Absurdity of Trusting Foreign Policymakers

sent out this morn by the Future of Freedom Foundation

The Absurdity of Trusting Foreign-Policy Makers
by James Bovard, April 13, 2011

The United States is attacking Libya on the basis of vague hopes that peace will triumph after the Allied bombing ceases. There are plenty of reasons to doubt whether a few hundred cruise missiles will beget harmony in the Libyan desert. But one of the biggest mistakes would be to assume that U.S. government policymakers understand what they are doing.

The American media have already uncorked “surprises,” such as the facts that the Libyan opposition is more of a ragtag mob than an army and that Qaddafi’s opponents include some organizations officially labeled as terrorists by the U.S. government. One gets the impression that the Obama administration’s masterminds did not notice those details prior to charging into this civil war.

The latest follies are part of a long bipartisan tradition. In the decades since John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, foreign-policy makers have become Washington’s leading con men. Even though Whiz Kids and Dream Teams have dragged America into one debacle after another, the media and politicians still defer to the latest batch of “Best and Brightest” professors and appointees.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was based on little more than a few phrases backed up by almost boundless ignorance. Paul Bremer, the chief of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority, admitted in his memoirs “that he didn’t know anything about Iraq when stepping down from Kissinger Associates to become America’s proconsul,” Georgetown University professor Derek Leebaert observed in his new book, Magic and Mayhem. Adam Garfinkle, who worked as a speechwriter for both Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said in 2007, “No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history.”

The Pentagon’s recent record is not much better. The U.S. military floundered in Iraq and Afghanistan because, as Leebaert notes, “the army not only forgot everything it had been bloodily taught about counterinsurgency in Vietnam, but in Vietnam, it had forgotten everything it had learned about counterinsurgency in Korea as well.”

Cluelessness is a constant in U.S. foreign-policy making. In 1967, the Pentagon ordered top experts to analyze where the Vietnam War had gone wrong. The resulting study consisted of 47 volumes of material exposing the intellectual and political follies that had, at that point, already left tens of thousands of Americans dead. After the study was finished, it was distributed to the key Johnson administration players and federal agencies, by whom it was completely ignored, if not forgotten. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented that “the people who read these documents in the Times [in 1971] were the first to study them.”

U.S. foreign-policy makers perennially talk as if the world is a clean sheet that they can mark up as they please. Shortly before Obama’s televised speech on March 28 on Libya, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told reporters, “We don’t get very hung up on this question of precedent. We don’t make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent.” Rather than being a high-minded resolve, that attitude practically guarantees that the U.S. government will repeat the same mistakes in perpetuity.

Foreign policy has been a long series of blunders, in part because the American media tolerate deceits by high-ranking government officials. “Presidents have lied so much to us about foreign policy that they’ve established almost a common-law right to do so,” George Washington University history professor Leo Ribuffo observed in 1998. From John F. Kennedy’s lying about the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba; to Lyndon Johnson’s lying about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution; to Richard Nixon’s lying about the secret bombing of Cambodia; to Jimmy Carter’s lying about the shah of Iran’s being a progressive, enlightened ruler; to Ronald Reagan’s lying about terrorism and Iran-Contra; to George H.W. Bush’s lying about the justifications for the first Gulf War, entire generations have come of age since the ancient time when a president’s power was constrained by a duty of candor to the public.

WikiLeaks has revealed that U.S. foreign policy is far more deceptive than the Beltway portrays it. From Hillary Clinton’s machinations to heist the credit card numbers of foreign diplomats, to the U.S. government’s prodding Ethiopia to invade Somalia, to the covert supply of arms to the Yemen government, charades have come fast and furious. Much of the American political establishment has reacted as if WikiLeaks violated government’s divine right to delude the governed.

Governments routinely bury information that undermines their power grabs and war is the biggest power grab of them all. We cannot expect the Obama administration to be more prudent on Libya than the Bush administration was on Iraq, or the Clinton administration was on Kosovo, or the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon administrations were on Vietnam. Americans cannot afford to assume that this war is smarter than it seems.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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8 Responses to Absurdity of Trusting Foreign Policymakers

  1. D. Saul Weiner April 14, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    “entire generations have come of age since the ancient time when a president’s power was constrained by a duty of candor to the public.”

    Was there ever such a time?

  2. D. Saul Weiner April 14, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    “Americans cannot afford to assume that this war is smarter than it seems.”

    This is so critical. If I have learned anything about government, it is that one should NEVER give it the benefit of the doubt, in the realm of foreign policy or elsewhere.

  3. Jim April 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    Saul, maybe during Jefferson’s reign? The government was more honest – esp. for minor details like the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase….

  4. Jim April 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    On the “benefit of the doubt” – I am confounded that people still continue deferring.

    On the other hand, I am also surprised that people buy govt. lottery tickets.

  5. Dirk Sabin April 15, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    In addition to the Ivy League Best and Brightest in our State Department, we are now graced with the most highly educated officer corps in the history of our military and this makes them all very adept at working at cross purposes with one another whilst running their various scams with a compliant media.

    Needless to say, all sides are fully enraptured by that not-so-secret society of mumbo-jumbo artists called The Sunbeams for the Unitary Executive

  6. Jim April 15, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Dirk, and the media grovels to the military as if they were a secular priesthood.

    Rolling Stone is a noble exception -and the derision that the mainstream media has heaped on Rolling Stone is damining for the mainstream.

  7. Dirk Sabin April 16, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    This is what happens when war becomes a sofa spectator sport and snappy computer games of sloshing blood are the biggest thing since pony rides.

    Not to mention, of course, the rather sordid state of International Arms Freebooting

  8. Lawrence April 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Gore Vidal once dubbed the USA as the United States of Amnesia. It seems that the increasing velocity of forgetfulness on the part of the Americano voter and Americano policy makers (except for those cashing in) is approaching dimentia-stage alzheimer’s disease. Why can’t I forget as well?