Thursday, November 29, 2012

When you have basically nothing to do, get on a plane.

I am by no means a fan of Thomas L. Friedman, a genius at simplifying complexity, but I did find his statement in his latest New York Times column worthy of note:
Finally, there’s a reason that since the end of the cold war our secretaries of state have racked up more miles than they’ve made history. Before 1995, the job involved ending or avoiding superpower conflicts and signing big arms control treaties. Those were the stuff of heroic diplomacy. Fortunately, today there are fewer big wars to end, and the big treaties now focus more on trade and the environment than nukes — and they’re very hard to achieve. Also, today’s secretary of state has to deal with so many more failed or failing states."
He's quite right. Condolezza Rice was constantly on an airplane -- as is Hillary Clinton now -- because they, God bless 'em and their devotion to the Republic, really had/have no idea (or sufficient power) of how to deal with big global problems that need big solutions.

Such non-stop motion is meant to suggest solutions, but I'm not convinced that anything is actually getting done by such peregrinations for the US national interest.

It's all too easy to blame the Secretaries of State, in our foreign policy that has increasingly become the domain of the Pentagon, for essentially doing nothing except to pretend that they are, for the TV cameras/internet domestic consumption.

But recent Secretaries of State do seem to be incapable of doing what American diplomats did in the past, when a small group of negotiators actually determined  (pretended to determine?) the fate of the planet -- granted, often badly. Think Versailles, Yalta or (as Friedman points out) U.S-Soviet treaties during the Cold War.

Diplomacy on a grand scale seems indeed to be finito. Too many players (including the military), too much "public opinion"?

Is such a situation in the decision-making-process "good" or "bad"?

I really can't tell, although there are so many transnational problems -- climate change one among them -- that need forceful civilian, dare I say elite, leadership -- rather than endless PR-produced moments of sitting on a plane going from nowhere to nowhere -- if such problems are ever to be solved.


I'm also no fan of the pretentious, intellectually-shallow Francis Fukuyama who evidently read/misread (?) too much Hegel as an undergraduate.

But what Fukuyama says in his discredited essay on "The End of History" has some pertinence to the above:
THE PASSING of Marxism-Leninism first from China and then from the Soviet Union will mean its death as a living ideology of world historical significance. For while there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, the fact that there is not a single large state in which it is a going concern undermines completely its pretensions to being in the vanguard of human history. And the death of this ideology means the growing "Common Marketization" of international relations, and the diminution of the likelihood of large-scale conflict between states.

This does not by any means imply the end of international conflict per se. For the world at that point would be divided between a part that was historical and a part that was post-historical. Conflict between states still in history, and between those states and those at the end of history, would still be possible. There would still be a high and perhaps rising level of ethnic and nationalist violence, since those are impulses incompletely played out, even in parts of the post-historical world. Palestinians and Kurds, Sikhs and Tamils, Irish Catholics and Walloons, Armenians and Azeris, will continue to have their unresolved grievances. This implies that terrorism and wars of national liberation will continue to be an important item on the international agenda. But large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene.

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.

Yes, boredom  -- as we all try to pay our PEPCO bills on time ...

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