Saturday, August 14, 2004

I Rule!

My life has just been validated. I've been called "lucid" on a comment board at Daniel Drezner's blog. For those of you who don't know, I idolize Prof. Drezner, and his blog is the reason that I started mine. So while it would be better to get a compliment from Prof. Drezner himself, this is a pretty good substitute.

The article on which I was commenting on is here. Here's the run of comments which preceded the compliment:

"Superior process tops grand strategy every time. I don't think there is one meta-philosophy that can solve every single foreign policy problem that will ever pop up. A good policy process allows one to examine each problem individually and come up with solutions tailored to the unique situation. Sometimes that's sweet talk diplomacy, sometimes it's hardball, sometimes it's multilateral, sometimes it's unilateral, and sometimes it's war. I feel better knowing that a Kerry administration won't limit itself to one mindset."

Mark Safranski:
"'Superior process tops grand strategy every time.'

Just like in Vietnam ?

'A good policy process allows one to examine each problem individually and come up with solutions tailored to the unique situation'

What if the problems are interdependent and interrelated ?

Strategy is about accomplishing goals within a dynamic system which requires recognizing the variables and being honest with oneself what will move them. *Tactics* are the *how* you move the variables and this is where you are well served by a good policy process. Without a strategy though, you may be solving the wrong problem with your good tactics.

Great strategy is a lot like a great novel...the two are alike in that they are very seldom ever created by a committee."


I don't consider myself particularly knowledgable about the Vietnam war, but wasn't "grand strategy" at least partly to blame there? We had a "grand strategy" of Containment/Rollback, to counteract the percieved Domino Effect. Thus, we viewed every single nation where communists seemed to be gaining ground through the same lens, as the first step to a catastrophic system crash where every country would become instant-marxist.

This blinded us to the fact that in Vietnam Ho Chi Minh was a national hero (ironically enough, because he attempted to convince President Wilson to actually apply his rhetoric on self-determination to places outside of Europe), and that the US supported politicians and dictators were extremely unpopular and not likely to be seen as an acceptable substitute for the communists. Thus, the strategy of "winning their hearts and minds" was fatally crippled by tactical mistakes such as supporting hopelessly corrupt leaders.

Its all speculation of course, but perhaps a process-based view of Vietnam would have revealed to US policymakers that Vietnam was not a huge threat to geopolitical stability, that it was relatively mild in terms of its affront to American values (as compared to say, Cambodia), and that it was a poor target for intervention because it played to virtually every stereotype the Communists put out about the West: The US rushing to the aid of ex-colonialists to prop up a universally despised dictator at the expense of a bona fide national hero. It really shouldn't have taken that much insight to see this was a bad idea.

Obviously problems can be interdependent and related, and a good process would account for that. "looking at situations individually" is not the same as "looking at them in a void." A solid policy process would look at all the variables from the ground up and then create a response tailored to those variables, which might include simultanous responses to other problems if need be. What it wouldn't do is artificially impose an preconcieved external narrative on events that might not (and probably will not) match the reality.

...The Bush administration underestimated the degree to which foreign populations resent US influence over their national affairs. It must bruise Iraqi pride to see their nation patrolled by uniformed, English-speaking Americans. As a result, sympathy for the bold insurgents inevitably rises.

So, we've gotten ourselves into a situation where in order to provide some measure of security in Iraq, we have to clamp down on the insurgents, but by doing so, we risk alienating significantly larger sections of the population. It's a no-win situation and a consequence of Bush's failed diplomacy.

I encourage everyone to read David Halberstam's article on Bush in the current issue of Vanity Fair (the one with the lovely Reese Witherspoon on the cover). Halberstam correctly states that Bush (and Cheney,and others) continually fails to apply the lessons learned in Vietnam. David Schraub lucidly points out above what those lessons are, so it hardly bears worth repeating here ...

Am I probably taking way too much pride in something that, objectively is really minor? Sure. But it makes me happy, and that's what counts right?

Next stop, the blogosphere royalty!

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