Monday, July 07, 2014

A thought about foreign policy

I heard Andrew Card use an interesting metaphor yesterday. George H.W. Bush was Vice President (1/81 to 1/89) when Gorbachev introduced perestroika and glasnost and president (1/89 to 1/93) when the Soviet Union fell and Communism effective ended in the West.

Card said that Bush 41 believed that things were headed in the right direction in the Soviet Union when he assumed the presidency, and that if he put in his oar he might steer them in the wrong direction. However, he used his team of very experienced foreign policy advisers to scan for shoals which might be dangerous for the process of change in the Soviet Union and Russia; in the event of such peril, he Bush might then try to steer the course in a safer direction.

President Bush 43 (1/2001 to 1/2009) led as the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, leading to more than a decade of war. Rather than the restraint in the use of American military power shown by his father, George W. Bush sought  "shock and awe" to foreign policy. His was a very costly policy.

The world is a very complicated place. I have come to believe that American officials are often surprised by events in other countries. Indeed, as leaders in various countries and factions respond to each other, they often seem to seek out and implement initiatives just because they will  be unexpected by others, and thus have a potential advantage.

A policy like that attributed to Bush 41 -- of watching events unfold, looking for potential problems, and making relatively modest, cost-effective interventions to avoid the shoals -- seems quite reasonable in terms of the unpredictability of world events.

So too does a major investment in understanding foreign cultures, foreign countries and foreign leaders. That investment should start in our schools and universities, involve our politicians and news media, include our foreign policy and intelligence institutions, and even our citizens in general.

1 comment:

John Daly said...

“You hit singles, you hit doubles,” he said. “Every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. ”

President Barack Obama on foreign policy.