On June 19th, 2014, guest columnist Roger Cohen penned an article in the NYT called The Diplomacy of Force (see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/opinion/cohen-the-diplomacy-of-force.html?_r=0 ). It is about as solid and clearheaded an analysis as I have seen from a traditional perspective about how power works, and why American diplomacy and use of force is off track. Cohen’s article is so good that I hesitate to attempt a summary. But in short he argues that by insisting on waging diplomacy without the force to change the balance of power, President Obama has violated a fundamental principal of statecraft. If you don’t bring a big stick to the negotiating table, bad people refuse to be reasonable. It is a great point.
But it is also wrong -- or maybe more accurately, inadequate -- for the same reason that all the major theories of diplomacy since WW II have recently come a cropper. They failed to properly account for the nature of man.
They either assumed that man is RATIONAL (the central theory is called Realism) and will make a rational analysis of the balance of power.
Or that man is REASONABLE, (the Yen to Realism’s Yang is called Liberalism) and doesn't really want war and destruction, if we could just get rid of bad leaders and the bad ideas they teach.
These approaches are both mistaken. Men -- all men -- have some really bad ideas of their own. Some of those bad ideas are really attractive -- even contagious. Pretending that bad ideas always bow in the face of superior power is dangerously wrong. Pretending that men will let go of bad ideas if power is shared is just as dangerously wrong.
And these two concepts are at the core of pretty much every military, diplomatic and economic theory, strategy and policy in the West today.
The seed of this failure does not reside in democrats or republicans, or even the foreign policy elite. Nor even with the bureaucrats who seem to be spinning out of control all on their own. They are just adapting the theories that best serve their own interests. The seed of failure lies with the priesthood that has generated those ideas, and preaches them to the masses and the acolytes alike. And that is the tenured professorial class. The worse their theories have performed, the more sacrifice they have demanded to the false gods of equality, diversity, and universality. But somehow these offerings don't seem to appease our opponents, or get them to the negotiating table, with either threats or promises.
So nice try Roger Cohen. Very solid reasoning from a traditional perspective. But dangerously inadequate. Shifting the balance of power against the ISIS while empowering the Shia lunatics who oppose them is not the solution. At this point, bad theories generated by academic theorists have backed us into a terrible corner. Nothing short of actually understanding the nature of our enemies is likely to help us get out.