states the Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets cannot interfere with the internal development of any planet (especially those who haven’t begun interplanetary travel). It is born out of a bit of intelligence, that when you interfere with things you can’t predict the consequences, that societies have a natural tendency to adopt what works best from the other people, that a lack of diversity (like the kind that comes from adopting traits from others) can be harmful for the development of all societies involved, and that since everyone thinks they always know best though seldom do, the best intentions can lead to the worst results. It makes a good deal of sense, and in cases of Star Trek episodes where you see idiots recreate Nazi Germany or accidentally turn a whole planet into 1920’s gangsters, there seems to be some logic to the Prime Directive. Just as when one looks at US policy that destroyed Native Americans, Spanish policy that obliterated the rest of everything south of the border to where there are practically no traces of original cultures of Latin America, and the idiotic policies of Europe throughout Asia and Africa which causes idiotic anti-colonialism backlashes which ruined nations that were already weakened by short sighted colonial policy.
But as with almost all things the government does, the Prime Directive takes a logical piece of common sense and take it to its illogical extreme. We can call this liberal pragmatism, because while it tries to avoid as much interference as possible it does give in occasionally…usually just making things worse because it sees as its goal returning to non-interference as quickly as possible.
Obama, mostly incorrectly, believes that in the past US foreign policy has done more harm than good. That his assessment is essentially wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is that even if his assessment was right, which it isn’t, he is still proceeding down the wrong path. Much like the Federation and Janeway’s absolutely idiotic devotion to the Prime Directive. For the Obama that means we try to get involved as little as possible (ending justifiable embargoes on Iran, pulling needed troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, letting Russia invade any country it wants to without any opposition, not supporting the Green Revolution) and when getting involved in doing it in such a half-assed way it only ends up justifying your belief that all intervention just causes more problems (Syria, Libya, the entire Arab Spring). This is just like Janeway who practically never violated the Prime Directive (the first and last episodes of the show are the only examples I can think of) and in some cases justified it when reason might actually say it was stupid:
The one that’s made of binding principles. We have our own set of rules, which includes the Prime Directive. How many times have we been in the position of refusing to interfere when some kind of disaster threatened an alien culture? It’s all very well to say we do it on the basis of an enlightened principle. But how does that feel to the aliens? I’m sure many of them think the Prime Directive is a lousy idea.
This quote embodies the essence of the stupidity of the Prime Directive and the stupidity of Obama’s ideas. Janeway says that they still shouldn’t violate the Prime Directive even “when some kind of disaster threatened an alien culture,” just as Obama doesn’t want to get involved in wars because he believes America will screw things up. And that’s all well and good to have a respect for the idea that unintended consequences can be terrible, but it flies completely in the face of reason where the completely foreseeable consequences of say taking down ISIS or destroying the Borg justify any unintended unforeseeable consequences because, I hate to say this, the worst that could happen is genocide and in a choice between the certain genocide of ISIS and the possible genocide of what might come after if we don’t properly rebuild the area. Obama at best does a half-assed job because he wants to keep his hands as clean as possible because he idiotically believes that the US is inherently a force for evil in the world…whatever reasons Janeway does it, I couldn’t tell you because she was not a well written character. This in turn results in a world/galaxy where problems just spread and get worse, where for 7 years you’re forced to deal with crappy story lines or 8 years watching the world burn. The worst is when the world starts burning when you have someone with this mentality in charge and you see LBJ’s mindless behavior in Vietnam, Obama’s stupid reactions to ISIS, and Janeway’s utterly daft actions in Season in Hell or making deals with the Borg (yeah she made deals with the communists of space). It’s a complete bloodbath to see someone so inept try to deal with the problems they have created. Bloodbath…anyone remember that time that Janeway and Voyager blew up Earth? Yeah they did that. They blew up a few planets come to think of it…only a truly amateur use of deus ex machina time travel save prevented them from destroying all of existence (they almost did that too in conjunction with the Q). Bloodbath after bloodbath caused by incompetence. Just like watching idiots like Obama try to run foreign policy. Why? Because someone who holds to such stupid beliefs that you’re always in the wrong has no qualms about doing terrible things when they’re pissed off as it only helps to prove that they’re right, it doesn’t matter if it means that they also become the villain—they’re still right, and for someone so wrong they have to prove that they’re right. (It’s the kind of mentality that says, I screwed up so much that I have to prove I’m right by violating every rule and rewriting entire time lines of decades in crappy finales because the writers have nothing left).
