Why american prep-school diplomats fail against Putin and ISIS

This article appeared in the New York Post on March 15, 2015.

kerryputin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

It’s Brooks Brothers vs. barbarians. Photo: (Left) EPA, (right) Getty Images

Why do our “best and brightest” fail when faced with a man like Putin? Or with charismatic fanatics? Or Iranian negotiators? Why do they misread our enemies so consistently, from Hitler and Stalin to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph?

The answer is straightforward:

Social insularity: Our leaders know fellow insiders around the world; our enemies know everyone else.

The mandarin’s distaste for physicality: We are led through blood-smeared times by those who’ve never suffered a bloody nose.

And last but not least, bad educations in our very best schools: Our leadership has been educated in chaste political theory, while our enemies know, firsthand, the stuff of life.

Above all, there is arrogance based upon privilege. For revolving-door leaders in the U.S. and Europe, if you didn’t go to the right prep school and elite university, you couldn’t possibly be capable of comprehending, let alone changing, the world. It’s the old social “Not our kind, dahhhling…” attitude transferred to government.

That educational insularity is corrosive and potentially catastrophic: Our “best” universities prepare students to sustain the current system, instilling vague hopes of managing petty reforms.

People stand at the museum of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as they mark the 62th anniversary of his death.Photo: EPA

But dramatic, revolutionary change in geopolitics never comes from insiders. It’s the outsiders who change the world. In the 21st century, our government suffers from the sclerosis of insider thinking that constantly reinforces itself and rejects conflicting evidence. The result is that we are being whipped by savages.

Of course, the insiders can’t accept so abhorrent a prospect as their own fallibility. So when new blood does enter — through those same “elite” institutions — it’s channeled into the same old calcium-clogged arteries. And we get generals with Ivy League Ph.D.s writing military doctrine that adheres cringingly to politically correct truisms and leaves out the very factors, such as the power of religion or ethnic hatred, that prove decisive. Or a usually astute commentator on Eastern European affairs who dismisses Vladimir Putin as a mere chinovnik, a petty bureaucrat, since Putin was only a lieutenant colonel in the KGB when the Soviet Union collapsed and didn’t go to a Swiss prep school like John Kerry.

That analyst overlooked the fact that Hitler had been a mere lance corporal. Stalin was a failed seminarian. Lenin was a destitute syphilitic. Ho Chi Minh washed dishes in the basement of a Paris Hotel. And when the French Revolution erupted, Napoleon was a junior artillery officer.

And sophisticated Germans assumed they could use Hitler and then dismiss him, while other Europeans mocked him. Stalin’s fellow Bolsheviks underestimated him, until it was too late and their fates were sealed. The French didn’t notice Ho. And Napoleon shocked even his own lethargic family. The “man on horseback” is often the man from nowhere, and the members of the club ignore the torches in the streets until the club burns down around them.

Dramatic, revolutionary change in geopolitics never comes from insiders. It’s the outsiders who change the world.

Put another way: We are led by men and women educated to believe in the irresistible authority of their own words. When they encounter others who use words solely to deflect and defraud, or, worse, when their opposite numbers ignore words completely and revel in ferocious violence, our best and brightest go into an intellectual stall and keep repeating the same empty phrases (in increasingly tortured tones):

“Violence never solves anything.” “There’s no military solution.” “War is never the answer.” “Only a negotiated solution can resolve this crisis.” “It isn’t about religion.”

Or the latest and lamest: “We need to have strategic patience,” and “Terrorists need jobs.”

Every one of those statements is, demonstrably, nonsense most — or all — of the time. But the end result of very expensive educations is a Manchurian Candidate effect that kicks in whenever the core convictions of the old regime are questioned. So we find ourselves with leaders who would rather defend platitudes than defend their country.

And negotiations become the opium of the chattering classes.

Once-great universities have turned into political indoctrination centers worthy of the high Stalinist Era or the age of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Their aims may be more benign, but their unwillingness to consider alternative worldviews is every bit as rigid. Students in the social sciences at Harvard or Yale today are cadets being groomed to serve a soft-Socialist form of government conceived not in the streets, but in the very same classrooms. It’s a self-licking ice-cream cone. And graduates leave campus brilliantly prepared for everything except reality.

Russia's President Putin chairs a meeting with government members at the Kremlin in Moscow

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with government members at the Kremlin in Moscow, May 28, 2014.Photo: Reuters

This is not an argument against education. Rather, it is an argument for education and against indoctrination, against the fantasy that the barbarian with the knife bashing in the door poses no danger to the career government official who has published a book on “the false construct of race and its deleterious impact upon climate change.”

