What self-described realists misunderstand when they pursue their cost-benefit analysis without emotion or regard for principle is that friendship and trust have value. In one chapter of Dancing with the Devil, I explore the history of intelligence politicization. Iraq may now be the marquee example upon which many progressives seize, but intelligence politicization occurred under every president dating back at least to Lyndon Johnson, if not before (the scope of my book was just the past half-century or so). Iraq intelligence was flawed, but the world will get over it, especially since it was consistent with the intelligence gathered by almost every other country and the United Nations. The betrayal of allies, however, is a permanent wound on America’s reputation that will not be easy to overcome.
This is a chronic problem. We were able to get away with being a fickle ally when we acted like a superpower. Our allies had no choice but to deal with us; our adversaries had to be cautious lest they provoke us. We betrayed Kurds, Iraqi Shiites and other groups without paying much of a long-term price. It was easy to be casual about our alliances. We could afford to see one-dimensional cynical calculations of national interest as realism.
But now that we behave like just another country we are beginning to pay more of a cost for our unreliability. Our design margin, in Wretchard’s phrase, has eroded. It is increasingly difficult for us to protect our remaining interests. The Obama foreign policy is an inverse force-multiplier.
Our geopolitical situation is going to deteriorate faster than most Americans expect.