Other examples of this mentality can be seen in John Kerry, FDR, LBJ and Al Gore.
Moderate Pragmatism: Bill Clinton and Jean-Luc Picard
The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy … and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.—Jean Luc Picard
Slightly closer to sanity but still holding the to the ideal of not getting involved is what I would call moderate pragmatism. Not quite as stupid as liberal realists like Obama and Janeway who cause more problems with their short sighted idiocy, but trying as much as possible to kick the can down the line for someone else to deal with. Where liberal realist want to try and return to non-intervention, moderate realists want to try and maintain the status quo as much as possible.
You see this with Bill Clinton taking foreign policy to restore democracy in Haiti and end genocide in the Balkans, but choosing to only try and negotiate North Korea out of nuclear weapons, and keep Saddam Hussein quiet with only a few aerial strikes and no fly zones…all which resulted in long term problems for following administrations (but unlike Obama, he didn’t actively seek to make the world worse through non-intervention). You see this with Picard rather than solving a long term Federation problem of the Klingon Empire, rather than taking the multiple chances he has to expose the corruption in their government, he continuously acts to help keep their vile secrets, you see it when he chooses not to destroy the Borg collective (I, Hugh), or for all his protestations about caring about the suffering of the Bajoran people, never doing anything more than counting light fixtures to aid in their liberation. And Picard was always trying to be the diplomat, trying to find a peaceful settlement by getting people to sit down and talk…Clinton did the same, with predictable results of complete inefficiency and no progress anywhere.
Granted Bill Clinton is more like Chris Pine’s pathetic interpretation of Kirk in his desire to screw anything with a pulse, and I doubt we would ever get the moral clarity of “The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!” But I’m speaking in terms of policy, not character—regrettably in this grey middle they’re not always things that match up.*
Now in context of the show these might seem like good ideas, just as at the time the actions of Clinton seemed to have a type of short term logic. But because they never went far enough they never actually fixed the problem. The threat of Saddam, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Islamic Terrorism…for Picard the effects of Klingon Empire corruption, the Roman problem, the Borg, that freaky Puppet Master’s thing they had in the first season and we never heard about again (did anyone want to deal with that huge threat ever?–no the fact that it was resolved in the books doesn’t count.), and still encroaching Cardassian threat…all of those things were never dealt with. They may have often been resolved in short term diplomatic ways, or very short term military strikes that kept a full war from erupting, but never actually dealt with the problem.
In medical terms Clinton and Picard liked treating the symptoms. Which is certainly better than the belief in snake oil sold by Janeway/Obama or just outright denial of Romuluan/Sanders/Sessions view of the world.
Other examples of this include Richard Nixon, late Jack Kemp, (hopefully) Hillary Clinton (and it’s hopefully because her actions as a Senator seem to suggest this, and the other alternative is worse), and Ted Cruz.
This of course brings us to the last form of pragmatism
The Conservative Pragmatism of the Bush’s and Captain Benjamin Sisko
While liberal pragmatism causes the biggest bloodbaths, this (and not the next level of Kirk/Reagan Cowboy diplomacy) is what causes the most number of wars (not the most death but the most number of conflicts).
“You even ignored the Prime Directive by interfering with their damned hunt.” –Com. Sisko
“So I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all…I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again—I would. Garak was right about one thing: a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it…I can live with it…”–Capt. Sisko
The mixture of these ideals creates an inherently unstable mix. It seeks the status quo through as little action as possible, but placates its own conscience by admitting that liberty is the natural state of mankind and thus if only the barriers to liberty, namely tyranny, are removed then liberty will prevail. It’s a nice idea, but history, sociology, politics and just plain old common sense tells anyone with a brain that while liberty may be a natural right it does not survive without a myriad of cultural, legal, and political practices, customs and attitudes. Maintaining liberty is a long term game—but the pragmatism part of conservative pragmatism is not interested in long term games, only in wanting to set everything back as quickly as possible. Most often conservative pragmatism will see threats that make active aggressive moves as things that need to be removed but not fix the long term problem that will create the need for intervention in the future.
