U.S. Foreign Policy: Too Much Captain Kirk–and William Shatner

Fire those phasers, America!
Fire those phasers, America!

W.J. Astore

Much of our foreign policy is driven by fear–fear that if we don’t act, whether in the Middle East or Africa or elsewhere–the bad people there will thrive, after which they’ll come for us in the good old USA.  Most of us will recall George W. Bush’s saying, “We’ll fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them here.”  But what if constantly fighting them “over there” is a guarantee of blowback right here in Homeland USA?

As one of my conservative friends (Yes – I have them!) says, “If they (the enemy) stay over there, I’ll airlift knives, forks, and condiments to them.”

Well, we’ll never know unless we try.  Call the cavalry home, America.  Send in the cutlery and condiments. And let’s see what happens.

OK, call me an isolationist.  All these American machinations in and deployments to the Middle East and Africa – paraphrasing Otto von Bismarck, to me they aren’t worth the bones of a single Pennsylvanian grenadier.  Isn’t the Middle East of today roughly the equivalent to the Balkans of c.1910?  Except for the oil, why bother with Iraq and Iran?  Radical Islam is no picnic, but a direct threat to the USA?  Come on.  If we leave, my bet is radical Islam will burn itself out.

Our constant interventions in the Middle East merely fan the flames of radicalism there, except when we throw fuel on the fire by sending lots of weapons or burning a Koran or wiping out (accidently, of course) another convoy of civilians with Hellfire missiles.  If we’re the enemy’s “Great Satan,” let’s leave and see how they do in a paradise without the US serpent in it.

The problem is that our foreign policy “experts” are subservient to national and international (corporate and financial) interests (among others), and those interests, along with their own hubris, make it impossible for them to order strategic withdrawals, much less imagine them.

Put briefly, our experts see the world as a stage (or as a staging area for military forces), upon which the USA must play the leading role.  They believe that if we don’t occupy that stage, and dominate it, some other country will, e.g. China will take over Africa.

The US military, meanwhile, favors “proactive,” forward-leaning, can-do, spirit.  The mentality is: We must act, or someone else will.  And our way of acting is necessarily a military way, since that is what our nation favors–and funds.

For my fellow “Star Trek” fans, the U.S. government is like the aggressive, action-driven Captain Kirk (even better: the bombastic, scene-hogging William Shatner), but without Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy at his side to provide cool logic or warm compassion.  So all we get is warp drive and phasers (or lots of histrionic overacting and scene-stealing, a la Shatner).

We can do better, America.  Let’s start by calling the cavalry home.  Cutlery and condiments to the fore!

10 thoughts on “U.S. Foreign Policy: Too Much Captain Kirk–and William Shatner

  1. With all these interventions, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little resistance to stop or limit them. i think in part it is because America is essentially a TV nation and if the network and cable “news” clearly stated the full financial costs and as well as send camera crews to Iraq and Afghanistan to record not only the devastation but interview the locals, including those in refugee camps in the region, maybe, just maybe the full import of the catastrophe we have unleashed will be evident to the American people. Americans may well be living in a bubble walled off not by Israeli walls but by ignorance and lack of accurate and factual information about foreign policies. Ignoring momentous events that challenge policies of the U.S. government may well be where our national networks reside as their livelihood, profits and existence derive from legislation in a symbiotic relationship with government which essentially negates the premise of a free press for television news to a great degree.


  2. Hey- what no Scotty who Shat. always stole Scenes from “Back home we call Him the Miracle Worker” Star Trek lV The Voyage Home”, Leonard Nimoy… Seriously though Scotty often was left with critical diplomatic & military decisions too without ever breaking the “Prime Directive” unlike Captain Kirk. Plus Scotty never wanted to Command– only to be an Engineer. Important factoid considering the Career Pols. in Washington these days. Scott initially didn’t warm to Kirk due to his belief that he’d sooner than later bring the Ship into Jeopardy. Lastly Scotty played bagpipes, and enjoyed a good amount of Scotch Whiskey!. The Episode eludes me , but if Scotty knew the State of early 21st. Century America He’d opin.! the famous quote when the Enterprise was hopelessly locked into a High Warp Parabola “And at Warp 11 We’re going Nowhere Mighty Fast”


  3. I do not doubt the innocence and good intentions of the article’s author, but Star Trek “gunboat diplomacy” (or, these days, “humanitarian intervention”) aside, I would argue that the historic record of spectacular American military failures since 1945 rather obviously disproves the notion that the Amerian military can act — irrespective of what one means by “act” — with anything other than disastrous results. Given my own desultory experiences in the lunatic U.S. military during the Vietnam debacle, I developed a lifetime response to anyone bablling nonsense about the “can do” attitude of the U.S. military: namely, “If we could have, we would have; but we didn’t, so we can’t.

