Correction Please! Professor Byas Libels Foreign Affairs – Part 1
By Will Banyan (Copyright © 27 September 2019)
“Foreign Affairs…will tolerate wide differences of opinion. Its articles will not represent any consensus of beliefs.”
Foreign Affairs Editorial Policy
Much to the amusement of some learned observers (see Figure 1), the treatment of US President Donald Trump by contributors to Foreign Affairs, the flagship journal of the “globalist” New York-based policy planning organization the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), has becoming something of a running concern for Steve Byas, a regular commentator for the John Birch Society’s publication, The New American. Professor of History and Government at Randall University, in Norman, Oklahoma (Randall University’s website describes Byas as an “Instructor in History and Social Studies Education”), Byas is also the author of a number of books, among them History’s Greatest Libels (2015) which purports to expose and counter a number of historical libels, defined as when the “story teller knows it to be false” but still promotes the falsehood so as to “damage another person’s reputation.”
This deep, and apparently abiding concern with the evils of knowingly promoting a false narrative for malicious ends presumably motivated Professor Byas’ series of articles excoriating Foreign Affairs (hereafter FA) for failing to living up to its editorial policy of delivering a diversity of opinion.
In the most recent example, Byas took issue with the July/August 2019 issue of FA, citing its contents to support his assertion the “globalist” CFR not only supports “global government”, but they also “hate President Donald Trump” whom they “denigrate in every issue of the publication.” In fact, no more than a “cursory reading” of the articles in Foreign Affairs, Byas assures us, will confirm that it is a “left-wing publication” where there is “no wide difference of opinion…” According to the good professor:
One will not find articles by a Pat Buchanan or anyone else who takes positions against the dogmas of the establishment, such as open borders, multilateral trade deals, and that more and bigger government is the solution to all ills (The New American, 18. Jun 2019; emphasis added).
This is the fifth article Byas has written since early 2018 devoted to criticizing the apparent pro-globalist and anti-Trump bias of Foreign Affairs. In April last year, in his first foray, Byas presented excerpts from the May/June 2018 issue of FA as proof that:
[O]ne can read Foreign Affairs on a regular basis and never see any articles expressing concern about the negative effects of open borders and multilateral trade agreements upon national sovereignty. In fact, what one gets from the magazine is a steady diet of globalism [emphasis added].
This was followed by another piece in the online edition of The New American (19 Jun. 2018), again accusing FA of having “a distinctly leftward tilt”, which was “powerfully demonstrated” in its July/August 2018 edition. This was apparently contrary to FA’s original mandate, first declared in 1922 to host “wide differences of opinion”; Byas claims the articles in that issue “and previous ones…all seem to line up with globalism, the welfare state, and more governmental control of the lives of individuals.” In addition, the “prevailing view” throughout that edition was a “dislike of President Donald Trump and his policies.”
Byas noted another example of this in December last year, when he reviewed the lead article in the January/February 2019 issue by FA editor Gideon Rose, which he portrayed as an “eye-opening survey history of the efforts by globalists to establish a ‘liberal order’ for the world.” Rose’s essay apparently exposed “the intense hatred the architects of the order have for Trump”; indeed, Byas argued, it was “clear those who would terminate America’s national sovereignty, submerging us into their vision of a New World Order” had “problems” with Trump. In his fourth article, Byas commented on the May/June 2019 edition to support his contention that FA provides “a steady diet of globalism — and in the last two years, a drumbeat of anti-Trump rhetoric” (The New American, 30 Apr. 2019).
Although peppered with qualifiers, Professor Byas builds a seemingly convincing narrative of intractable pro-globalist and anti-Trumpian bias in the pages of Foreign Affairs. A closer reading of Foreign Affairs since Trump’s inauguration, however, suggests that Professor Byas’ assessment is flawed and misleading. While criticisms of Trump abound, the assessments and reactions of FA contributors are on the whole more diverse than Byas acknowledges; consistent with its editorial policy there is praise for Trump in Foreign Affairs. The mysterious failure of Professor Byas to identify and acknowledge this fact instead exposes his own role as a loyal promoter of John Birch Society propaganda about the CFR and Trump, rather than being true to his proclaimed profession as an educator.
