Ideas Matter

If you insult your neighbor or anger him by not returning the borrowed lawnmower in a timely fashion, you can probably smooth things over with an apology and maybe a dinner date. If someone at work is angry at you for no apparent reason, you can probably repair the relationship by talking it out over coffee or lunch.

Our common social difficulties are mistakes or misunderstandings between people with, generally, a common interest in good will. Even people who absolutely hate each other are able to work toward a common goal if it is compelling enough.

But what if your adversary wants to see you dead? And what if the source of his hatred is your skin color, your religion, your ethnicity? What if your adversary is raised in a culture that teaches him that your family members are, somehow, devils who have, in some way, maybe long forgotten, crossed his family? Or what if your adversary is a foreign army bent on conquest?

In those instances, does it make sense to apologize, to offer a dinner date or a bouquet of flowers and expect peace? What would make a large number of Americans, particularly those in government, think these pacifist tactics will work in the case of international conflicts?

Specifically, what explains the approach taken by the Obama Administration of apologizing to some foreign heads of state for alleged past wrongs, but insulting others, for instance, by returning a bust of Churchill to Great Britain or snubbing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu? If our foreign policy is to be nice, why not be nice to everyone, particularly our traditional and long-time allies?

What explains the Administration ignoring the Iranian public uprising months ago but embracing the Egyptian and Libyan “Arab Spring?” Moreover, did the Administration ignore warnings from a local Libyan security official three days before the attack? Why wasn’t security enhanced in any case considering the anniversary of 9/11 was approaching? Did the Administration forbid Marines guarding the Egyptian embassy from carrying live ammunition? The Administration denies that. But the denial doesn’t mention ammunition, just weapons.

What would explain these, apparently, destructive policies? Are the officials simply naive? If so, then why snub the Israeli Prime Minister? Only one hypothesis seems to fit. These are the policies of people who are uncertain of America’s goodness. It’s possible they they may even consider her culpable in some international crime. This is also the thesis of the new documentary by Dinesh D’Souza, Obama’s America, 2016 to explain Obama’s attitude.

But, in any case, ideas matter. One’s ideology and one’s worldview serve to explain events and motivate action in a consistent way. But the wrong ideology will result in the wrong explanations and, therefore, the wrong actions.

Everyone has an ideology, or at least some shred of an ideology. It may be fractured or inconsistent but even the person who calls himself a pragmatist is echoing ideas from a school of thought.

If your worldview includes the idea that your country is a force for good in the world you react to current events much differently than if you view your country as a force for evil. If your view is that all business is corrupt and success is achieved by preying on the weak you will have a very different policy prescription than if you believe a business can only succeed through cooperation and satisfied customers. If you are a follower of Keynes you will have a different economic prescription than if you are a follower of Hayak. And, if you believe in collectivism you will advocate for a very different society than if you believe in individualism.

Hat tip to Breitbart for reminding me of this election year interview by Obama in 2007:

The story of the attacks on our Embassies is beginning to gel. The claim that the violence is due to a YouTube movie is looking more and more like a red herring meant to cover up what some consider incompetence but what is really a matter of failed ideas.

 

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