Sunday, December 26, 2010

"This is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder": Understanding Incompetent Western Policies

Barry Rubin
The Rubin Report
24 December '10

Some of my readers are always bothered when I say that mistakes in Western Middle East policy are caused by stupidity and ignorance—abetted by ideology—and want to argue that the shortcomings are due to deliberate sabotage or evil intentions (often against Israel).

I can certainly understand why people think such things. But almost forty years of studying the Middle East and Western policy toward it have shown me hundreds of times that foolishness, misunderstanding, wishful thinking, and naivete are powerful forces in international affairs. As the great statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand put it almost two centuries ago, “This is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.”

Remember that we are dealing here with people (policymakers, journalists, academics) trying to function across cultural, experiential, historical, linguistic, and usually religious lines. And what is their biggest handicap at present? Why, the very denial that such lines exist! Once you accept the assumption that everyone is basically alike in their thoughts, dreams, goals, and world view, you have no hope whatsoever of understanding anyone who has a different standpoint.

True, sometimes these decisionmakers and opinionmakers (especially the academics and European journalists) have taken up partisan positions. Yet this is far less true for politicians and policymakers who must keep in mind both their own personal and their country’s national interests. We tend to focus on extreme exceptions—who certainly exist—but they are a minority.

(Read full "This is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder": Understanding Incompetent Western Policies")

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