A Magazine for All Seasons
It is, of course, easy to find articles in most issues of FA attacking Trump’s foreign policy as a threat to the “liberal international order”. The parameters of this critique were set out in the first issue for 2017 by Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose, who warned that if Trump attempted to implement his “America First” foreign policy—with its echoes of the “nationalism and protectionism of the 1930s”—it would:
…call into question the crucial role of the United States as the defender of the liberal international order as a whole, not just the country’s own national interests. (FA, Jan/Feb 2017; emphasis added).
In a subsequent editorial Rose noted that from a certain perspective “U.S. foreign policy during the Trump era can seem almost normal.” But under closer inspection it is “being hollowed out…the forms and structures [are] still in place but the substance and purpose [is] draining away” (FA, Mar/Apr 2018). And in the first issue of Foreign Affairs for 2019, Rose lamented that a “volatile amateur president” had delivered a foreign policy of “photo ops and irritable gestures.” “The routine operations of global-order maintenance continue,” observed Rose, “but to increasingly less effect, because everyone can see that the commander-in-chief scorns the underlying mission” (FA, Jan/Feb 2019, p.18).
Rose’s pessimism about Trump’s foreign policy was shared by other contributors. CFR President Richard N. Haass described Trump’s “America First” slogan as “unfortunate, because it appears to signal a narrower U.S. foreign policy, one lacking a larger purpose or vision” (FA, Jul/Aug 2017, p.9). Princeton University Professor G. John Ikenberry characterised Trump as a “hostile revisionist power” occupying the White House, whose aim was to “sabotage” the “liberal international order” that the US had created and led (FA, May/Jun 2017, pp.3-4). William J. Burns, a former Obama Administration official and current President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, dismissed Trump’s “America First” agenda as a “nasty brew of unilateralism, mercantilism, and unreconstructed nationalism” (FA, May/Jun 2019, p.102).
In the same issue Dan Drezner, Professor of International Politics at Tufts University, (in a piece pilloried by Byas), argued that Trump, who displayed the “emotion and intellectual maturity of a toddler”, had “governed mostly by tantrum.” Trump had “insulted and bullied allies…launched trade wars that have accomplished little beyond hurting the U.S. economy…” His “repeated attacks on the EU and NATO” were “a bigger strategic mistake than the invasion of Iraq.” But the Trump Administration’s worst deed was that it had “unilaterally surrendered the set of ideals that guided U.S. policymakers for decades.”
Of course, by just focusing on these articles one could quite easily construct a narrative painting Foreign Affairs as driven by a pathological Establishment bias against Trump. With his review of just twelve articles across five issues, this appears to have been Professor Byas’ preferred approach. Closer scrutiny of FA’s output since Trump’s election, however, suggests that despite its editor’s prejudices, the magazine has in fact followed its stated policy of publishing a diversity of views. In addition to the globalist critiques, FA has promoted two other narratives that portray Trump’s foreign policy as being either: (1) effectively “business as usual”, despite the “America First” rhetoric; or (2) as a true revolution in US foreign policy, overturning the “Establishment” consensus.
Business as Usual: Contrary to his “America First” bluster, a number of FA contributors have argued that Trump’s foreign policy has merely continued with previous practice; instead of the promised revolution it remains “business as usual”. But this has not been by design, but is largely a consequence of successful resistance from Establishment elements within Trump’s administration, and his own capriciousness and ignorance. This has been observed by both critics and supporters of his “America First” doctrine.
Sitting somewhat awkwardly between both camps, for example, we find Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the CFR and former official in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations (in 2016 he was denounced in the TNA as an “Establishment Insider” and in early 2017 Trump reportedly rejected his appointment as Deputy Secretary of State because Abrams had once criticized him) and now Trump’s “U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela”; and one of the foremost proponents of this view. Barely six months into Trump’s first year Abrams had offered this tentative assessment:
[I]t is already clear that this is not a revolutionary administration. The broad lines of its policy fit easily within those of the last few decades. Trump might not be a conventional president, but so far, his foreign policy has been remarkably unremarkable (FA, Jul/Aug 2017, p.10; emphasis added).
