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View Diary: Why is the "West" so bad at strategy? (244 comments)

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  •  as posted on EuroTrib... (3+ / 0-)
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    Jerome a Paris, IM, In her own Voice

    Here's why...

    You're giving the "West" too much credit. It's more than energy policy. In the US, foreign policy is driven by various and competing forces. We have nothing like Russia's Foreign Policy Concept (as vague a document as that is, but above all, Russia wants to be flexible in its international relations), which leaves us with two or three major themes:

    • keep America strong in the world
    • build democracies abroad (with the idea that they'll more moral and be friendly to the US)
    • enhance the opportunities for US trade abroad
    • and lastly, US foreign policy is driven by the whims of internal politics of the US

    The result is a US foreign policy that tends to be chaotic, changing with administrations (as we've seen with the current one, most tragically).

    The last point is huge. The ignorance of the American public about the world, the vapid coverage we see about events unfolding around the world hinders everything else. The total lack of qualified discussion, leadership, and direction at home in defining what our real national interests and goals are, as well as the strategies we should choose to achieve those goals have elevated US Foreign Policy to the Theater of the Absurd we see today (Condi Rice lecturing Russia on invading sovereign nations.  Does she think pulling that off with a straight face makes her a diplomat?).

    Kissinger broadly defines the rift in American foreign policy divided between Teddy Roosevelt's realpolitik (the "realists") and Wilsonian morality in foreign affairs. In Kissinger's view, the moralists control the meme in public discussions on foreign affairs and broadly speaking, he has a point. The US has never come to a general concensus about the goals of foreign policy, pure and simple.

    As we've seen, this in itself is a danger to the rest of the world.

    For all that, there are signs of hope. If you look around, you'll find some excellent research being done by an unsung handful of "Westerners" (try checking out The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, and there are others, of varying quality). In the long term, the goal should be to elevate the public understanding of what goes on beyond our borders. More immediately, I say leave the conduct of foreign policy to the professionals. And as Nicholas Kristof points out, with our entire diplomatic corps outmanned by the personnel in our military bands (for chrissakes!), we need to spend more, expand, and support a qualified, competent body of foreign service officers.

    And listen to them!

    "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
    --Robert Bates, Department of Government; Harvard University

    by papicek on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:22:34 AM PDT

    •  Ignorance of the US public about the world (3+ / 0-)
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      Detlef, In her own Voice, papicek

      Yep. And our "strategy" is driven by the need to poll that public.

      = = =

      More Duck of Minerva (too much in one place violates copyright):

      So when the current Bush administration talks about "democracy" it does so in a neoconservative register -- becoming a democracy means choosing light over darkness, salvation over sin. All of the praise heaped on the Rose Revolution by the Administration has that tone: congratulations for choosing the right path, now you're on the side of the angels. But because this is a neoconservative perspective, becoming a democracy doesn't carry any obligations for the US, but simply takes a country off of the list of places to be redeemed by force if necessary. Similarly, the Georgian contribution to US military operations carries no obligations for the US, because coalitions of the willing are by definition short-term hook-ups of mutual convenience, not marriages.

      Shift the camera a bit, to the Georgian and Russian view. "Democracy" in that context doesn't play as a universal value, but as a civilizational one, and in particular as one associated (for generations, going back to the old Slavophile/Westernizer debates) with 'the West'. Hence becoming a democracy means moving closer not to some universal ideal, but to a concrete cultural community -- and that does carry obligations for other community-members. A civilizational claim is in that sense more like a marriage, or maybe a courtship: we're joining the club, we're on the team, we're joined to you in fundamental ways. Note that this is not just how Georgians see things, but it's also how the Russians see these things, including NATO expansion, which of course Georgia has long been pressing for.

      We led Georgia down the primrose path of "democracy" and NATO membership but walked out without leaving even a phone number when the going got tough.

      Just as soon as the Ossetia war broke out, Dubya canceled a trip to Atlanta . . .

      by Bill White on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:42:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I read that and passed along... (1+ / 0-)
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        In her own Voice

        what kudos I could.

        If I could set the FP agenda starting today, I'd beef up the staff of the State Department, the overseas staff mind you, and draw up state-of-the-art profiles of every state, nation, and region worldwide. Add to this an ongoing forum on things like international law, dilpomatic history, and the theories and practice of international relations. Just to create a baseline to learn what's really going on out there and how it's accomplishe -  without partisan spin and interpretation. Have you seen State's country profiles? Pathetic. The BBC has done a better job than both State and the CIA.

        Then I'd follow it up with permantent, regular reporting (also done by the overseas staff of State) to keep updated on developments abroad.

        And because I'm an American, and believe real information leads to real debate and progress, I'd make it public. I think it was Eric Sevareid who bemoaned the generation of college grads looking for journalism jobs. "Communications majors" with no background in history, law, economics, international relations, etc. As someone else wrote here, a class of so-called journalists only qualified to report on celebrity gossip. My point being, that the MSM, in which our national debate is carried out, really needs the product of the research I propose. (I recognize that for reasons purely to do with maintaining good relations, such government sponsored, official documentation might be limited and carefully worded.)

