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George Weigel: America’s slide into terminal foreign policy unseriousness

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, in Tel Aviv, Israel, during a weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East in January 2024. PHOTO: OSV News/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, in Tel Aviv, Israel, during a weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East in January 2024. PHOTO: OSV News/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters

Dean Acheson, US secretary of state from 1949 until 1953, is buried in Washington’s Oak Hill Cemetery. When I read recently that Acheson’s 20th successor, Antony Blinken, had sent a cable subtitled “Gender Identity Best Practices” to American diplomats around the world, warning against “harmful, exclusionary messages” conveyed by the use of terms like “mother/father,” “son/daughter,” and “husband/wife,” I was tempted to visit Oak Hill, to determine if Secretary’s Acheson’s mortal remains were spinning in his grave.

Acheson titled his brilliant 1969 memoir Present at the Creation, which he certainly was, as initiatives in which he played a key role, such as the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the Japanese peace treaty, became the international security architecture that underwrote communism’s defeat in the Cold War

Might Secretary Blinken riff on his distinguished predecessor and entitle his memoirs, Present at the Destruction? Of what, you ask? Of what Acheson and others wrought.

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Consider what was afoot in the world when Blinken dispatched that cable. Wars were raging in Ukraine and Gaza. Latin America was falling apart politically and economically, one result of which was an unprecedented migrant-and-refugee crisis on America’s southern border.

Russia was building a space-based nuclear weapon that could eliminate America’s satellite-based communications network. Iranian proxies were creating mayhem throughout the Middle East and disrupting vital international commerce in the Red Sea. China continued its saber-rattling attempts to intimidate Taiwan.

The crises of governance in sub-Saharan Africa were too numerous to count. The president of the United States couldn’t keep the presidents of Mexico and Egypt straight. The leading Republican candidate for the presidency was informing his adoring fans that he would tell Vladimir Putin to “do whatever the hell [he] wanted” to NATO allies not spending 2 per cent of GDP on defense.

And amidst all that, the US secretary of state thought it important to instruct his diplomats to “remain attuned to and supportive of shifts in pronouns” while substituting “you all” or “folks” for the potentially offensive “ladies and gentlemen?”

This is not just nonsense; it is dangerous nonsense. It is a distraction from the real work of diplomacy. It further erodes American credibility in the eyes of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and the apocalyptic mullahs in Tehran, who may well conclude that a putative superpower obsessed with “fluid gender identity” will not pose an obstacle to their aggressive designs.

It sends a signal of terminal unseriousness to the rest of the world. It offends what are often termed “traditional” nations and cultures, but which are in fact repositories of common sense.

From the point of view of the Catholic analyst of world affairs, for whom politics is always downstream from culture, this is what happens when what scholars call “expressive individualism”—self-absorption on steroids—displaces the biblical view of the human condition: That there are truths built into the world and into us, including the truth that we are male and female, distinct but complementary, ordered to communion and fruitfulness.

Ideas, as always, have consequences, and the desperately defective ideas of woke culture—the cult of the false trinity of Me, Myself, and I—have now corrupted American diplomacy, endangering both our country and the world.

As is typically the case with falsehood, the gender ideology now infesting the Department of State seeks to impose itself by bureaucratic power and personal intimidation.

Thus under Blinken, the State Department has decreed a third gender “marker” on US passports for those who don’t “identify” as male or female; appointed the first U.S “Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQ+) Persons;” and informed State Department personnel that those seeking promotion must “advance” DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as wokesters understand those otherwise honorable terms).

This is not quite the totalitarian future that George Orwell described as “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” But it’s coercion in the name of falsehood, nonetheless.

A friend with a keen sense of history, returning from Rome to Washington via London last month, e-mailed me acerbically from a Heathrow lounge, saying he felt like he was going from Sodom to the Fall of Constantinople. I advised him to have another drink, not least because “Rome” is fixable.

But Secretary Blinken’s cable suggests that the analogy between our American moment and the Fall of Constantinople isn’t completely far-fetched. And that new fall is not going to be arrested by either of two narcissistic, elderly presidential candidates who embody, rather than challenge, the culture of self-absorption that is killing America and impeding our capacity to help shape a better world.

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