Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Is Our Leaders Learning History?

There are some encouraging signs that officials in the Bush administration, including the President himself, have begun to put a greater value on the process of making decisions from an informed position. In particular, President Bush has shown an increasing interest in the interplay of history, culture and policy. The President offered the following profound insight on the nature of historical analysis during a recent speech - and subsequent question and answer session:

It's what Americans have got to understand. We tend to forget. Ours is a society where things are like instant, so therefore, history almost is like so far back it doesn't count.
While members of the audience looked around at one another, nodding and hrumphing in acknowledgement of their own respective ignorance of the history that is almost like so far back it doesn't count, the President seized the opportunity to connect with the people and show his common touch - the attribute that makes him such a desirable drinking buddy (what else would you possibly want in a President, I would query?).

He calmed the rumbles in the crowd and admitted that at times, even he fell victim to such historical myopia. For example, Bush stated, a recent memo released by British government sources showed that in the months preceding the Iraq invasion he claimed that:

..."it was unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups [in Iraq]".
"Boy did I get that one wrong," Bush quipped to a crackle of laughter. Others in his administration were similarly purblind:
In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo.
But now that President Bush has, through intense deliberation, deduced that even "far back" history counts, he was quick to offer an erudite tutorial on the complex interplay of ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq, the competition for resources, regional power politics and other competing interests. To most in the room, all of these concepts were entirely revolutionary and jarring in their paradign shifting perspective:
In fact, much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein. He is a tyrant who exacerbated sectarian divisions to keep himself in power. Iraq is a nation with many ethnic and religious and sectarian and regional and tribal divisions.
I guess we'll just have to trust the President when he claims that, "Iraq is a nation with many ethnic and religious and sectarian and regional and tribal divisions." He would know better than us, and I haven't had time to digest that statement, let alone comment on it.

As I've noted previously, even Donald Rumsfeld has hopped on the "history counts" bandwagon, contradicting the pre-war "history is almost so far back we should ignore it" party line. He recently deigned to educate the nettlesome press corp about a little of Iraq's history that was disregarded prior to the invasion, not only by Rumsfeld's Pentagon, but also, ironically, that same liberal MSM mainstream media elitist press corp:
Let me go back to your question about sectarian violence....There has been sectarian violence in that part of the world for decades. [...]

And I would add that [the current sectarian violence] ought to be put in context. Think back. There -- I don't know whether the number's for sure 100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000 dead Iraqi people, men, women and children, filling mass graves in that country.

And so it's -- to isolate out violence today and say, "Oh, my goodness, there's violence today; isn't that different"...would be out of context, because in fact there's been incredible violence in that country for year after year after year. And that does not minimize what's taking place today, but at least it puts it in a broader context and -- one would think.
While some have rejoiced at this new, though admittedly esoteric, approach to historical scholarship, others are complaining that the "way back there" time machine of historical analysis is stuck in Iraq. And that one must also be deployed to policymakers pondering military action against Iran (via Laura Rozen):
From today's Progress Report:

IRAN -- ANALYST SAYS SOME SENIOR U.S. OFFICIALS DETERMINED TO STRIKE IRAN: "For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran," Joseph Cirincione, director for non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment, writes in Foreign Policy magazine. "In the last few weeks, I have changed my view." Cirincione says his shift was partly triggered by "colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran." The ramifications of such an attack could be disastrous. Not only would it likely "rally the Iranian public around an otherwise unpopular regime, inflame anti-American anger around the Muslim world, and jeopardize the already fragile U.S. position in Iraq"; most importantly, a military strike would "almost certainly speed up" Iran's nuclear weapons development by sparking a "crash nuclear program that could produce a bomb in a few years." (Longtime U.S. counterrorism chief Richard Clarke also spoke out yesterday against military action in Iran.) Cirincione advises that the key now is to get as much information about the status of Iran's nuclear program "on the table for an open debate."
It remains to be seen whether the Bush administration's appreciation for history can be exported to the Iranian theater in time to forestall a blunder. Either way, we can look forward to future explanations on the subject that will inform us of how uninformed we were beforehand, even those of us proven to be correct - but correct for the wrong reasons that only look like right reasons to the untrained eye stuck in a more mundane brand of immutable historical analysis.

Also of note, a curriculum was released with a listing of other ex-post facto lessons on history to be taught over the course of the next couple of decades by leading GOP figures*:

- Global Warming Is Real/Why Environmentalists Are To Blame For Inaction - How environmentalists thwarted the GOP's many plans to address global warming (Instructors: Gail Norton, Dick Cheney, Michael Crichton and James Inhofe, 4/01/15)

- It's the Blowback Stupid!: Why intense blowback from Iraq was entirely predictable and part of the flypaper strategy's phase II operations (Instructors: Paul Wolfowtiz, Dick Cheney and Donad Rumsfeld, 12/25/12)

- Torture Is Bad For Business: Why torture might actually hurt our cause in the war on terror - a shocking new theory (Instructors: Major General Geoffrey Miller, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, 11/21/09)

- Deficits Matter: Why today's deficits are dangerous to our economic health and require us to shut down Social Security and Medicare (Instructors: Dick Cheney and Grover Norquist, 12/24/14)

- Evolution Is Real: What we now know about evolution that we actually knew all along beacuse it was obvious (duh) even when we supported teaching otherwise (Instructors: Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback and Bill Frist, 6/21/19)

* (please note: Any attempt to suggest that the above referenced future history would be knowable now by any or all of the leaders mentioned above will be treated as treason, lunacy, religious persecution, sedition, scaremongering, terrorist coddling, working for the other side, elitism and/or Frenchness. Any and all references to fact or knowledge in the above curriculum should not be acted upon until after the respective dates assigned to each lecture; provided, however that the theories discussed in the courses should be treated as groundbreaking knowledge, passed down from up high, at the time of disclosure.)

(hat tip WIIIAI)

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