        A sort of global, non-partisan university without an agenda...this is a foreign policy initiative I could get behind.

        Then, and only then, the national debate on where our interests lie, and what our goals should be, can really begin.

        "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
        --Robert Bates, Department of Government; Harvard University

        by papicek on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 11:33:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Jerome's expertise in the areas of energy and int (4+ / 0-)

      I hesitate to speak in response to those of you in the field of international relations, but I will be bold and just speak from my own peculiar perspective as an individual.

      Your analysis and suggestions are quite reasonable from a perspective of determining a basis for our foreign policy as a whole.  I believe Jerome's focus on energy being a determiner comes from  his expertise in the areas of energy and international economy.  He sees that energy/oil has been the basis for the value of our currency and a most significant source of all trade and commerce.  

      If we were not dependent on oil--and I don't just mean dependent on other countries--I mean dependent on it for having a way of making money, how would we accumulate wealth?  If we only had to finance the establishment of wind and solar energy for an electric future and pay to maintain it, if energy came from nature and didn't have to be drilled for, produced refined transported sold--where would all those people be employed?  If we didn't have to fight wars to obtain it, where would the soldiers work, and those employed by the military-industrial complex?

      What would we have for an economy if we didn't have oil as our energy base?

      I know I'm oversimplifying here, but this is such a complex subject.  Our whole culture, our lifestyle, economy, and political structure is facing radical change.

      Another thought from left field...
      If we need to change out our economy from oil to something else that can continue to grow, stimulate our economy, and our scientific and human outreach, then I believe Space might be the answer.  Not for the short term, of course.  Here and now we must develop renewables together in a cooperative effort with the rest of the world.  Then we could proceed on to space exploration, building orbital solar energy capacity, mining asteroids, the moon...and further, using solar wind ships to explore and expand into the rest of the solar system for whatever purposes we envision and design.  This could be the new role of our energy giants--this is where they could begin to invest all those remaining profits from the high price of oil.

      Yes, I know I can go way out beyond the theme of the moment--but that's just me--thanks for reading...

      Finding your own Voice -- The personal is political!

      by In her own Voice on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 11:33:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  energy is the theme of the moment... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        In her own Voice

        and yes, it's of immediate importance for all the reasons you describe, but it's only one issue. Terrorism and what looks to be a resurgent Russian Bear are others of immediate importance.

        Your idea about space exploration actually has some merit, though. I don't know about exploiting lunar mines however. But it captures the imagination, and does so globally. So it does carry along a certain amount of weight in the international relations equation.

        "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
        --Robert Bates, Department of Government; Harvard University

        by papicek on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 11:45:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Soothing the Russian Bear (0+ / 0-)

          Terrorism and what looks to be a resurgent Russian Bear are others of immediate importance.

          That will require an administration change and some leadership here in the US and in the rest of the pro-US "West".  Leadership with diplomacy and focus on global cooperation.  Energy, global warming, economy--a good focus I think for pulling together that sort of cooperation.

          I believe Russia is mainly antagonized by the arrogance of the U.S. and its NATO allies.  Yes, they have some nationalistic pride and some need to re-establish themselves as an power in the international community, but I believe they also have a wish to be included.  Our current policy has been 180* out of sync with that.

          The wounds and ire of the Russian Bear shouldn't be so hard to soothe.  Terrorists--that's another story, but that is another focus upon which global community of purpose could be built.

          Have you seen:

          This briefing from the Brookings Institution?

          Finding your own Voice -- The personal is political!

          by In her own Voice on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 12:22:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  your comment about NATO... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            In her own Voice

            is exactly right. It's one of the reasons Russia invaded, and in that respect, what's going on now is a diplomatic shoving match between Russia and NATO over the location of the borders of everyone's sphere of influence.

            The other thing is that historically, Russia has always had trouble with the smaller, weaker states on it's borders. With such an open, vulnerable border as Russia has always been cursed with the internal unrest in those states spilling over onto Russian territory. For these two reasons, Russia insists on an iron grip on both the internal and external policies of its neighbors, and has done so for half a millenia.

            For Georgia, the real trouble began when Russia claimed that Chechen rebels had taken refuge in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and conducting ops from bases there. Two things to note in this connection:

            1. Bush made the exact same claim about the Pankisi Gorge, only the culprits that time were Al Queda
            2. the exact same situation exists for us in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

            Russia wanted to go in and clear that area out, but Georgia demurred, asking the US for help instead. Which infuriated the Russians. Had that decision, right there, been made differently, we wouldn't have this NATO-Russian pissing contest now.

            "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
            --Robert Bates, Department of Government; Harvard University

            by papicek on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 01:17:03 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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