Victor Davis Hanson thinks we need a cultural overhaul at the State Department:
Because our diplomatic experts so often graduated from our elite universities, they believed that before shooting back it was always wise to examine the social and economic conditions Ã¢€” read Western exploitation Ã¢€” that might have encouraged such anti-American behavior in the first place. Moreover, we usually were willing to implore our clients to let us spend billons of dollars on them and risk in their defense thousands of American lives.
We routinely would worry about riling the world in order to put troops in harm’s way to protect nations that were privately relieved and publicly hostile. Those voices that urged that it was wiser for America Ã¢€” given the nature of man Ã¢€” to be a little unpredictable, perhaps even volatile at times, and, like the Greeks of old, to punish enemies and help friends, were caricatured as Rambos and simpletons who did not understand the complexities of diplomacy, a supposedly higher art than the rules of the factory, farm, or neighborhood corner.
Unfortunately, the world soon caught on to us predictable and unimaginative Americans and mastered this strange game far better than we ever did.
He then details how both enemies and erstwhile allies have taken advantage of our reluctance to be perceived as a superpowered bully.
Hanson believes that the Bush team has changed this, presumably forever:
Unfortunately, two strange events transpired that should not have, undoing all the old rules. On September 11, 2001, 3,000 Americans were murdered en masse at a time of peace Ã¢€” in our planes, in our most iconic buildings, and at the center of American military power. And worse still for terrorists, faux-allies, and triangulators, our president was a Texan inexperienced with the game’s nuances Ã¢€” not a liberal Democrat who wanted to be liked abroad or a seasoned Republican congressional alumnus who wanted to preserve the old rules. Stranger still, President Bush surrounded himself with a different kind of person Ã¢€” the kind who, in a crisis, offers one reason why we should act, rather than 1,000 excuses why we should not.
And so, all bets are off. Bases, alliances, institutions, friendships, immigration policy, easily duped Americans Ã¢€” nothing can be taken for granted anymore.
The board has been abruptly wiped clean. The game’s up.
While I find the historical analysis to be interesting, I’m not sold on Hanson’s predictions. For one thing, bureaucracies are famously resistant to change. The State Department regulars hold the short-timers that staff any Administration in contempt; this is much more true when the Republicans are in charge. (See this post for an example.) Furthermore, I’m not sure that the Bush Administration has really changed things that much. The president allowed Colin Powell and company hijack the Iraq War process, sending us hat in hand to the United Nations only to both embarrass us and embroil us in the WMD inspections regime controversy.