Despite the presence of “populist nationalist provocateur” Steve Bannon in a key position in the White House, and Trump’s “almost gleeful willingness to part ways with foreign policy orthodoxy”, real change was actually slight. “In reality, however,” Abrams wrote, “Trump has not deviated much from conventions” (ibid, pp.10-11). Trump had failed to follow up on his rhetoric to get tougher on China or eliminate the Export-Import Bank; but he had attacked Russia’s ally in Syria, and had adopted a “negative tone, sometimes exuding real hostility” towards Russia (ibid, p.12). Moreover, Trump’s national security team, with its retired generals and CEOs, “embodies ‘the Establishment’ as much as John F. Kennedy’s or Dwight Eisenhower’s did” (ibid p.13).
Revisiting this theme some eighteen months later Abrams noted that despite Trump’s apparent rejection of the “U.S. foreign policy consensus of recent decades”, he had changed very little: “Although Trump’s pronouncements have ruffled feathers, his administration’s policy has been marked by continuity than by change” (FA, Jan/Feb 2019, p.129). Abrams suggested this gap between Trump’s proclaimed foreign policy and what was actually being implemented was partially due to the efforts of “some within the government, and even in Trump’s own cabinet, to blunt his initiatives, carrying on business as usual in direct opposition to the wishes of the president” (ibid, p.130).
Despite the differences between Trump’s “words” and his administration’s “actual policy”, Abrams found that “many of his positions fall well within the Republican, and indeed the U.S. foreign policy mainstream” (ibid, p.133). Stepping back from his own role in promoting such views, Abrams added:
In fact, defenders of the administration argue that in most respects Trump is a normal president. He is tougher on Russia—and far tougher on Iran—than Obama was. And despite stating his desire to disengage from what he sees as endless and unproductive wars, he has kept U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. His administration’s official foreign policy documents, including the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy, reflect the Republican consensus (ibid, p.134; emphasis added).
Coming to the same conclusion was Eliot A. Cohen, Dean and Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Like Abrams, Cohen had criticized Trump’s foreign policy during the 2016 campaign “on the grounds of his character and his bent toward populist isolationism” (FA Mar/Apr 2018, p.2). Yet, since assuming office and despite his myriad personal and policy faults remaining on display:
A case can be made that all things considered, Trump has ended up being a highly erratic, obnoxious version of the Republican normal. He has been strong on defense…, willing to use force…, and committed to allies… Although he has been more of an economic nationalist that some might like, the thinking goes he remains within the GOP tradition (ibid, p.2; emphasis added).
In a follow-up piece Cohen described Trump’s foreign policy vision as “deeply misguided” as it was “distrustful of U.S. allies, scornful of international institutions, and indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the liberal international order that the United States has sustained for nearly eight decades” (FA Jan/Feb 2019, p.138). And yet, the Trump Administration had “kept U.S. foreign policy more or less intact”; this was partially due to Trump’s limited attention span, but also because of “unprecedented opposition within his own administration” (ibid, p.140), and the ability of foreign leaders to “manipulate” Trump (p.141).
Barry R. Posen, Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also observed that fears Trump would adopt an isolationist foreign policy appear to have been unfounded. Although Trump had abandoned exporting democracy and supporting multi-lateral trade agreements, the US remained engaged with the world:
[I]n practice, his administration has remained committed to geopolitical competition with the world’s greats military powers and to the formal and informal alliances it inherited. It has threatened new wars to hinder the emergence of new nuclear weapons states, as did its predecessors; it has pursued ongoing wars against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State…in Iraq and Syria with more violence than its predecessors (FA, Mar/Apr 2018, p.21).
Posen also pointed to the Trump’s massive US Defense budget as evidence of a “continued commitment to the idea of the United States as the world’s policeman” (ibid, p.25).
