Nothing illustrates the time warp that has gripped America's foreign policy today better than two events that took place a few days ago, one in Europe and the other in Asia.
The first was The U.S. Army's announcement that a convoy of American armored-vehicles would soon drive 1,100 miles across Europe, to demonstrate to the Russians that the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with its European allies in the face of Russian actions in Ukraine. Sadly, no other NATO country besides America will be part of this convoy. In spite of the fact that Russian actions of late are a threat to Europe's vital national interests and not America's, and notwithstanding the reality that successful projection of America's power through NATO can only take place in collaboration European allies, it will be an all-American show.
On the other side of the world meanwhile, in East Asia, where China and the United States are locked in competition for influence in the fastest growing region of the world, China enticed Germany, France and Italy -- America's largest and strongest European allies, to become founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This Chinese led venture is one of a series of organizations being designed by China to compete in Asia with Western-designed and dominated pillars of the post-World War 2 global order, such as the World Bank and the IMF.
The U.S. had strongly advised its allies not to support the Chinese AIIB, but to no avail. After seeing the United Kingdom side-step its "special relationship" with the United States to join the AIIB the previous week, the three European countries also decided that the riches of the largest economy in the world were far more than American admonitions. The only question left for American policy makers in Washington now is whether its other long time Asian allies such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia will follow suit.
With its new European AIIB partners, China continues on its strategy to become the most influential power in Asia, blowing more holes in the U.S. insistence that its century of Asian dominance will run unimpeded into the future.
Imagine what the impact of a NATO Armored Convoy rolling across Europe would be! Armored vehicles flying the flags of all 28 member-countries, side by side, rolling through a number of European countries would remind a potential adversary that the Western military-alliance was still meaningful. But by not including the 27 other NATO members and making it into an all American operation the United States will reinforce the growing perception that NATO is not united in its opposition to Russian actions on Europe's borders. The American cavalry ride across Europe will be a missed strategic opportunity if there ever was one.
The announcement that the Chinese led AIIB would now include the largest economies of the European Union reverberated in front page headlines around the world. The American joy-ride was mentioned in the media only in passing. Chinese foreign policy displayed imagination, strategic vision and the political coherence to vastly enhance its regional dominance and global influence. While U.S. foreign policy displayed it has little to offer besides its vast military power.
The trouble is America's military power no longer means what it did in the 20th Century. Witness the 13-year war in Afghanistan in which the U.S., with a GDP of some $15 trillion, has not been able to prevail against an enemy, the Taliban, with virtually no GDP. Trotting out armored vehicles instead of grand ideas in a grand design is a strategy whose time is past. A foreign policy driven by military power alone, as America's is, now belongs in the last Century. China recognizes that, sadly, America does not.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates often remarked that the number of people in U.S. military bands is larger than the number of State Department Foreign Service officers. Alas, the Chinese seem to have listened to Mr. Gates more carefully than his fellow countrymen and women.