Thus in our fictional examples you have actions of Sisko not wanting to interfere with slavery in another race in the first season, ignore the plight of people who are being tyrannized by an oppressive occupying force in the 2nd season of his show, but feeling the need to destroy tyranny when it makes active moves against his beloved Federation. Whereas a moderate pragmatist would have advocated for driving the tyranny of the Dominion back to its own borders and the liberal pragmatist would have only made some showy counter strikes while territory was lost time and time again, Sisko had the vision to realize that the threat was not going away and had to be dealt with. All pragmatism is a mess because of its mix between not wanting to deal with problems but also realizing that some problems need to be dealt with. But it also doesn’t deal with problems in any meaningful way—oh the Klingon Empire has been nearly destroyed by Changeling spies, okay let’s take out the spies and still leave one of our closest enemies in a total state of disaster. Great plan. Oh the Maquis are going to be long term threat, let’s just stop this or that single event and not actually cut the heart of their operation out. That won’t have long term problems. Look I’m talking to Cardassian Hitler, let me trade banter with him for four seasons before lo and behold he actually goes back to the genocidal warpath. (Now this may be a little unfair as, if I was going to be really fair, I would say that Sisko became more and more of an actual Neocon and less of a pragmatist over the seven seasons of the show, but for the sake of this argument let’s just look at the average of his actions and just still call him a pragmatist).
And you see this with conservative pragmatists like George W. Bush, they see there is a problem, and they work to solve the problem but only in the short term. And like the fiction counterpart this creates more problems down the line. Iraq and Afghanistan were situations that recognized that tyranny had to be confronted, and he did. But after the initial confrontation he sees no reason to continue doing what was necessary. Plans to rebuild the nations? No. Ensuring that the places are safe? Why would we do that? Taking the time to create the habits that lead to stable free market, constitutional-republics that honor the values of Classical Liberalism? That’s crazy talk! Invade, kill the bad guys, and the democracy should just magically sprout up. Let’s ignore that it took over a decade for the US to go from the Declaration to the Constitution (with a good deal of help from the French for military support, and nations like the Netherlands for monetary support), no, no, it should only take a year for Afghanistan and Iraq to embrace democracy. Only a year. It only took the US, a group of colonies that grew up with the traditions of English Common Law and society at every level of existence, a decade to get it right, it should only take a uneducated society with no experience with such things a year to get it right. And we’ll throw money at the problem if they don’t get it right away.
Some people want to call Bush a Neocon, but they would be very wrong. No, neocons like creating democracy, they want nation building, they realize it takes time but argue it pays off in the end. Bush was in no way shape or form a neocon. He had the brief intelligence to realize that a couple of tyrannies had to be taken down but he lacked even the most basic concept that he would have to clean up the mess that was made by him and the large mess that came before him.
And you see that short sighted thinking in DS9 as well—“Oh your planet has been the victim of genocide and strip-mining for most of the century, your surviving population are either refugees or terrorists, and you have very little to share with the universe…yeah it should only take four to five years to get your whole society ready to join the Federation.” Granted I think the writers deserve more to blame there, as it’s completely idiotic to think the problems they gave the planet of Bajor could be resolved in the space of a presidential term of office…but it’s a type of stupidity that seems common not just with writers but with dipshit presidents as well. Or his great “Hey let me help jump start a revolution in an alternate dimension but not worry about actually helping them establish any kind of government that could actually create a government that could protect the liberties they want…no, no, give them a few super weapons and all will be fine.”
Other examples of this include early Jack Kemp and JFK, they wanted to deal with problems but had no follow through on what to do about the cleanup that would prevent the same area becoming a problem again in only a few years.
The Neoconservatism (Cowboy Diplomacy) of Reagan, Romney and Captain James T. Kirk***
Among my people, we carry many such words as this from many lands, many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way. Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before, or since, tall words proudly saying, “We the People”. That which you call Ee’d Plebnista, was not written for the chiefs of kings, or the warriors or the rich or the powerful, but for ALL the people! Down the centuries, you have slurred the meaning of the words, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty, to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution”. These words and the words that follow, were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well! They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing! –Capt. James Kirk
Cowboy Diplomacy is how this is often referred to by isolationists and pragmatists. Which is strange because every movie I’ve ever watched the actions of the cowboy is what improves a bad situation. But to the short term thinking pragmatists and the unprincipled isolationists, long-term principles thinking and action probably just looks crazy despite being the only thing worth doing.
