In the 1999 sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, Tim Allen stars as Jason Nesmith, a washed-up egotistical actor from a long-defunct television series in the vein of Star Trek. The show was cancelled 18 years ago, so Nesmith and his fellow co-stars make a living doing skits for advertisers using their old characters, going to fan conventions and signing autographs for $15 a piece.
Unbeknownst to them, broadcasts of Galaxy Quest reached the Thermians, an alien race locked in a genocidal struggle with the evil General Sarris. Interpreting the television show to be actual historical documents, the Thermians model their entire civilization after the heroic adventures of Commander Peter Taggart and his loyal crew. Eventually they travel to earth and recruit the unwitting Nesmith and his co-stars to lead them in battle against Sarris.
The Thermians are incomprehensibly naïve, leading to this exchange as the actors try to explain that they’re not really astronauts and can’t help them in their war with Sarris:
Life imitates farce.
In recent months I have been repeatedly reminded on the hapless Thermians by the comments of Western elites concerning the unraveling world order. No matter the issue – Russian aggression in eastern Europe, the Assad’s regime’s unwillingness to make peace with rebels, Iranian adventurism throughout the Middle East, China’s territorial ambitions, etc. – American and European policymakers seem completely unable to understand, let alone respond to, events. Comments in press conferences and media interviews haven acquired notes of despair. It is not simply that Western elites are disappointed by the failure of liberal internationalism and consensus-based foreign policy to secure peace; they seem bewildered…occasionally petulant. This indicates a deeper failing, as if more realist schools of thought are not even known to exist, and therefore no contingencies were made in accordance with their proscriptions. We are witnessing the complete intellectual failure of Western institutions, at least vis-à-vis foreign policy, akin to that which occurred in the years before World War II.
Edward Hallett Carr described those years in a way that could be seamlessly transposed to the present:
The statement that it is in the interest of the world as a whole that the conclusion eventually reached, whether maintenance or change, should be reached by peaceful means, would command general assent, but seems a rather meaningless platitude. The utopian assumption that there is a world interest in peace which is identifiable with the interest of each individual nation helped politicians and political writers everywhere to evade the unpalatable fact of a fundamental divergence of interests between nations desirous of maintaining the status quo and nations desirous of changing it. A peculiar combination of platitude and falseness thus became endemic in the pronouncements of statesmen about international affairs.
Listed below is a small sampling of illustrative quotes drawn from recent newspaper articles. I encounter similar comments with such frequency that this may become a recurring feature on the blog:
Worst possible city in which to host cease-fire talks.
MUNICH — For months now the United States has insisted there can be no military solution to the Syrian civil war, only a political accord between President Bashar al-Assad and the fractured, divided opposition groups that have been trying to topple him.
But after days of intense bombing that could soon put the critical city of Aleppo back into the hands of Mr. Assad’s forces, the Russians may be proving the United States wrong. There may be a military solution, one senior American official conceded Wednesday, “just not our solution,” but that of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“There’s this concern that the Russians have a broad definition of terrorists and are going to essentially continue striking what they consider to be terrorist targets,” said a senior U.S. official who took part in the Munich talks.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
Western officials say they are losing patience with Mr. Putin, accusing Russia of in effect pushing more moderate Syrian opposition into the arms of the extremist Islamic State…the Kremlin’s pattern of obfuscation – for instance, sending troops in unmarked uniforms to occupy Crimea while maintaining deniability – have left many skeptical of the latest diplomacy.
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the bombing of civilian targets “casts doubt on Russia’s willingness and/or ability to help bring to a stop the continued brutality of the Assad regime against its own people.”
Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, also condemned the continued bombing. “We think it runs counter, frankly, to the commitment made in Munich on Friday,” she said.
Break out the big guns…
BEIJING — The United States is very concerned about China’s growing militarization of the South China Sea and intends to have a “very serious conversation” with Beijing after reports emerged that it had deployed suspected surface-to-air missile batteries on a disputed island, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday.
“There is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another,” Kerry told reporters when asked about the reported deployment, agencies reported. “It’s of serious concern.”
“We have had these conversations with the Chinese, and I am confident that over the next days we will have further very serious conversation on this,” Kerry said.
The Obama administration sharply criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday after charging that China’s military had deployed batteries of advanced missiles on a disputed South China Sea island.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the missile deployment was at odds with a pledge made by Mr. Xi while visiting the White House last year to refrain from militarizing clusters of disputed islands throughout the South China Sea.
“When President Xi was here in Washington, he stood in the Rose Garden with President Obama and said China will not militarize in the South China Sea,” Mr. Kerry said on Wednesday. “But there is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another. It’s of serious concern.”
Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday that he didn’t have confirmation of the missile deployment but that if true “it could be an indication of militarization of the South China Sea in ways that the president of China, President Xi [Jinping], said he would not do.”