Chinatown: The new Foreign Policy Paradigm

A New Kind of 'Credibility' Gap


An accomplished American diplomat once said that there are two templates of American foreign-policy thinking. The first is Munich and the second is Vietnam.

When America does not move militarily as some people wish it to, they say, "This is another Munich"—appeasement that in the end will summon greater violence and broader war.

When America moves militarily as some people do not wish it to, they say, "This is Vietnam"—jumping in where we do not belong and cannot win.

This is serviceable as a rough expression of where our foreign policy debates tend to go. But I suspect the past 12 years' experience in the Mideast has left us with a new template: "It's Chinatown," from the classic movie.

This is where you try to make it better and somehow make it worse, in spite of your best efforts. This is a place where the biggest consequences are always unintended. Surely this is part of the reason for the clear and quick public opposition to a U.S. strike in Syria, and it echoed in the attention paid to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's statement this week that such a move "would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East."
Comment: We need to realize that not every world problem has a U.S. solution. Image: Chinatown - the film

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