Unlike every other group which is directed by short term thinking and only concern of what is best for them, Neoconservatism takes not only the long term view of things, but actually a view to what is right not just what is our best interest (of course what is right is what is in our long term best interest, but only a neocon realizes this).
And we see this in the actions of James Kirk. More than once we see him interfere with societies in direct violation of the Prime Directive, sometimes with clever legal justification, but more often simply because it was the right thing to do. Yes there are times he violated the Prime Directive because it was in the Federation’s best interest, such as changing history to pick up a couple of humpback whales to save Earth, or advocating a native population rise up against the Klingons who just invaded. But more often his violations were based on doing what is right. For instance, more than once he destroyed a machine that was controlling a civilization rightly justifying it with “These people aren’t living. They’re existing. They don’t create, produce, even think. They exist to service a machine… we owe it to them to interfere.” Another example of changing things for the better would be when he decides to give a civilization the best lecture on the importance of the US Constitution in the history of television.
However, he was not willy-nilly about changing things. He didn’t get involved when he didn’t need to, be it trying to prevent wars with Gorn or Romans, or looking to correct problems made by other Federation interference. The guiding light for Kirk is not non-interference but what will lead to creation of a society fit to join the others in the Federation, what will lead to growth (and one could argue lead to happiness for the individual). If there is a stumbling block that the people of a given world can’t overcome on their own (an evil computer controlling them, Klingon interference, not knowing how to pronounce “We the People”). Whereas other captains listed here might have just saved their crew and let two planets locked in the deadliest computer based war game continue killing each other, Kirk was concerned with actually saving both societies. And while the other visions see the blood and treasure as merely a cost of doing business to maintain the status quo they want, whereas any loss of life or resources by Kirk was an attempt to “Turn death into a fighting chance to live.” The status quo was not the goal but rather trying to ensure natural rights for as many people in the long run, even when he acknowledges that “war is a very messy business. A very, very messy business. “
This means that the mentality will not tolerate evil that can’t be negotiated with. But it will negotiate with just about anything else. Contrary to the slander that isolationists and those who just want the status quo for their own lives no matter how many others have to suffer for it, the neoconservative viewpoint doesn’t seek violence as a first means of resolving issues, it just realizes that sometimes not using it will only result in more violence. War is a tool and must be used when it will prevent greater violence (like responding to an unprovoked attack in the episode “Arena” but not to be given into just for the sake of violence, again the episode “Arena”). In fact, if you tally it up Kirk tries to talk and negotiate his way out of things more often than he ever gets into a fight, so much that his propensity to letting people do things their own way and not firing first sometimes lead to problems (KHAAAAAAAAN!). Neocons also bear this inaccurate moniker of being warmongers, not because we’re more violent, but because we’re actually willing to use violence to end worse violence. To the idiots who want the status quo, it doesn’t matter how many people are being slaughtered as long you can avoid getting violent. It’s the mentality of Kitty Genovese’s** neighbors on an international version.
Neocons like the Star Trek of yesteryear believed in making sure that everyone has access to their inalienable human rights. That ideally we should use trade treaties, private charity, negotiation and in rare cases embargoes and sanctions to ensure that the rights of everyone are protected. But when those avenues don’t work, when tyranny is preventing people from having the expression of even the most basic rights, then force must counter force to liberate those who need it.
And yes this does mean Neocons will likely engage in more wars because right now the world is so screwed up and there are so many violations of basic rights that it’s the only ethical thing to do.
Unlike the other mentalities Neocons won’t bite off more than they can chew. As Neoconservative foreign policy has a long term goal, universal protection of human rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of Happiness, it can have long term strategies. Someone who is just looking for the status quo to be enforced, like a Bush, will fight wars on multiple fronts without long term plans on how to fix either one. On the other hand, a Reagan will keep their eye on the root causes of tyranny and prioritize. That may mean not dealing with some tyrants and focusing on others. Pinochet can stay for now because he’s not the worst thing around, even though a just society that had the time to deal with him would have had him and his supporters dangling from a gallows in a heartbeat. When the Soviet Union is the chief sponsor of tyranny and terrorism in the world you focus on that and just that. And only an idiot like Bush Sr. would have been lacking in the common sense to help Russia and Afghanistan rebuild. If you’re playing to win you may get embroiled in more conflicts now, especially to prevent your adversary from advancing, but if any nation could actually hold to this policy it would prevent more wars in the future. But that is the Neocon way to find the best long term solution, whereas everyone else looks for the quickest and easiest solution…which in turn tends to yield more problems cropping up for the next administration to deal with.