    In my opinion, this article fails ultimately, not because of its metaphorical reference to Hollywood science fiction fantasies — regardless of how well or badly certain actors portray the characters in them — but because it reinforces the arrogance — whether “liberal” or “conservative” — that America has some business or purported expertise supplying such items as cutlery and condiments to foreign peoples who have obviously survived and evolved through thousands of years of history because they long-ago managed to figure out all by themselves what and how to eat. The Chinese, for example, developed the use of wooden chopstics and ceramic spoons millenia before anyone in the so-called “West” discovered how to eat with anything other than their bare dirty hands. And in China, the cook cuts up and seasons the food so that the person eating doesn’t have to do any of that. In fact, if you really want to insult a Chinese cook, ask for some “condiments” — like mustard or catsup — so that you can season the food yourself. As a Chinese professor once told me about his first experiences eating at an American restaurant watching the customers cutting up and seasoning their own food: “Doesn’t the cook know what he’s doing?” Talk about Culture Shock!

    This article ends by advocating the bombing of foreign countries with arrogant cultural insults rather than explosive ordnance. I would consider that an improvement over the American military’s long-standing practice of “kill anything that moves” (see Nick Turse’s excellent book by the same name) but a better conclusion would have advocated just leaving other people alone, and perhaps even studying what they do so as to learn something valuable from them. Importing wooden chopsticks and porcelain spoons would do very well for a start. Even a few Star Trek episodes advocated this approach.


    1. You’re taking me a tad too literally, Mike. I don’t literally mean we should send knives and forks and mustard and ketchup. Rather, we need to withdraw our military (that’s first), and then if we want to get involved in other countries, we should do so with non-military aid (cutlery and condiments, in my conservative friend’s words, which are tainted by condescension, I’ll grant you).

      The USA is a rich country with lots of resources. We can help other countries; we’ve done so in the past, and still do to some extent. The main problem today is that most of our “help” is military aid, or “humanitarian” aid tied to power politics. Just look at this article from today’s New York Times, which makes the rather obvious point that US weapons sales to the Middle East are contributing to death and mayhem there. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/world/middleeast/sale-of-us-arms-fuels-the-wars-of-arab-states.html

      Well, I’d rather we send cutlery (or blankets or MREs or medicine or what have you) than more bullets and bombs. Or more US troops. And that’s my point.


      1. I understand your point, professor, but you seem to have missed mine. You still assume that Americans face only the choice of what kind of “help” to give others, not that they might wisely consider leaving bad (or good) enough alone. As I learned long ago in Southeast Asia, “You can’t always make a bad situation better, but you can always make it worse.” I also learned that “You can’t do a wrong thing the right way.” I think that U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower put it best when he adminished his “can do” countrymen: “Don’t just do something. Stand there.” Again, you seem to accept the notion that Americans need to “just do something” (assuming that they can) whereas I think Ameicans should just “stand there” — at least for several decades — because, in regard to both themselves and other countries, I see no evidence that they can do anything to actually “help.”

        As for bringing the “troops” home, I think that requires a little thinking about what we mean by “troops.” I would incline to agree in the case of impoverished enlisted men, but not for the officers. They should have to stay abroad “for the duration,” meaning until they have wrapped up, ended, concluded, or otherwise finished something for a change: in particular, their “war” for career advancement. Until they have signed a peace treaty with their local victims, like the French did after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, I say let the career officers rot on their foreign “bases” or F.O.B.s If we let them come home too soon, if at all, we will only get more U.S. Senators like Tom Cotten who claim to have had some “military experience” in Iraq and Afghanistan leading them to propose the “easy” bombing of Iran. Personally, I have never forgiven the North Vietnamese for releasing Mad Dog John McCain and inflicting him upon the American people. I feel the same about those ungrateful Iraqis and Afghans who allowed Tom Cotten to return “home” without learning one damn thing of value to America and the world. So much for “military experience,” a cruel Orwellian oxymoron if I have ever heard one. So I say bring home the money that we squander on the “troops” — meaning, in reality, our legions of “privatized” crony carpetbaggers and corporate camp followers — and let those career officers and privatized paramilitary “contractors” remain abroad who so much wished to go there. Perhaps they can learn the local language, take native wives, convert to the local religion, and become useful citizens in someone else’s country instead of the plague of economic and societal ruin that they have become upon America and so much of the world.

        Bring Home The Money. The rest will take care of itself.


    2. Mike.. Bill has a point. Immediately following WW II with Western Europe devastated by war and the West along with the Soviet Union victors there were strong forces in England and the U.S. who wanted to “off” the Soviet’s Communist regime i.e. attack them.

      Italy and France saw the rise of pro Soviet Communist parties because the citizens had observed how their local CPs had been leaders in the underground anti Fascist guerrilla struggle. The citizens of these countries had also seen how their capitalist parties had capitulated to the Nazis during the war and sold them out to the Fascists. ( Petain in France and Mussolini in Italy).

