Wednesday, August 18, 2010

political narcissism

I have long been troubled by the tendency of policymakers and analysts to infer causation in international relations when the evidence is weak or missing altogether. When an American official makes a statement and a foreign government subsequently acts, that action is almost always taken as a response to the U.S. statement. More likely, it was a choice derived from multiple actors and aimed at multiple audiences. Reporters and officials certainly see the actions of the Afghan and Pakistani leadership as responding to us, when the foreign leaders are probably trying to cope with multiple pressures, only one of which is the US government.

We see history the same misleading way. The Korean war is seen as a communist challenge to the United States, probably encouraged by official statements about the American "defense perimeter" not including Korea. I'm now ready to see it as the June, 1950 stop on a train that went through Japanese colonization and fighting Japan in World War II and then trying to build nations on either side of the 38th parallel. The precise role of American actions and other events is murky.

Ray Takeyh makes a similar point today regarding the Iranian coup of 1953 that ousted Prime Minister Mossadeq. I had previously believed the CIA claims that it engineered the coup in order in install a more pliant Shah. Takeyh says that in fact the US coup attempt failed, but the change in government owes more to the religious leaders than to the Americans.

I'm not trying to rewrite history. But I do believe that we need to take off our narcissistic blinders and see overseas developments in their own context and not just in our own.

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