Saturday, September 10, 2016

What is ... Strategy, War, and Coercion?

In preparation for Patterson’s comprehensive exams in December, I decided it would be advantageous if I formulated a logical and consistent philosophical outlook concerning strategy, war, and politics.  For what could possibly be more disheartening (and annoying) to Dr. Farley and his colleagues than my confession that I am incapable of answering any question about Syria because of my lack knowledge concerning strategic thought.   

Therefore, in order to diminish my fear of failure in December, I read numerous books this summer by strategic thinkers and reviewed relevant IR theories.  I was certain that my research and intellect would produce a foolproof worldview that would be unassailable from any professor’s attack.  Alas, I am afraid that my confidence to articulate a mature and scholarly foreign policy was dashed to pieces this week.  Instead of finding myself ready to write an incisive blog post on war, politics, and coercion, I am writing to confess that I am more confused than ever about geopolitics and that I have no idea what should be done in Syria, if anything at all.  At least I am intellectually honest, right?

And yet, after examining the United States’ foreign policy during the War on Terror, I wish our governmental leaders would be more intellectually honest and admit that like me they have no idea what to do.  Nor do our leaders seem to have a consistent and logical foreign policy, the very thing I seek after.  For whatever we have been doing in international affairs has not worked, and from the statements made from our two presidential nominees, it seems we can expect much more of the same in the future.  But I think therein lies the problem — America is consumed with doing.  That is, our country has always believed that the answer to every problem is more action.  We target a problem by throwing everything we have at it.  

U.S. inaction is not the problem; it is action born out of hubris that is the problem.  Less pride and more humility is needed in our leaders.  Our leaders must realize that the U.S. does not possess the answer to every problem, and that this is okay.  So, what should we do about doing too much?    

Enter Gary Johnson.  Last week, in an interview with MSNBC, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson was asked: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”  To the horror of his supporters Johnson replied, “What is Aleppo?”  Although it is unfortunate and astounding for a presidential candidate to not know what is “Aleppo,” I mysteriously found his answer refreshing.  Here is someone who admitted that he did not know the answer to a particular question.  And honestly, “what is Aleppo” sounds better than “I alone can fix it.”  

Maybe it is not the policy wonk the U.S. needs, but someone with enough humility and courage to publicly admit that the U.S. government does not have all the answers and that the best thing to do is nothing. 

I still believe it would be advantageous for me to go into comps with a worldview that can offer a credible answer to any question.  But I also must prepare for questions that may reveal inconsistencies in my thought process.  Will I have the courage and humility to admit that this is so?  

Disclaimer: I am not a Gary Johnson supporter.


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