Now some I have actually seen try to claim that Reagan wasn’t neoconservative in his outlook…which is just bizarre. Because while his tactics may have changed and evolved over the years depending on how much support he needed and what he had the power to do his goal never changed or in his own words:
Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy “accommodation.” And they say if we’ll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he’ll forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer — not an easy answer — but simple: If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right.
We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, “Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave masters.” Alexander Hamilton said, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.” Now let’s set the record straight. There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace — and you can have it in the next second — surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face — that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand — the ultimatum. And what then — when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we’re retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he’s heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.” And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t/shouldn’t speak for the rest of us.
You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin — just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” And this — this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits — not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.
We will keep in mind and remember that Barry Goldwater has faith in us. He has faith that you and I have the ability and the dignity and the right to make our own decisions and determine our own destiny.
From “A Time of Choosing” to “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” never was Reagan’s vision was never only on the keeping the short-term status quo or only thinking of what was best for America…if you think Reagan had anything but liberty for the whole world as his end game then go back and read about how leaving billions in chains is the great immorality we cannot engage in. Yes, long term thinking means prioritizing, it means we would have loved to have dealt with every problem, but we had to keep our eyes on getting rid of the Soviet Union with as little bloodshed as possible (which it turned out was relatively little).
You said you wanted freedom. It’s time you learned that freedom is never a gift. It has to be earned. —Kirk
Others in this vein were Goldwater and Romney.
Worf: When you have the right goals and no ability to plan
Now in the previous version I have dealt with four different attempts to deal with a desire for the status quo through four different versions of short term tactics…and you can’t have long term tactics with only a desire for the status quo as the status quo is inherently short term. Now just because Neocons have long term goals and long term plans to meet them, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t idiots out there who try to win long term goals with short term tactics. In Star Trek this would be Worf, a rather preposterous character who feels every hill is worth dying on…in real life this kind of person gets killed off or marginalized long before they’re in a position to influence policy in any meaningful way. So this brief paragraph is all their no name beliefs get.
Klingons and Colonialism
Then of course you have to two version of long term (kind of) planning with terrible goals. Colonialism and Imperialism. (And I fully admit these are terms and distinctions I’m pretty much inventing right here, mainly because I looked for this and couldn’t find this important distinction in any literature of foreign policy theory…if there are terms or you have more applicable terms let me know).
The Klingon Empire, especially in the days of the original Star Trek, were the best embodiment of colonialism. They continuously sought to have influence, strong influence, over planets and their resources, but didn’t seem too concerned with the internal business of the planets they invaded so long as those internal issues didn’t hurt their acquisition of resources. There are few examples of this in the modern world. Roman, Britain during the height of their empire, America’s bizarre entries into colonialism around the turn of the 20th century are some of the best examples of this: pay your taxes, supply our troops, don’t rebel. Other than that they didn’t care what you believed how, how you lived, or how you dealt with internal matters. But as this is not a common thread anymore in politics I won’t deal with it much except to say how it differs from what I call Imperialism and how modern claims of US imperialism are incorrect. Imperialism, which we will get to shortly doesn’t just let you live your life; an imperialist nation which invades, demands that you become part of that nation and its culture or else. Language, religion, government, laws, rights, everything must conform to the conquering nation, nothing is taken from the conquered, no integration is officially allowed (even thought that is something that can never be stopped in practice, and at least the Klingons were willing take up things that they come upon…warp drive, cloaking technology, genetic engineering they don’t talk about—the Klingons are very willing to always incorporate new things if it benefits them, which is why they are merely colonial not imperial). But, again, as I said there is very little of this desire left in the world (thank god) so there isn’t really any point in discussing it in any more detail.
