Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It’s All About Politics

"This paragraph from a New York Times story on proposed new sanctions for Iran sent a chill down my spine:

This naturally appeared in the National Journal, one of those wonky periodicals that none but the most wonkish amongst us pay attention to, let alone read: the reason I’m highlighting it is because Fournier’s complaint illustrates a widely-held misconception about the making of American foreign policy – or, indeed, any nation’s foreign policy. According to this Boy Scout version of how it works – or, rather, how it should work – US officials confer with a gaggle of "experts," determine what is in the "national interest" on the merits, and then proceed to implement the policy. In short, the policy is determined objectively, without reference to vulgar political considerations.

Of course, this is not the way policy is made, and – contra Fournier – there is no nation on earth, including the "democracies," that has ever conducted its foreign policy in this manner.

To begin with, let’s look at just who is making the policy: is it a team of "experts" who stand above the fray, academics and diplomats whose knowledge of the realities on the ground gives them the credentials to formulate a rational course of action (or inaction)? No way: policy is made by elected officials sensitive to the political winds, whichever way they’re blowing. Yes, it’s true the diplomatic and intelligence communities have input: but as we saw in the run up to the Iraq war, their conclusions can be massaged, manipulated, and outright ignored by politicians who have their own agenda. Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby peering over the shoulders of analysts at Langley is just one recent example.

Even in cases where politicians don’t have strong convictions one way or the other, the first item on their agenda is reelection. They want to stay in office, or, perhaps, they aspire to a higher office: in any case, regardless of their actual views, our policy-makers are always looking over their shoulders at lobbyists and constituents before they commit themselves to any particular course.

In short, given the nature of the State, the idea that we’re going to take politics – not to mention lobbyists! – out of foreign policy decision-making is a fantasy that cannot come true. 

Read the entire article