Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Foreign Policy Means Foreign Solutions

Via Robin Grier: a great interview with Rory Stewart. He has a lot of interesting things to say, but this paragraph jumped out at me the most:

Stewart came home when he realised that even the least-educated Afghan housewife in a mountain village knew more about the country than he did. Fluent in Dari, along with nine other languages, he'd thrown himself into the coalition mission with great conviction, but had to conclude that: "In the end, the basic problem is very, very simple. Why don't these interventions work? Because we are foreigners. If things are going wrong in a country, it's not usually that we don't have enough foreigners. It's usually that we have too many."

That encapsulates many of the criticisms I've leveled at the countless calls for U.S. policy makers to "do more" in Latin America, usually ticking off points. You don't know what you're doing and we have the answer, so just do THIS.

Ten years ago he would have listed 10 things Afghanistan needed to build a new state: rule of law, financial administration, civil administration and so on. "And, then you would say, well, how do you do that? Well, I'd say, by a mapping of internal and external stakeholders, definition of critical tasks – all this jargon talk. And I've only now just begun to realise these words are nonsense words. I mean, they have no content at all. We should be ashamed to even use them."

And then we see the U.S. government doing exactly that. There is one example I always use in class because it simply glows the paternalism that he describes, which is the Bush administration's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba from 2004. It is so detailed with specific points that it practically gets to "assisting" Cubans about how to tie their own shoes. Yet this is the model we tend to follow, even while critics call for more because we aren't doing enough.


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