The Turkey and the Eagle: The Struggle for America’s Global Role, Caleb Stewart Rossiter, Algora Publishing, NY, 2010
In The Turkey and the Eagle: The Struggle for America’s Global Role, Dr. Caleb Rossiter draws on his 30 years experience as a Washington insider (though in many ways an unapologetic outsider) to give his readers an unprecedented view of the machinery, the motivations, and the results of American foreign policy. His theme is the ongoing conflict between proponents of American military primacy throughout the world, and the proponents of a foreign policy based on cooperation. The proponents of the former he refers to as ‘Eagles’ (based on the chosen symbol of the United States, the boldly assertive bald eagle) and the proponents of the latter he refers to as ‘Turkeys’ (based on the tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Benjamin Franklin that this more industrious and respectable bird ought to have been chosen).
Rossiter takes great pains to be thorough and fair to both sides of this debate, though he is ruthless and unsparing in his criticism of the hypocrisy and mistakes committed by both sides. He does this – in an admirable and welcome break from the usual contemporary childish environment – without any personal insults or displays of petulant animosity. If I had to offer a criticism of the book, it would be that it is so dense with facts, names and events, taking place throughout the halls of Congress and around the world, all described in such rapid-fire succession, that it is often a bit too much to follow. But this clearly assures the reader of Rossiter’s extraordinary command of these myriad facts, and his deep understanding of, enthusiasm for, and commitment to his subject.
Without compunction Rossiter forces us to seriously question the silent, unchallenged assumption that drives our foreign policy. Eagles (who are consistently in control of the debate) assume that Americans have the right to dominate others, we have the right to go about the globe asserting ourselves and our way of life on other people, we have the right to thwart and even attack any country that fails to align itself in a friendly manner with our economic interests. This is all done under the disingenuous guise of ‘protecting democracy’, ‘bringing these unfortunate people the gift of freedom’, etc., despite the glaringly ignored fact that we routinely find ourselves supporting “friendly” dictators, tyrants and murderers if they are willing to offer us trade, minerals, oil, land for military bases, or other things we want – all in utter disregard of the values and principles that this nation was supposedly founded upon. (Anyway, Rossiter suggests, the Founders’ vision of America effectively came to an end on the day our government attempted to justify the use of torture). We then disagree and argue about tactics: is a particular war succeeding or costing too much; should we increase sanctions or try more diplomacy; should we send our forces in alone or try to get additional troops from allies; and so on and so forth. But the argument about tactics implicitly affirms the assumption and avoids the real question – regardless of whether we are successful or not, regardless of the cost, do we have the right to dominate others?
Of course not, Rossiter says. And this is why we prefer to simply not ask ourselves the question.
Turkeys, he asserts, have got to take the high moral ground and stand firm. Simply trying to lessen the damage done by American bluster, while implicitly agreeing with the premise and merely trying to accomplish the same ends less forcefully, can only result in the inevitable charge of “soft on [communism, terrorism, or whatever]” and the argument is lost. Rossiter then takes Turkeys to task for wasting time. For instance, they jump on the bandwagon to decry Global Warming even though the evidence is flimsy at best, mainly because it affords them an opportunity to condemn capitalism – even though, Rossiter notes, successful capitalist economies in poor nations is exactly what they need to become healthy and successful, and this will only occur (contrary to the Eagles’ theory) when the United States stops propping up cooperative-but-repressive regimes that are causing the poverty to begin with. Instead, the Turkeys should be working to persuade the American public that there is a moral alternative to military dominance – that our belligerence, presumptions of superiority, and sentimental drivel about ‘saving’ other people who frankly do not need or want our saving, would best be done away with and replaced with a spirit of cooperation and respect.
To help accomplish this change, Rossiter spends some time making practical suggestions about what the Turkeys ought to be doing – from launching massive media campaigns, to working for changes in the electoral system that would more fairly represent the different views of Americans, to (most radically) considering whether the United State has simply gotten ‘too big’ and ought to consider breaking itself up into several smaller, less overbearing, nations (this one had me going for a while, until Rossiter made clear that he was being a bit tongue-in-cheek himself and called the plan a “Swiftian fantasy”).
He concludes with his real point: The only way this kind of change in foreign policy could ever occur is if the hearts and minds of Americans change drastically. The essential elements of anti-imperialism, he notes, “are intellectual and moral, and not structural. A solid core of Americans must come to understand and hate empire and the type of nationalism that permits invasion and torture…”
I completely agree with Dr. Rossiter that just such an immense uplifting of the American conscience would be the best possible thing that could happen to our country (and it is the only effective way that we will ever be able to stop worrying about terrorists). And I would suggest to potential readers that a close reading of this excellent book, replete with stunning and frightening examples of precisely how our government contorts our values and causes so much pain and death around the world, as well as all its intelligent suggestions, would go a long way toward opening minds to reality and convincing Americans, who are basically a decent and peace-loving people, that Rossiter is right.