This gap between Trump’s vitriolic attacks on “globalism” and interventionism, and the realities of his foreign policy were also impossible to ignore for those commentators sympathetic to his “America First” agenda. Andrew Bacevich, for example, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University, credited Trump with having “correctly intuited that establishment views about the United States’ proper role in the world had not worked” (FA, Sep/Oct 2017, p.61). He had rejected “utopian globalism”, denouncing “the entire post-Cold War project as a fraud”, and pledged to “avoid needless conflicts” (ibid, p.60). In practice, though, elite fears that Trump’s “America First” ideology would lead to the US to “turn its back on the world” had proved “groundless”:
Ordering punitive air strikes against a regime that murders its own citizens while posing no threat to the United States, as Trump did in Syria, is not isolationism. Nor is sending more U.S. troops to fight the campaign in Afghanistan, the very epitome of the endless wars that Trump once disparaged (ibid p.61)
Another “America First” sympathizer, Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, also lamented what he considered to be Trump’s “failure” to match his rhetoric with action. Like Bacevich, Walt also praised Trump for reflecting the popular view of Americans who “simply wanted their government to stop trying to run the world and pay more attention to problems at home” (FA, May/Jun 2019, p.29). But in practice Trump had actually followed the lead of his predecessors:
Although [Trump’s] Twitter feed and public statements often question familiar orthodoxies, the United States is still defending wealthy NATO allies, still fighting in Afghanistan, still chasing terrorists across Africa, still giving unconditional support to the same problematic Middle Eastern clients, and still hoping to topple a number of foreign regimes. Trump’s style as president is radically different from those of his predecessors, but the substance of his policies is surprisingly similar (ibid, p.30, emphasis added).
The primary cause of this failure was Trump himself. According to Bacevich, Trump was delivering an “ill-informed, impulsive and capricious approach to foreign policy”; there was a need to “save ‘America First’ from Trump” (FA, Sep/Oct 2017, p.61). Walt lamented the same “misguided grand strategy” of the Establishment remained in place because of an “incompetent vulgarian in the White House” (FA, May/Jun 2019, p.30).
The Agent of Change: Central to Byas’ critique of Foreign Affairs is that “anti-Trump views” are a “staple” of the magazine, reflecting the globalists “intense hatred” of him. Although Byas avoids makes this point explicitly, he creates the impression that FA never publishes articles praising Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda. But FA Editor Gideon Rose had promised that it would, writing in the May/June 2017 issue: “We will not hesitate to offer readers defenses of administration policy…” [emphasis added] And, indeed, FA has carried a number of articles—ignored by Byas—doing exactly that:
John Paulson, the founder and President of Paulson & Co., who served as an economic adviser to Trump during the campaign, claimed that Trump’s “central economic goal” would be to “boost U.S. economic growth” (FA, Mar/Apr 2017, p.8). This would be achieved by cutting corporate tax rates, “reducing excessive regulation”, lifting restrictions on domestic energy production, and renegotiating trade deals to “protect and expand U.S. exports.” This combination of polices, claimed Paulson, would “create jobs, accelerate growth and lead to a new era of American prosperity” (ibid, p.11).
Writing in the same issue was John Delury, Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University, who expressed considerable optimism that Trump could resolve the “North Korea conundrum”. Delury recommended as an “immediate goal” the US should negotiate “a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for a US security guarantee…” Noting that Trump had proposed speaking directly to Kim Jong Un during the campaign, Delury believe that being a “businessman at heart, Trump will not be likely to turn down a good deal” (FA Mar/Apr 2017, p.46). “Kim and Trump”, claimed Delury “are well positioned to strike the kind of deal” that would reduce tensions (ibid, p.47).
Trump’s critics have “gotten a lot wrong and failed to give credit where credit is due”, claimed Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. Trump had begun to “adopt foreign policies that are, for the most part, well suited to the challenges ahead,” claimed Kroenig; parts of Trump’s approach were “consistent with established U.S. policy”, but other parts were bringing “much-needed change” (FA, May/Jun 2017, p.30).
Trump, he claimed, had inherited a “crumbling international order” from Obama: “In Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Obama left behind a far more dangerous world than the one he inherited in 2009” (ibid, p.30). Seeing it as an antidote to the “disorder” and “disarray” caused by Obama, Kroenig was full of praise for Trump’s “America First” agenda:
Trump has gotten much of the big picture right. The world is changing rapidly, and the United States must adapt if it is to succeed. Trump’s comfort with disruptive change may make him particularly well placed to oversee a creative reinvigoration of U.S. foreign policy.
