Friday, March 7, 2014

The Folly of "Statecraft"

Politicians and bureaucrats involved in national security are all incompetents.   They are all captives to institutional cultures in which all rationality is suppressed.     They regard themselves has possessing competence when in fact all they have is an indoctrination in the false assumptions of their national and institutional myths.     National security figures and bureaucrats are without rationality, intelligence or reason. They almost always behave irrationally, emotionally, and without any understanding at all.     In the modern age at least this is how all wars have come about.   Yet if you listen to historians and the media it is all a different story.   If you listen to politicians and pundits they laud the "foreign affairs competence" of this person or that, as if any of them could possibly know why foreign leaders do what they do, or even cared.     What such people really mean is that the person mentioned has familiarized himself with the names of foreign leaders and the list of issues they are involved with, and nothing more.

The example I like to use of total institutional irrationality is that of the Vietnam war.     The Vietnam war was bitterly fought by Americans.    They sacrificed life, limb and treasure in a titanic struggle.

Yet in the Spring of 1975 when the communists finally overthrew the pro-western government of South Vietnam what was the result for Americans? The simple truth is that this outcome didn't bring any harm to any American.   Not a single American was harmed whatsoever when South Vietnam fell to communism.    Furthermore American prestige and national commitment were not harmed  either.     No one in Europe questioned the will of America to defend them against the prospect of a Soviet attack.    And no one in China or the USSR believed that they'd achieved any gain against the United States.

So given this outcome what was it all about?   Why then were so many Americans told that if they didn't go to Vietnam and fight and kill and die or be maimed that something horrible would happen to them and their countrymen? Why were these Americans told that they, and their country, had no alternative than to fight? Why were they all so terribly, obviously wrong about the prospect of communist victory there?     Why couldn't they see that if the communists prevailed in South Vietnam that no one in the U.S. would be harmed in the least? Wasn't this obvious?   Why couldn't any one of these leaders simply imagine, in their minds, what would actually happen if the communists rolled into the capital of South Vietnam, as they eventually did in 1975?    Why was it so difficult to face that all their assumptions of a catastrophy for America was all exaggeration, all hysteria?

The answer is that it was actually obvious to many, and should have been obvious to everyone.    But it was the opposite of obvious to everyone in the national security institutions as well as the majority of politicians and the public.     They were blind to the simple facts, and instead were willing and enthusiastic dupes of a wildly exaggerated and overblown, totally implausible set of perposterous myths.

Note that I said that they were "willing" and "enthusiastic."    This is because they were led purely by EMOTION.

This is typical of all national security evaluations and assumptions.    They are almost always exaggerations, at least when dealing with existing threats for which they have been tasked to deal with.    If a matter is not presently regarded as a threat they've been tasked to manage then it's always overlooked, marginalized and disregarded, such as Osama bin-Laden was before 9-11.    However once he was branded as the culprit of that event then everything having to do with any possible similar actors were treated with extreme paranoia, exaggeration, and hysteria.    The only thing that determines this is that the bureaucracy is either tasked with the issue as a threat or it isn't.     The fact that it is tasked will ensure that all views and evaluations will thereby be tailored to fit the institutional and career requirements that the mission is of highest urgency and must therefore warrant tremendous resources.     In short, all perceptions are distorted to fit what the careers of those making their living want there to be, and rationality doesn't enter into it.

And added onto institutional interests are the cultural and national myths about threats from outsiders,  and all this is compounded by media, which never reports anything which would contradict what the public wants to hear.   Even scholars fall in line completely with such historical myths about the evils of prior foes or present devils abroad.     Historians are typically do not stray from the narratives popular culture has adopted at any time.     Historians don't even have a theoretical framework for understanding why actors do what they do in foreign affairs.     They are genuinely at sea when it comes to interpreting what any actor does in foreign affairs.

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