TomDispatch has reposted an important essay on the Bush administration’s inability to translate its imperial dreams into functional policy. I’ll excerpt a bit, but you should go read in full.
Kicking ass — playing cowboys and Indians with the world, as little boys once did on playroom floors or in backyards — has remarkably little to do, however, with anything that might once have been defined as imperial planning or the knowledge necessary to implement such plans. For example, a year after his “axis of evil” State of the Union Address, when informed by Iraqi exiles that there were both Sunnis and Shiites in their country, “emperor” Bush allegedly responded that he thought “the Iraqis were Muslims.”[…] Given the tabula rasa in Bush’s mind regarding the world outside “the homeland” (a word his administration has regrettably contributed to the American language), it is hardly surprising that he selected as his main foreign policy advisers two people with very limited global visions of their own: Condoleezza Rice as National Security Advisor and, as Secretary of State, Colin Powell. (Rice herself admitted in 2000 that, as a “Europeanist,” “I’ve been pressed to understand parts of the world that have not been part of my scope”; and Powell’s qualifications were based on his military savvy — and loyalty — not his geopolitical perspectives. The general, as Bill Keller of the New York Times reported in 2001, was “a problem solver, not a visionary.”
As became clear after the horror of 9/11 — a foreign policy failure of the first order, if ever there was one, that no “empire” in its right mind would have allowed — Rice and Powell essentially became talking-point briefers on day-to-day events they had not foreseen and did not control. Compare them to Henry Kissinger, who held each of their positions at some point in his White House career. A cynical maneuverer who may not have been to everyone’s liking, he nonetheless worked in the realm of global strategy. In the way he attempted to play off the Soviet Union against China in relation to the Vietnam War, he was an imperial planner of the first order (if not always with the greatest success). Contrast his meaty books on Metternich and on nuclear weapons to the sole tome that Rice authored by herself — a bland monograph on the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983, excoriated by the scholarly American Historical Review in 1985. What her sad little historical “study” demonstrated, if anything at all, was that Rice was, from scratch, anything but a geopolitician of Soviet — or any other — affairs.
The intellectual and emotional immaturity at play here really is hard to understate. The administration dreams of empire but ignores the basic mechanics of making one work. They prosecute a “global war on terror” that is not strategically integrated, unless you count shortchanging one conflict to feed the other “integration.” Nor, judging by our Iraq adventure, is the war particularly focused on terror. Or did I miss the day we caught bin Laden? Our “democracy promotion agenda” cultivates the most repressive regimes in the middle east and central Asia. I designed more coherent campaigns as a dungeon master in middle school.
Worse than an idiot administration, I still shake my head at how eagerly our public intelligentsia chased them down the rabbit hole. Some of the best-read, left-of-center members of my family still view Tom Friedman as the go-to-guy for foreign policy thinking. Friedman’s support for invading Iraq, and particularly the morally superior tone with which he dismissed critics of the invasion, did more than practically anybody other than Colin Powell to drum up liberal support for the war. The same Tom Friedman justified his decision like this:
Friedman: What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?” You don’t think, you know we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This. That Charlie is what this war is about. We could of hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. Could of hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
It is a dangerous kind of stupid that drags the intelligent down with it.