The point made by the WSJ opinion article I am linking to in this post may seem an obvious one, but, really, it isn’t — at least not to many. It’s been one on my mind since at least the beginning of the Iraq War. When I hear people clamor about how the U.S. should put its national interests and priorities aside and agree to things pressed upon it by other nations for the “common good”, it seems to me that in most of those cases the “clamorers” don’t notice that the other nations are, in reality, simply asking the U.S. to put its interests and priorities aside for the sake of their national interests and priorities.
The WSJ article, penned by Josef Joffe, editor of Germany’s weekly Die Zeit, is here: “Obama’s Popularity Doesn’t Mean Much Abroad.” The subtitle holds the heart of the point: “As ever, countries have interests, not friends.”
I thought the last couple of paragraphs made the point well:
“We will listen carefully,” Mr. Obama said with a view to Tehran, “we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground.” Some 500 years ago, Francis I of France was asked what misunderstandings had fueled his constant wars with the Habsburg Empire’s Charles V. He replied: “None, we are in complete agreement. We both want control over Italy.”
Conflict between states is made from sterner stuff than bad manners or bad vibes, past grievances or imaginary fears. International politics is neither psychiatry nor a set of “see me, feel me” encounter sessions. It is about power and position, about preventing injury and protecting interests. Love and friendship move people, not nations.
Absent the rule of Christ, the state of the world is on a global scale as what the U.S. Constitution tries to balance on a national one: self-interested entities focused on achieving their own interests, and at the expense of others if need be. Certainly history has seen notable exceptions (many elements of Anglo-Saxon abolition of slavery, for instance), but trend trumps exception.
Countries (and, generally, those who inhabit them) will continue to look out for number one until they learn to look to Number One.