      The US was afraid that if the CPs in France and Italy were voted into power capitalism in Europe would be finished and English and US capitalism would be under attack*. Wiser heads prevailed over the war hawks ( or maybe just wiser since the public had enough of war) to come out with the “Marshall Plan” (Gen. George C.Marshall) to supply Europe and Germany with “cutlery and condiments” in the form of massive financial aid. It worked and the same old capitalist systems were voted in. As time went on the local Communist Partys withered.

      * read “STALIN” Volume 1, Stephen Kotkin…An amazingly readable day by day biography , based on the now open archives, of the period of the rise of the Stalin dictatorship and it’s active support of CP’s throughout the Western world. ( 800 pages in this volume of the three volumes)


      1. Oh, no! Not the dreaded “Monolithic World Communist Conspiracy”! Why, as De Gaul told the gullible U.S. political puppet class, if the U.S. did not help France re-conquer Vietnam, it would “go communist” and then France would feel so let down and discouraged by the loss of its colonial empire that it would have no choice but to give up and become communsit itself. Ditto for Great Britain should it lose its colonial possessions. Surely America would never want that awful thing to happen. Those lifeless “dominoes” would all start falling and soon the Whole World would become communist! We all know — or ought to know — where that sort of “thinking” led. What a load of horse manure.

        In truth, the U.S. business class hated FDR and his New Deal programs that favored oranized labor and the upward mobility of the workiing class, which they hysterically labelled “communist” and set out to destroy. They have by now pretty much suceeded, thanks pricipally to the use of the American military to drain economic resources from “lower class” Americans who need them more than French or British bankers. The American business class has no trouble whatsoever doing business with — and borrowing vast sums of money from — communist China and Vietnam as long as they exploit and abuse their own laboring classes every bit as much as America does. None of this has — or ever had — anything to do with Joseph Stalin. Russia, for its part, had suffered horribly from yet another Napoleonic invasion from Western Europe and simply wanted a defensive buffer area between itself and a threatening Europe. Russia wants nothing more than this today. None of this had anything to do with the real target of the American business class: namely, the American worker. You ought to know all this without my having to recapitulate it for you.

        You may have seen this, but Peter Van Buren, on his website “We Meant Well” has reposted an essay by Daniel N. White which first appeared here at The Contrary Perspective. The piece, entitiled America’s Refusal to Face the Hard Moral Issues of War contains, in my view, the crux of the matter:

        “Judging from the results [of America’s post WWII Militarism], the real intent of our political leadership was to create a state of permanent war, for narrow, behind the scenes, domestic political reasons. The wars were/are stage-managed domestic political theater for current political ruling elites. The main domestic objective sought was a Cold-War like freezing of political power and authority in current form by both locking up large areas of political debate as off-limits and increasing the current distribution of societal resources toward economic elites.”

        This observation tracks precisely with George Orwell’s book-within-a-book analysis in 1984 which he called “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.” To wit:

        “The primary aim of modern warfare … is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.” …

        “… an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. … If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction.” …

        “For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.”

        So the plutocratic oligarchical business collective will make certain that Americans receive more poverty and ignorance in return for their lavish tax subsidies of America’s wasteful, incompetent, bungling military establishment. Again, from Orwell in support of Daniel N. White:

        “The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare

        So Americans get continuous, virtual “warfare” brought to them courtesy of the American military and its insatiable appetite for “more, more, more, more, … and more.” Again, from Orwell:

        “The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.” …

        “War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. … All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.”

        So permanent war exists for Americans because the oligarchical collective has determined that it must exist because it must exist because it must … Again, from Orwell:

        “The [endless] war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. … But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.”

        So there you have it. The ruling oligarchical collective wages war against the American people — namely the American worker — and always will because the American worker seeking a better life constitutes the real “enemy” of plutocratic privilege. Furthermore, the American military supplies the primary weapon in this “purely internal affair.” What happens or does not happen in the rest of the world has little, if anything to do with America’s imposition of poverty and ignorance upon its own citizenry, courtesy of the bloated, ineffective, unnecessary U.S. military which defends nothing except wealth and privilige while threatening everything of true human value.

        I really don’t see where the Marshall Plan has anything to do with Captain Horatio Hornblower and his Napoleonic War in Space (i.e., Star Trek) or with America’s lunatic military blundering for the last seventy years, but if Professor Astore really meant to imply such a connection, I admit that I missed it.


  4. Mike.. My comment was to illustrate that at one time the ruling class in this country was able to make a decision to do something other than to wage war. That should not be taken as my endorsement of that action it was to point out that there are indeed other methods of obtaining an end other than military means. As it happens, at that time I was very opposed to the aims of the Marshall Plan and it is only as I have read Kotkins biography of Stalin that I have understood the real paranoia the capitalists must have felt. Understanding something does not equate endorsement. The world is not black or white, it is grey all over.


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