HISTORY AND SPREADING DEMOCRACY: A DEBATE PART II
This post represents Part II of my initial post in the debate with CKR of Whirledview
. Her first post can be found here
. Now to continue the debate:Part II: History and Contemporary Foreign Policy
To recap from the introduction, the Bush administration is redefining and reinvigorating the policy of Democracy promotion in the GWOT and while their reliance on history as a guide to policy leaves much to be desired, they are also well ahead of previous administrations in that regard. History could be be used a great deal more than it is in the American national security decision making process but that would require a considerable shift in the general philosophy of personnel selection that have prevailed in recent decades.
Much has been written about the influence of certain scholars on the Bush administration, notably that of Bernard Lewis
, Donald Kagan
and the late Leo Strauss
. The extent of their influence on Bush administration policy has often been greatly exaggerated by the Left
- not unlike conservatives once did with economists John Maynard Keynes
and John Kenneth Galbraith
- but their influence was, in my view, quite real in helping to frame a worldview in which administration figures dealt with strategic policy questions. Lewis, one of the world's premier Arabist scholars and the bete noire of Edward Said
, was brought in to brief key administration figures
prior to the Iraq War.
That admittedly represents an unprecedented amount of influence for historians* compared to recent administrations in forming foreign policy but in the final analysis, still not very much influence and not nearly enough at the operational level when the rubber hit the road in Iraq. None of the scholars actually held official positions in the Bush administration ( Strauss, of course, is dead) and those they deemed to have most influenced, like Paul Wolfowitz
and Richard Perle
, were second tier or lower level policy makers - Perle's position was part-time and only advisory. At the top tier, only Condi Rice can make some claim to historical training, though her academic specialty is Area Studies for the former USSR, a field that makes her closer to being a political scientist by methdological outlook than a historian.
The occupation of Iraq went astray primarily because field commanders and CPA administrators did not have a linguistic, cultural or historical grasp of either the Iraqi state or Arab Muslims. A criticism that Colonel Thomas X. Hammes
makes as a primary call to reform the training of the officer corps in his The Sling and the Stone
, arguing that history and languages must become the bedrock of academic preparation for commanders. In he field in Iraq, in response to the insurgency Colonel H.R. McMaster
began an Arabic language and culture training course for his troops engaged in counterinsurgency and civil affairs operations. This is remediation though and not proper planning using readily available historical knowledge.
Nor is this at all unusual for American administrations. You can reach the top tier of the State Department, CIA, NSC, or Pentagon simply by an ad hoc, learn as you go, approach to regions of the world that your desk or command have responsibility for overseeing. During WWII, the United States had few experts on Japanese language and culture outside of Joseph Grew
, who had to fight to make his views heard in official Washington. It was somewhat better on the German side but not much - the OSS psychological profile
of Adolf Hitler
owed far more to Freud than it did to any body of experts on German history and culture.
When we faced the Cold War, George Kennan's Long Telegram
had an enormous impact partly because much of the bureaucracy was simply ignorant of all things Russian and Soviet and had no answers with which to contest Kennan's analysis. I need not even expound on the lack of informed views regarding Vietnam that prevailed from Harry Truman
to Gerald Ford
. America makes foreign policy in a historical vacuum, the execution of the Iraq War has merely continued that tradition.
Historians, as a group, share some of the blame. Absorbtion in the esoterica of rad-crit political fetishes, an adversarial posture toward American foreign policy by large segments of the OAH and AHA, fascination with incomprehensible jargon and a a professional aversion to generalist training have caused historians to vanish from the table of public policy. The profession is in serious danger of irrelevancy at a time when the public demand for informed historical expertise is at its highest point in decades.
Clearly things must change if policy making is to improve. Foreign Service and Military officers alike need to have a deep grounding in linguistic and historical training. No, not all of them - we need engineers, scientists, economists and other solid professions at the table as well - but the lack of historical perspective makes policy makers far more prone to serious misjudgments. Universities need to retreat from academic ghetto mentalities and begin to again educate horizontal thinking students of history and not excessively narrow niche specialists who can speak intelligibly only on subjects without any broad application.
To begin to think historically, America must begin some systemic reforms in the national security and educational communities. The problem isn't our outcomes but the nature of the pipeline itself.
* Leo Strauss was not a historian but a political philosopher much concerned with the interpretation of classic philosophical and historical texts. Paul Wolfowitz was one of his students.