The net assessment of national security requirements and its translation into grand strategy is a highly specialized field of academic study who best practitioners are currently working on or are consultants for the National Security Council and the Department of Defense.
I was kind of astounded to see Trent say this, not because I felt the attack (I have pretty thick skin and only get moderately annoyed when the guests actually puke in the punchbowl), but because it makes my argument regarding Bush’s policies for me and represents such a profound misunderstanding of what America is about that I can’t let it go unanswered.
And I get the delicious task of pointing out to Trent how parallel his thinking is to his hated French.In France, the path to power – whether in one of the administrative cadres of the Government (and then on to politics) or in one of the large corporations – is through ‘les grandes ecoles’ – the elite universities. Middle class students sweat their Bac (exams) in order to get onto a track that will give them an opportunity to get into one of these schools. Upper class kids – the ones with connections – work on their scores as well, but have their paths smoothed through parental connections. My ex-wife, for example, went to ENSAE, the aerospace/engineering school in Toulouse, while one of her sisters went to ENA (and now works for UNESCO), and another to the Paris Conservatory (their version of Julliard).
The French political system is built on ‘expertise'; it assumes that the intensive study that is required to get into one of these schools and the hard work that students do once there delivers not only a wide array of long-lasting personal connections (see the recent blown French effort to rescue Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate one of de Villipins’ former students from FARC), but a superiority of outlook and knowledge that entitles them to rule.
The results tend to be mixed, at best. The corruption at high levels in France is almost unimaginable, even to me, and I have a good imagination. The current round of Elf-Aquitaine scandals, where the corporate and government interests collude – hidden behind a veil of ‘need to know’ and ‘secret strategy’.
The consequence is a lethargic political culture in France, and an overall disengagement between the average French citizen and their government. Policy and politics are the province of ‘the smart guys’.
Sadly, I’ll suggest that those who support Bush playing Richelieu (Den Beste, Trent, and others who suggest that a hide-the-ball play is the best plan for setting our foreign policy) are acting in full accord with this worldview.
Ours is not to reason why, our is just to shut up, support Bush, pay our taxes, and send our sons and daughters.
They’re missing a few things when they suggest that.
The most important thing is actually the simplest, which is that the genius of the American system is that there certainly are experts on game theory, diplomatic history, and policy who have substantive and valuable expertise in these areas.
And they all work for guys like me. Our Congress and our President are typically business men and women, lawyers, rank amateurs when it comes to the hard games that they study so diligently at ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration). And that’s a good thing, in fact, it’s a damn good thing.
It is a good thing because the unique power of the United States comes from our willingness to diffuse power down into the ranks – to act in ways outside what a small cadre of mandarins sitting at a capital can envision.
And that diffusion of power must be accompanied by a diffusion of belief.
I’m not looking for Bush to announce the date and time of deployments, or the next step he will take in negotiating with North Korea or Syria.
But if he really wants to mobilize American power – and I think that will be required to win this war – he has to share belief and power. He has to share it with the troops; with the parents who drive their children to recruiting centers; with the taxpayers who will be watching the flag-draped coffins unload at an air base in Delaware. Because this is going to be a long haul, and we’re going to need all those people’s hearts and commitment in it for the duration.