Perilous Theories

by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

My advice to President- elect Obama: Don’t do it!

Don’t listen to the desk-bound academics and pundits who want you to develop a “new grand strategy” for our foreign policy.

You’ve chosen a pragmatic team for State, Defense and your national-security adviser. Good for you. Don’t ruin it with ideology.

Academics and theorists love, well, academic theories. Their longing for an overarching concept that explains all and cures all goes back to their Marxist roots and the fascist behavioral impulses that shape the global left.

As the victims of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Nazism and numerous other isms learned so horribly, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for the inherent dilemmas of societies and cultures. Humanity is far too complex to be encompassed or explained by any single theory.

The same applies to foreign policy – especially in the increasingly self-aware, fragmenting, tumultuous world Obama will face as president.

Leftists love to rant about diversity – then seek to make others conform to their view of what’s good for the world. Well, human diversity is the name of the game.

The answer for the US isn’t to “think globally and act locally” but to “think locally and act globally.”

Unlike the vanquished Soviets, we never assumed that we could design one shoe in one size and expect every human to squeeze into it and like it. Well, you can’t squeeze over 200 countries plus a bewildering array of transnational organizations and renegade movements into a single model, either.

A set of policy initiatives designed to counter the peculiar strategic instability of Vladimir Putin’s Russia won’t be of much use in helping Mexico cope with its narco-insurrection. A framework for managing China’s troubled rise won’t help reconcile NATO’s internal differences. And Islamist terror can’t be defeated through immigration policies.

Political and strategic “unified-field theories” don’t just kill – they kill for no good purpose.

Rather than attempting to impose a new grand strategy on the world, our government must formulate regional strategies that contain within them country-specific strategies – recognizing that Brazil isn’t identical to Bolivia and that Iran’s challenges are profoundly different from those of its next-door neighbor, Afghanistan.

We understand intuitively that we need to assume different personas in our personal lives. We have one face for a cranky child, another for a helpful co-worker. We don’t approach our spouses with the same wariness we bring to a car dealership (well, most of us don’t. . .).

Shouldn’t it be obvious that the myriad countries, cultures, cults, clans, conspiracies, consumers and cold-blooded killers who make up the human tapestry require a range of different approaches? Negotiating trade terms with the European Union is a very different matter from negotiating the denuclearization of North Korea.

Theories of government, policy or social organization all have one thing in common: They shun complexity. But the world is immeasurably complex. Try to simplify it, and it’s going to take a big chunk out of your backside.

If the incoming administration wants to improve our international effectiveness (we’re faring far better than critics admit, by the way), two elements are crucial. First, we need to study the world beyond our shores, to make a greater effort to understand allies, enemies and the indifferent on their own terms, to see through their eyes.

And that does not mean goofball political correctness. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Honest understanding is the opposite of political correctness.

The second requirement is to operate internationally based on our core national values – which are far more effective guides than any one-size-fits-all strategy. While practical challenges will, inevitably, force us to diverge from a perfect adherence to our values from time to time, we just need to do the best we can to be true to ourselves.

What does that mean? We should defend the weak when we reasonably can, advance the cause of human freedom when it is practical to do so, favor trade with democracies over commerce with oppressive regimes, and stop making excuses for terrorists or thugs out of partisan spite at home. Beyond that, every foreign-policy case will be specific unto itself.

And we’re not humanity’s enemy, no matter what your kid’s international-relations professor says. Humankind’s deadly enemies are ideological dogmas, religious fanaticism, ethnic hatred, tyranny, corruption, lawlessness and the bloody malevolence that lurks within both the mass and the individual.

Try to squeeze all of the above into a single grand strategy, and we’ll fail. ExileStreet

courtesy NY Post / copyright 2008 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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