RubinReports | By Barry Rubin
My Life’s Work (Part Two), Free Books on U.S. Foreign Policy
But I’ve also had other interests which intertwine with that one, especially U.S. foreign policy, a topic which is very much present in such books as Cauldron of Turmoil and Paved with Good Intentions.
This article discusses two additional books and includes links to their full texts available for free.
I grew up in Washington DC and had a lot of close contact and observation of the governmental process which has proven to be invaluable in my work. Academics often do not understand how policy is actually made and their attempts to develop theories on this point have made their made misunderstandings even worse.
Once, I gave a paper at a university on a very detailed comparison of U.S. decisionmaking on the Iranian revolution and Nicaraguan counterrevolution. It included such points as why specific individuals, even far down in the bureaucracy, had played a role at a certain point and how different agencies competed on pushing their agendas or perceptions. A professor stood up, said he taught U.S. foreign policy, and he had no interest in such “dirty” things. I replied that his view was like that of someone who would be a music expert who had never seen anyone play an instrument.
That’s why I wrote Secrets of State: The State Department and the Struggle Over U.S. Foreign Policy. The title was carefully chosen. The main title is a pun, of course, (Secrets of State/State Department) but also reflects a key theme: the greatest secret is how decisions are made, how they are implemented, and whether they are going to succeed or fail due to the particular choices selected.
The subtitle (Struggle) reflects the fact that, in contrast to other countries, U.S. policy is built out of a struggle between individual decision-makers and government agencies (State, Defense, White House, National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA, etc.). But the shape of this process is different with every presidency because of that chief executive’s style and the people he appoints around him and their relative strengths and weaknesses.
This book, then, is a history of the policymaking process and foreign policy philosophy from George Washington to Ronald Reagan (that’s when it came out) but is completely up to date on that period and the themes have continued to the present.
It explains why American foreign policy is different from other countries. I had fun with a quote from a Bahraini newspaper about how U.S. policy was shrouded in mist and inscrutability, a turnaround, of course, on an American cliché about other countries.
A second issue that’s fascinated me has been anti-Americanism. My wife, Judy, and myself thus wrote Hating America: A History. It’s a history of a subject that many people speak about superficially but few have actually researched.
The debate on this issue has often obscured it. There are said to be two schools one of which says that America is hated because of its policies, the other due to its values. One problem with this typology is that, of course, anti-Americanism arises from both factors.
The other is that this point provides a wonderful case study of what is wrong today with American intellectual and political life. Liberals are supposed to say, “Policies!” and conservatives are supposed to say, “Values!” something like the more taste/less filling debate of a certain famous beer commercial.
What does this communicate? That your political stance is supposed to dictate what you believe to be true, thus replacing the search for truth with rigid ideology. It also kills the need to build a synthesis. Why bother to do research or thinking if one need merely memorize the catechism?
I will come back to this point in a few seconds but first let me explain that our book focused on a third explanation: local conditions. The view of America taken by a foreign intellectual, political figure, government, country, or movement first and foremost depends on its own needs and interests.
To give one example, the view of America in 1780, 1880, and 1980 changed drastically due not so much to changes in America but to changes and the state of the political debate in France. Battling forces abroad would see the United States as a terrible monster or as a liberator or role model depending on their own stances.
Now back to the flaws in the contemporary American debate. In the Introduction to our book there was a clear explanation of the above, saying that we were attributing anti-Americanism to policies, values, and the local politics of foreign places involved. And, of course, the specific time and place determined the balance among those three factors.
But in the New York Times review, written — no kidding — by an intern at a leftist institution — it says that our book was a typical “conservative” example of blaming everything on “values.” See! No need to think or to read and comprehend. All you need is to categorize someone and the brain is turned off. Or, better yet, first you turn off the brain and then you start giving a political speech in the guise of something else.
At any rate, the book examines anti-Americanism from the very beginning (and anti-Americanism existed long before the United States did) down to the present, including all of its regional variations (especially European, Latin American, and Middle Eastern).
The original anti-Americanism insisted, by the way, that no civilized society could be built in such an environment wracked by climate problems among other issues and that people who lived there would be “degenerated,” inevitably weak and feeble.
In a wonderful scene, in February 1778, Benjamin Franklin held a banquet in France and asked all the guests to stand against a wall to measure their height. All of the eighteen Americans were taller than the eighteen Europeans there. And, Franklin records triumphantly, the shortest of them all—“a mere shrimp”—was Guillaume Raynal, the famous French scientist who was author of the theory that Americans were physically inferior.
Quite a perfect anecdote for today.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, “Israel: An Introduction“, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include “The Israel-Arab Reader” (seventh edition), “The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East” (Wiley), and “The Truth About Syria” (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.