Sunday, March 19, 2006

A comment on a comment

In "America at the Crossroads," Mr. Fukuyama questions the assertion made by the prominent neoconservatives Mr. Kristol and Robert Kagan in their 2000 book "Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy" that other nations "find they have less to fear" from the daunting power of the United States because "American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality." The problem with this doctrine of "benevolent hegemony," Mr. Fukuyama points out, is that "it is not sufficient that Americans believe in their own good intentions; non-Americans must be convinced of them as well." (MICHIKO KAKUTANI The New York Times, March 14, 2006).

Actually there are other, bigger problems with this doctrine:
* What our political leaders say is our policy and the rationale for that policy is not always an accurate description of the policy and its rationale. Policies described in moral terms for domestic and international consumption may actually be quite cynical.

* Really bad policies are often thought by their proponents to be especially moral. Remember that slavery was defended as the only way to civilize Africans, and Hitler was no doubt convinced of the moral correctness of the holocaust. The policies proposed by American leaders in the past have not always appeared as morally correct in retrospect as their proponents believed at the time of their promulgation.

* The unintended consequences of policies are often more severe than the policy makers intend, especially if those policy makers are naive. And I read history to tell us that American policy makers very often have been naive in the past. I see no historical reason to believe that they will be notably less naive in our day.
Perhaps even more seriously in error is the assumption implicit in the argument that America's actions are simply explainable in terms of the policy objectives of our political leaders. The United States, with a population of some 300 million people and a huge government, is a very complex society. The behavior of the nation in the global arena is the result of very complex processes. President Eisenhower noted in his farewell address to the nation in 1961
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
I would suggest that the patterns of influence in our society may be as important in determining U.S. foreign policy as the international intentions and motives of our elected leaders. The major consequences of our policies may often better be seen as unintended outcomes of complex social, economic and politica processes, rather than as the direct intended outcomes of the more or less benevolent intentions of a few leaders.

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