Mead's Dark and Stormy Night

Walter Russell Mead submits an early entry in this year’s Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest:

The global storm clouds are darkening.

Mead puts the most alarmist spin on a series of developments over the last few weeks involving Russia and China, and tries to shoehorn recent events into a very selective narrative of the last decade. According to Mead, “Beijing and Moscow have serially tested American resolve” ever since the August 2008 war. Mead naturally omits that it was the Georgian government that escalated the conflict and provoked the war that followed, because that would undermine his scary story of authoritarians on the march. He refers to the annexation of Crimea, but gives no hint of why Russia seized the territory when it did. Almost everything that makes his list of Chinese actions are internal matters over which the U.S. has no real influence, but then he whines that they occurred “without encountering a proportionate or effective U.S. response.” He does not deign to tell us what such a response would look like or why it would be worth doing. Mead is in full do-somethingist dudgeon about things that the U.S. could not have reversed or stopped.

He goes on to declare, “Not since the 1930s, when Washington met Japanese and German aggression with uplifting lectures and ineffectual gestures, has American foreign policy been so inert for so long in the face of a gathering storm.” The phrase gathering storm is chosen deliberately to evoke Churchill and to underscore the comparison with the Axis powers, but this doesn’t have the intended effect. It mostly just makes Mead seem like an older Rick Santorum, who loved to use the same phrase whenever he was overhyping the threat of Venezuela back in the 2000s. Mead’s memory must be playing tricks on him, too, since the U.S. certainly did more than offer lectures and “ineffectual gestures” in response to Japanese warfare in East Asia well before the attack at Pearl Harbor.

Mead is not offering his readers serious analysis here. He is reciting myths and spouting ideological nostrums in the service of a reckless desire to court great power conflict with two nuclear-armed states at the same time. He takes Russian cooperation with China as a good sign that the U.S. is still perceived as the most powerful without realizing what a colossal failure of U.S. policy it is that Washington has managed to push these two governments closer together despite their divergent interests. If Russia is wise to align with China, it stands to reason that the U.S. should be looking for ways to weaken that connection. Mead never entertains this for a moment, because it would spoil the fearmongering.

His recommendations are hawkish boilerplate:

The Biden administration must strengthen U.S. alliances while revamping defense planning and doctrine for a more turbulent era. But it also must convince a dovish Democratic base that national defense, strategic thinking and a forward-leaning foreign policy offer our only hope of preserving the peace.

Having completely failed to prove that there is a “gathering storm,” Mead still insists on mobilizing the U.S. and its allies to confront it. He urges Biden to convince his supporters that strategic thinking is essential, but demonstrates no ability to think this way. A “forward-leaning” foreign policy that puts us on a collision course with not one but two major powers is antithetical to defending America, and it represents an invitation to unnecessary wars that we don’t need to fight.