Friday, February 4, 2011

Bonfire of American Vanities II

Adam B. Kushner, deputy editor of National Journal magazine, has a brilliant piece on why we keep failing in the Middle East. His bottom line: "Realpolitik hasn't worked; neither has idealism. It's time to scale back our ambitions."

Kushner writes:
"The true mistake in the Middle East has not been getting the policy (or the means) wrong; it has been assuming we could ever get it right. Even the carrot-and-stick combo doesn't promise results. (See: Iran.) Americans possess an implacable faith that every problem has a solution, if only we can devise one. In domestic affairs, this has occasionally been true. But abroad, where the world is largely beyond our reach, it is now simply false--and decades spent trying to mold events have proved catastrophic. It is a fantasy to believe that, with just a little more work, our foreign policy could do better."
So, how should the U.S. proceed?
"A smarter course would be to become less deeply invested--to live in a world where we don't always have to make an impossible choice. And that is a problem for which real, but arduous, solutions exist. They involve a race like the moon shot to produce efficient renewable domestic energy and liberate ourselves from Middle Eastern oil; an aid program like the Marshall Plan to lift up Arabs in the youth bulge and degrade the allure of radicalization (though this, too, verges on meddling); and a platform of forthrightness about when we are nakedly pursuing our interests. To whatever extent these goals require idealism, it is at least a variety that can be realized. They won't determine the shape of governance in the Middle East, but they can at least insulate us from its surprises. Until then, in much the way Britons eventually made peace with the demise of imperial power, Americans should learn to see the limits of what we can accomplish."
I hope some staffer has flagged this timely piece for President Obama. Read the whole thing here.

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