Tuesday, June 14, 2005

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.
During WWII, the United States had few experts on Japanese language and culture outside of Joseph Grew

This was due to more than just availability. Either politics or plain old military inefficiency was at work, too. (As it was told to me) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor there were only a half dozen PhD's in Japanese in the United States. One of them was an old family friend of ours. He was drafted. He served in the European theater, mostly carrying searchlights—he was tall.
Hey Dave,

I knew we were severely short on Japanese specialists at the time from the work of Ruth Benedict but I wasn't aware that it was that limited.

Some local Illinois history: An old, wealthy, friend of Theodore Roosevelt, one Colonel George Fabyan of Geneva Il. functioned as the Japanese Consul for Chicago before Pearl Harbor. He had been an adviser to the Japanese delegation during the Treaty of Portsmouth talks and was one of the few ppl in the area with fluency. He also helped found the ancestor of the NSA during WWI.

Interesting comments. I have to say that bringing in someone like Lewis (a medievalist) was not particularly relevant to do.

Frankly, while I like Lewis, he simply doesn't understand the modern region. He's very good on medieval and classical Ottoman history (although has a bit too much of a 'formalist' bias, I rather think he forgets that his formal sources are but part of the story), but a catastrophe in understanding the modern world.

That aside, it strikes me the very structure of US foreign service mitigates against developing real regional understanding. As you know, I rather ranted on about the comparative uselessness of American versus other diplos - much of that is not underlying quality in my opinion, but a system that wastes talent.

I am not sure how this will change - continue to find it extraordinary that while I was dealing with CPA no one tried to get me on board (sure, I am a slimey expat businessman, but also a real Arabic speaker with connexions). It struck me none of the CPA leadership understood what they did not understand (or understood that there were serious gaps they had to understand).
Hi Col-

Actually, as I was writing this piece, I recalled your commentary on Bernard Lewis. If you don't mind, I'd like to append your essay to my first rebuttal of CKR's piece which will deal with the strengths and weaknesses of historical analysis as an approach to contemporary policy making.

The problem is one of self-referentiality. There really wasn't anyone in the Bush administration ( or the Clinton administration for that matter) and the bureaucracy who understood the limits of extrapolating from Lewis' perspective.

Even so harsh a critic of Bush GWOT policy as the CIA's Michael Scheuer, writes very warmly about Bernard Lewis. Most of Lewis academic critics write in such a self-discrediting way ( see my link to Counterpunch) that their remarks would be dismissed from serious consideration.

Ideally, across State, CIA, NSC, NIC and the Pentagon we ought to be able to assemble bodies of regional experts on par with anything a top tier university department can boast.
Unfortunately, that's rarely the case and the result usually is poor policy.

The most damaging aspect of Iran-Contra was the deal with the Iranians, something cooked up by two military officers without any background in Iranian or Islamic studies, though Poindexter at least was technically brilliant on computer science matters if politically incompetent. In the case of Colonel McFarlane, he possessed a noted unwillingness to listen to experts on any region, in or out of government service, during his tenure at the NSC.

In your instance with the CPA, a political litmus test was added that kept out anybody not recommended by Heritage or AEI - which meant slots were filled by young, connected, movement conservative, Business school types with no background in Arabic. Even certifiably right-wing ME experts were absent from Iraq policy - too independent.

The CPA almost managed to sink the Bush administration with its incompetence. Hopefully, that was a lesson learned because the experience was expensive.

I'll Google it and append it to my first rebuttal of CKR since that will deal with the
Neither in the case of war with the Barbary states or in the republican revolutions of Santo Domingo and in South America did Washington take an active hand in spreading democracy

True. Not even Santo Domingo offering itself as a State could convince Washington to "shrink the gap" back then.

There were over 700 cases of assassination and political murder in 1868 in Louisiana alone

Thanks for the reminder. We often forget the threat we faced (and lost to) during Reconstruction.

Burdensome reparations payments,

The presentation and scheduling of the reparations may have been worse than the size themselves. According to Niall Ferguson, counting just unilateral foreign aid to European countries overrun by the Axis the Federal Republic has paid more than the real 1919 value of the reperations put on Germany. Of course, that doesn't count the monetized value of land lost, of women forced to service Red Army soldiers, &c

French encouragement of Bavarian separatism

Didn't know about that. Thanks.

Fascist totalitarian parties were prohibited outright in all three states

Was Italy or Japan totalitarian?

SCAP essentially rewrote Japan's Constitution when the Japanese elite proved incapapable

Not that the Collaborationist Government didn't try to, twice.

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

More importantly, SCAP decided not to use the "Japan hands," prefering instead to use experts in China studies. Working knowledge of Japan was often enough for SCAP to turn down employment, because of concerns that the "Japan hands" were too sympathetic to and connected with the pre-War elite.

-Dan tdaxp
Good on you and WhirledView for carrying the discussion in a different direction while infusing it with intelligent insights and maintaining a level tone.

-Eric Martin

Thank you very much. You guys set a high bar for us to try and meet !


Mussolini coined the term:

"Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people."
- Benito Mussolini

Japan gradually acquired the characteristics of a totalitarian state by the 1936-41 elimination of rival ultranationalist factions and the advent of The Imperial Rule Assistance Association ( I think that's how it transliterates)which was modelled on the Nazi party. That association was simply an artificial shell to decorate what the Court and military elite had arranged for Japanese society.
Feel free if you can find the bloody thing. Bloody hate livejournal and its useless archiving, but my fault for being too lazy to change.

Re Lewis' academic critics, frankly haven't read much of that sort of thing so I can't comment. Lewis is good, I like him, but to repeat, his understanding of the modern Middle East is just... Medievalist. Just imagine a European Medievalist of a lower case c conservative bent commenting on modern Euro society. Similar biases.

Regardless, for a good historical grounding, Lewis writes well and clearly, and even when I think he's a bit off, he's intelligent and well grounded in fact.

In re experts on regional issues, not sure where the US gets its biases in this area, but your amiga Pundita seems to suffer deeply from delusions of this sort. Structural I suppose.

Re CPA: I certainly hope a lesson was learned, it was so stunningly bad as to almost make one cry (and when I think back to me steel project.... oh the pain, the pain.). Still gets me excited in anger when I rap with people about this. So much opportunity pissed away by ideologues when good cynical pragmatism would have worked wonders. Or at least made things less disastrous.

And I would have made a lot of money, God Willing (heh).

Mussolini dreamed big. He had great plans for himself, his country, and his state. He achieved very few of them. Il Duce's Italy maintained an extremely large organization capable of full spectrum influencing of the Italian people - the Catholic Church. While his allies at least tried to capture the religion market, through State Shinto and the National Reich Church, Mussolini never severed the Italian people from the Universal Faith.

Likewise, his Cabinet was strong enough to depose him, declare a truce with the American people, and have the Italian soldiery follow it. His rump state, backed up by the German Army and headquartered in Verona, was never able to act independently.

As far Japan...

Totalitarianism certainly would imply that someone is on control, and I don't know that is the case of pre-War (or post-War) Japan. The Japanese government reflects the interests of powerful factions of society - the Royal Court (supposedly no longer influential), the business combines, the argicultural lobby, the yakuza, the junior officer corp (before the War), the bureaucracy, &c. While Mussolini dreamt of a "Fascist State - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people" had had built a a Fascist People - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a state.

-Dan tdaxp
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