October 13, 2010

The Delusions of American Foreign Policy

Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan by Derek Leebaert - A Review
"....a persuasive alarm bell about the dangers inherent in our repeated attempts to put things right in countries we don't really understand and cannot control..."  W. Post reviewer Robert G. Kaiser

Book author Leebaert on America's adventures overseas in the past fifty years:  "'Success' for the United States in all of them (our interventions) would require leadership from local politicians in the country we are 'helping,' who will conduct themselves intelligently, honorably, effectively and in ways that fulfill American aspirations. Good luck with that."

Leebeart continues:  "....the American foreign policy establishment is not up to the task of world leadership as posed by the country's far-flung political and military involvements."  Hmmm.  It makes me ask why in the hell do we continue to go on these adventurous pursuits when we repeatedly demonstrate that we cannot achieve or maintain control, diplomatically or militarily?

The author's suggestion to address the problem?  "(C)ombine fewer global commitments and a larger, smarter professional foreign service and civil service, with fewer political appointees to pursue new global enthusiasms every four or eight years. No architect of the Iraq war spoke Arabic or had experienced life in the Middle East, he notes -- a pattern evident in our earlier disasters. Neither McNamara nor Bundy knew anything about Asia, let alone Vietnam. Instead of pretending we know it all, Leebaert argues, why not develop a cadre of real specialists who will know enough to keep us out of trouble?

The reviewer, journalist Robert G. Kaiser of the Washington Post, concludes:  "If you can't disprove his (Leebaert's) large thesis, then you confront this painful conclusion: We have squandered tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars on foolish attempts to remake a world we simply cannot guide. And we're still doing it."

Here's another argument for better strategic thinking:
Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy by Leslie H. Gelb - A Review

Gelb, says reviewer Michael Beschloss, "persuasively argues that the most effective presidents try to fashion a coherent strategy, explain it forthrightly to the public and resist the temptation to be distracted by sudden opportunities and crises."

How many politicians can you name who have been able to resist being "resist the temptation to be distracted by sudden opportunities and crises?"  None in my recollection.  Let's hope Obama is different.  It's like riding a tiger in that "big house" on Pennsylvania Avenue.... 

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