The Magazine

‘Folly, Fatuity, and Futility’

Dec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By MICHAEL MAKOVSKY and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Still, despite the Attlee government’s efforts, a Jewish state was successfully established. And however bungled Britain’s relinquishment of its empire, the United States was there to take up Britain’s burden in Turkey and Greece and to take over the dominant global role Britain had held for two centuries. The damage inflicted by Attlee’s policies was limited because the United States, led by Harry Truman, stood ready to take over. As the commentator Mark Steyn has often pointed out, though, there is no one standing behind the United States now. So the consequences of Attlee-ism in America today will be far more dire than those in Britain in 1945.

President Obama seems intent on relinquishing America’s position in the Middle East and the world, achieved with so much exertion over many decades. He sees America as an unexceptional nation whose international involvements have often been wrong and ineffective. Like Attlee, he believes we now live in a new era in which the old rules are anachronistic. As he said at the U.N. in 2009, “In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.”

So Obama is engaged in Attlee’s project 70 years later, ignorant of the lessons of those decades and of the far greater risk of following that path with no friendly rising power standing by to pick up the reins. One can say of Obama’s Middle East policy what Churchill said in 1949 about the Palestine policy of Ernest Bevin, Attlee’s foreign minister: He is “wrong, wrong in his facts, wrong in his mood, wrong in the method, and wrong in the result,” and “no one has been proved by events to be more consistently wrong on every turning-point and at every moment than he.” One can say of Obama’s policy what Churchill said of Bevin’s: It is a “policy of folly, fatuity, and futility the like of which it is not easy to find in modern experience.”

But our task is not merely to characterize the foreign policy of Barack Obama, that heir of Attlee with more than a touch of Chamberlain. Our task is to oppose it and reverse it. There were, after all, limits to what Churchill could have achieved after the war. The empire was probably doomed, and Britain itself was unable to sustain a great power role. America, on the other hand, is still a superpower. The American people need not acquiesce in Obama’s foreign policy of folly, fatuity, and futility.

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