Putin, that “petty bureaucrat,” has won every significant confrontation with the West, conquering foreign territory and humiliating presidents. Iran’s negotiators have outmaneuvered their Western interlocutors so spectacularly that they really don’t need Obama’s deal, having gotten most of what they needed: time and partial sanctions relief. And the Islamic State has confounded not only our elite’s prejudices about how the world should work, but demolished their platitudinous nonsense that “All men want peace.”

In fact, some men delight in inflicting grotesque forms of violence on others.

We face a new age of barbarism. And we’re led by those whose notion of violence is a rugby game at Princeton, who won’t let their children play unattended but deny the murderous impulses haunting humanity. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that the lack of a prep-school background and a Brooks Brothers charge account doesn’t mean that a thug with slovenly manners can’t change the world.

In 2014, The American Foreign Service Association asked the Obama administration to “raise the bar” on qualifications for diplomatic nominees, which shouldn’t be hard considering how low the bar has been set.

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U.S. President Barack Obama

 

The union representing America’s Foreign Service professionals has a novel idea — diplomatic nominees should have international experience and probably know a thing or two about the host country where they’re being assigned.

The recommendations were part of proposed diplomatic job qualifications put out Tuesday by the American Foreign Service Association, in a bid to increase pressure on the administration to raise the bar on the quality of its ambassadorial picks. The guidelines come after a string of rocky confirmation hearings for a few of President Obama’s diplomatic nominees, and amid heightened scrutiny of the time-honored presidential practice of selecting political donors and friends for these high-profile posts.

“It is essential … that ambassadors chosen to represent the president and lead our diplomatic missions possess the attributes, experience and skills to do so successfully,” the group said in its report published Tuesday.

Although the White House won’t confirm or deny whether big Obama campaign fundraisers are getting cushy diplomatic nominations, the evidence shows President Obama is paying his buddies back for their work to secure his re-election in 2012 (Obama also did the same after the 2008 election). At least three of President Obama’s latest ambassador nominees either know nothing about the country they are going to be working with or they’ve never visited the country they’ll be working with. A reminder of who Obama’s buddies are:

Throughout the course of President Obama’s tenure in the White House, we’ve seen major campaign donors coincidentally appointed to fill open ambassador seats, regardless of whether a donor has any knowledge or clue about the country they’re being tapped to work with.

Take for example George James Tsunis, a big Obama campaign bundler appointed to be the U.S. Ambassador to Norway who knows nothing about Norway. American Foreign Service Association

Obama Donor Picked for Norwegian Ambassador Blows Basic Facts on Norway

 

 

Or how about Colleen Bell, who embarrassed herself during a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill after blowing basic questions about Hungary.

As Henri Barkey at the Washington Post relates, Bell – whose resume, aside from handling big wads of cash for Barack Obama’s political campaign, includes producing TV soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” – couldn’t answer basic questions about American strategic interests in Hungary, a NATO and EU member going through some troubling political crises at the moment.

Noah Mamet, who helped secure half a million dollars for Obama’s re-election, has been tapped to be the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina. Mamet has never been to Argentina.

The requirement of knowing basic facts about a country before becoming an ambassador seems like a joke, but in these cases the bar needs to be raised to that simple level of qualification because the bar isn’t even off the ground.

And no, this isn’t the first time the Foreign Service has expressed frustration with Obama’s political favors to friends through ambassadorships.

Despite promises to change how Washington works, Obama has actually perfected the game of giving political allies and donors key ambassadorships in countries like England, France, Japan, Spain, Finland, and Australia. And in the eyes of foreign service association, he’s become the worst abuser, putting political allies in 44 percent of the top 185 ambassadorial positions. By comparison, 30 percent of George W. Bush’s ambassadors were political appointees and 28 percent of Bill Clinton’s political allies and donors.

The American Foreign Service Association said in its new statement on ambassador appointments, “The appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America’s important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades. Over this period 85 percent of ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and nearly 60 percent of appointments to a wider group of emerging global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been political.

 

Obama being worse than his predecessors when he promised he wouldn’t be? Nobody is surprised and it’s no wonder our foreign policy is such a disaster. President Obama wasn’t qualified to be the President of the United States and still made it, twice, why would he think his diplomatic nominees should be held to any different standard?

 

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