Imperialism: Trump, Putin, Dukat and the Dominion
Gul Dukat: [speaking to his people] You might ask, should we fear joining the Dominion? And I answer you: Not in the least. We should embrace the opportunity. The Dominion recognizes us for what we are, the true leaders of the Alpha Quadrant. And now that we are joined together, equal partners in all endeavors, the only people with anything to fear will be our enemies. My oldest son’s birthday is in five days. To him, and to Cardassians everywhere, I make the following pledge: By the time his birthday dawns, there will not be a single Klingon alive inside Cardassian territory. Or a single Maquis colony left within our borders. Cardassia will be made whole, all that we have lost will be ours again. And anyone who stands in our way will be destroyed.
Or, in other words: Make Cardassia Great Again
Of course none of this is as bad as the wars of aggression that an imperial attitude has. By imperial I mean the conviction not just that you are right, but that no one else should be allowed to find their own way, but their only option is to serve your nation in a subservient way. It is a belief that there can be no equality between sentient beings. You are superior, by nature not because of ideas, and those outside can never be as good. And while sharing the same idiotic racism of the isolationists at the other end the spectrum, but this comes with a more vicious streak that all the inferior people must be made to serve the superior. In Star Trek we see this in no place better than the ultimate evil of the alliance between Cardassia and the Dominion.
The Cardassian Empire (I like to tell myself that their name must have come about when a Star Trek writer got screwed over by a certain lawyer with several very stupid daughters) was for a few years the worst thing in the Star Trek universe. The Klingons had ceased being the villains, the Romulans were still just wasted potential, the Borg while terrible communists of space had been defeated so many times they really weren’t much of a threat to anyone but the inept crew of Lost in Space. But then there were the Cardassians, the Nazis of space, completely with a militaristic culture and a not so subtle Holocaust allusion in their attempts to exploit, enslave and finally destroy the Bajoran people. And topping it all off was Gul Dukat, space Hitler: charismatic, justifying his actions for the good of his race, no depravity too low, unstable, vicious (and a rather perverse relation with his daughter, but that companions will be more important for a later comparison). And they were bad, the problem was the way they had been written also left them fairly powerless…until DS9 the stakes upped and joined the space Nazis with a military that shared their value of total control, destruction of liberty, and a group of soldiers who’s vile behavior rivaled the Luftwaffe and SS: The Dominion.
The Dominion is everything the Nazis wished they had been. A two-thousand year Reich, with an unstable military force, no freedom of press or belief, no ability to protest, everyone must march lockstep or be annihilated. Where the subjugation of trillions of people is a somewhere between amusing and standard operating procedure.
Weyoun: What would you say… if I offered to make you absolute ruler of the Federation? No President, no Starfleet Chief of Staff, just you.
Sisko: I’d say your psychographic profile of me isn’t as good as you think.
Weyoun: [laughs richly] Just doing my job.
You mix these two groups and you have evil incarnate. There is no due process, prisoners are tortured for the amusement of guards, no rule of law, only force. All with God-kings whose divine right to rule can never be questioned. And if you do step out of line, it’s not just you who may pay the price, but your entire species.
Female Shapeshifter: I want the Cardassians exterminated.
Weyoun: Which ones?
Female Shapeshifter: All of them. The entire population.
Weyoun: That will take some time.
Female Shapeshifter: Then I suggest that you begin at once.
And the alliance between these two meets every criteria I gave to imperialistic foreign policies. Both the Dominion and Cardassia believe their way is the only way. That they are the only people qualified to rule, not that they may be better and need to quash the worst out there so that other may all flourish, but that all must serve Cardassia or the Dominion, that they are there only to provide and serve no other purpose in existence. And anyone who dares believe that they may be entitled to their own lives is wrong and must be dealt with. And that the poor inferior people should be overjoyed to be used by such superior people.
Dukat: I know you find this hard to accept, but… I believe that in some ways, the Occupation actually helped Bajor.
Major Kira: Which part? The massacres or the strip mining?
And that there can never be any equality between the conquered and the conquerer (here is another difference between colonialism and imperialism, even the most vile acts of colonialism saw also acts of humanity and integration between the two, not so with pure imperialism). There is master and there is slave.
Guy Dukat: From the moment we arrived on Bajor it was clear we were the superior race, but they couldn’t accept that. They wanted to be treated as equals when they most certainly were not. […] We did not choose to be the superior race, fate handed us that role. And it would have been so much easier on everyone if the Bajorans had simply accepted their role. But no…”
Odo: How do you justify the deaths of so many people?