“America First”, he argued, did not signal “the end of international U.S. leadership”: “If the United States is not strong at home, it cannot be strong abroad.” The US would need a strong a military to maintain its position, bolstered by Trump’s commitment to a major military build-up (ibid, p.32). Kroenig seemed confident that Trump would continue to support NATO and other allies, stand-up to Russia, pressure Iran and North Korea, and counter Chinese aggression (ibid, pp.32-33). Kroenig could only see a triumph in the making:
On almost every front, Trump has begun to correct the failures of the past eight years and position the United States well for the challenges to come. With the current team and policies in place, and with greater adherence to a core strategy going forward, Trump may well, as Kissinger predicted was possible, go “down in history as a very considerable president (ibid, p.34; emphasis added).
Michael Mandelbaum, Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University, conceded that Trump “has a point about Europe and NATO” when in May 2017 he demanded that NATO partners should “contribute their fair share.” “Trump is right”, wrote Mandelbaum, “to strengthen NATO and encourage the United States to continue its commitment to European security, the Alliance’s European members should contribute more” (FA, Sep/Oct 2017, p.108).
Also literally cheering Trump’s foreign policy (Figure 2) was Randall Schweller, a Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University who in 2016 had deviated from the academic consensus and declared that Trump was “the right guy for the job.” Trump “reject[s] many of the core tenets of the liberal international order…”, Schweller wrote; he had questioned “the very fabric of international cooperation” with his attacks on the world trading system, the United Nations, NATO and global action against climate change. While these policies might upset “the crowd of globalists at Davos”, Schweller argued they should be “welcomed, not feared.” Trump, he observed, had “sent the message that the United States will now look after its own interests, narrowly defined, not the interests of the so-called global community, even at the expense of long-standing allies” (FA, Sep/Oct 2018, p.134).
Schweller applauded Trump’s “fundamentally realist” foreign policy based on aggressively defending US interests. Trump was “an economic nationalist at heart” who believed “globalization does not foster harmony among states, and that economic interdependence increases national vulnerability.” Trump’s “realist worldview” was “legitimate” and supported by American voters (ibid pp.134-135). He also praised Trump’s abandonment of multilateralism, arguing that “defenders of the liberal international order” should concede that Trump was right that its aim was to limit US power:
Well, the jig is up. Trump has given the lie to the notion that many of the institutions of the postwar order actually bind the United States, and he has walked away from them accordingly (ibid, p.140).
Schweller credited Trump with recognizing that “the liberal international order is sick”; and his attacks on “unfair trade deals” rightly resonated with “many Americans” who felt that globalization had damaged their prospects (ibid, p.142). Not surprisingly, he argued, they had voted for the candidate “who vowed to put America first” and who offered “a new grand strategy to deal with a new situation “(ibid, p.143).
Foreign Affairs even ran an official account of the aims and methods of Trump’s new foreign policy from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the context of his “new framework for confronting outlaw regimes” (FA Nov/Dec 2018, p.63). According to Pompeo, contrary to the “fretting” of the “Washington establishment”, Trump’s diplomacy was “anchored in a deliberate approach that gives the United States an advantage in confronting outlaw regimes.” As Pompeo went on to explain:
Both on the campaign trail and in office President Trump has been clear about the need for bold American leadership to put the United States’ security interests first. This commonsense principle reverses the Obama administration’s preferred posture of “leading from behind” an accommodationist strategy that incorrectly signaled diminished American power and influence (ibid, p.61; emphasis added).
Pompeo repeatedly sought to emphasise Trump’s uniqueness. Referring to the “dreadful consequences” of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 intervention in Libya, Secretary Pompeo informed readers that Trump “does not want another long-term U.S. military engagement in the Middle East—or in any other region for that matter.” In Trump, claimed Pompeo, “Americans have a president who, while not afraid to use military power…, is not eager to use it either” (ibid, p.62). Indeed, “[w]ith Iran and other countries, [Trump] has made it clear that he will not tolerate attempts to bully the United States; he will punch back hard if U.S. security is threatened” (ibid, p.66).
And yet, inexplicably, Professor Byas missed every one of these articles.
To be concluded in Part 2.