Female Shapeshifter: The Solids have always been a threat to us. That’s the only justification we need.
Odo: But these Solids have never harmed you. They travel the galaxy in order to expand their knowledge, just as you once did.
Female Shapeshifter: The Solids are nothing like us.
And I would love to say that this is relegated to the past. But we see it in the actions of Vladimir Putin, we see it in ISIS, and of course we see it in the West in what has become known as the alt-right and their god-king Donald Trump.
We now have a group of white supremacist who think they are in every way superior. They claim that we can’t allow foreigners into our countries because non-Europeans can’t even understand the Constitution or what it is to be American (the irony is of course that to say this can only come from one who doesn’t understand the Constitution and even if they were born here of American parents are American only as a legal formality and have less than moral ground to claim that title). They don’t want to hear about the fact that long hard work of helping people assimilate into a new culture hasn’t been undertaken in any serious way for the last two generations, nor have the recent pushes to win votes made any call to the fundamentals of rule of law. But, it’s not just the superiority. If it were just that you would chalk them up as being as stupid and short sighted as isolationists. No it’s the claim that if they get in power they will restore us to greatness by invading other nations and taking their resources, that they will steal the wealth other nations to impose barriers on that nation, that they will charge others for the privilege of dealing with us and they will be all too happy to pay (as if that’s how economics works), that we will strip other nations of doing the things they do better than we do just so the laziest and most incompetent here can have a government provided job, that we will round up people in concentration camps, that we will deport anyone we don’t like Gestapo tactics. I could go on. But Trump has already vowed to cleanse the nation of all foreign influence, to invade the Middle East and take their resources, and his habit of not wanting to deal with foreigners there would lead likely to the genocide of the people already there, after all he’s said he plans to kill the women and children in mass numbers.
It is the worst of all possible worlds: a vile goal mixed with long term strategy.
So those are the main branches of foreign policy. Yes, there are shades of grey between so many of these and people can changes from time to time, but the point I am trying to make there is that it is not merely a debate between isolationists vs interventionists, or those who wish to defend and those who wish to conquer. There are many ways to approach the same problems, most of them incorrect, some almost indistinguishable in practice but with different goals, some with the same goal but different ways of doing things. It’s a mess but even the sometimes trite writers of Star Trek implicitly understood there were more than two ways to handle this issues, maybe people discussing this issues could do more than describe Hillary and Obama as if they’re the same, or describe them as “War-Hawks” or talk about Bush as a neocon. It takes a very shallow mind to see this highly complex field as either black or white.
[Coming soon a discussion of how each of these different styles would handle current problems we are facing in foreign policy…I would have included it in this article but I think we all agree this was a monster of an article].
*Before I wrote this article, I actually looked up the rules for 3-D chess (because I knew Trekkies must have come up with rules for that) and if you understand chess it’s really not complicated an addition (more silly than anything), but you get my point we look at that thing and envision it to be like chess-squared in complexity.
**I don’t care what anyone says that terrible actor Pine playing Kirk as the Rebel without a Clue isn’t Star Trek at any level and those films should just be forgotten. The real Kirk not this clueless punk in the new movies
***Before some Trekkie takes me to task, honestly, when were they a threat? Or even trying to leave the confines of the the Roman Empire? Exactly three causes can be found for the Romulans being anything resembling a threat 1. Half Romulan Tasha Yar, so the human intiative is there; 2. when Sisko tricks them into a war, again a human; and 3. when a Picard clone decides to take over, again a human is the cause of them wanting to leave their comfy empire. When directed by the humans the Romulans might present a threat, just as when commanded by women or Italians the French might present a threat, but under normal conditions Romulans hide in their little empire and Frenchmen surrender.
****I’m just going to ignore the fact you could argue that Star Trek treating all races as if everyone in that race is exactly the same is really kind of racist. It’s a common trope in Science Fiction there to help bring certain points to the forefront by defining certain groups by very limited traits. It’s just after 10 movies and 5 TV shows it tends to look really stupid.
*****As far as I’m concerned those reboot movies aren’t canon. If they were Pine’s Kirk would be the dumbest Captain ever.
*Also I’m going to argue there are subtle but significant differences between TNG characters in the show and in their four films.
**Yes I know further research revealed that her neighbors were not as unconcerned as the first stories suggested…but you get my point.