Thursday, October 11, 2007

Diplomatic Maxims, or Explaining Strange Looks in Class Today

So today we wrapped up our diplomatic history modules. We had to return to our maxims that we wrote a few weeks ago and rethink them. A few people were chosen to explain theirs aloud, and unsurprisingly i was one of those lucky ones. (It appears the history profs noticed that i was among the few who stayed awake the whole time!) So, here's my initial maxim that i explained today in front of about sixty shell-shocked listeners.

Promoting stability for the economic and security benefit of the United States and its citizens at home and abroad.

No idealism, no bright-eyed optimism, not even a token nod to freedom. Yeah, that went over real well, especially given that about two hours beforehand one of my classmates, an immigrant from Armenia, stood up and advocated for the bill that's working its way through Congress now.

After our discussion and reflection on the modules of history we've done, most people modified their statements, toning down some of the earlier, proscriptive elements that didn't really address safety or trade issues. Many of the original ones i heard addressed issues like America's obligation to help impoverished nations, to spread and to support freedom and democracy, and the like. i think most people did choose to keep some element of idealism but tempered it with deference to security, etc.

However, i chose not to modify my maxim. Yes, it is heartless and thoroughly lacking in idealism. But here's my reasoning for it. While i will have the chance to tweak policy in my career, i hold no illusions that i can actually shape or redirect it, or at least not for a very long time. There is simply too much inertia behind most policies for one person to change. i would rather be honest with myself from the start and try to work within the system. The alternative i see is to fight against it for years, thus getting myself edged out of the system. i certainly do have some ideals (many of which drove me to seek federal service), but following them too strictly will only cause disappointment when i have to defend a national policy i don't like. Far better to take those rose glasses off now.

i do find it amusing that i write a goal that's all about working within the system. i have well and truly become a suit, haven't i? Anyway, comment away on this. Feel free to tell me how wrong i am or to offer suggestions. We are encouraged to revisit these periodically in the future, and i probably will.


  1. Aren't you talking about two different things though...1) what you personally think U.S. policy is or should be, and 2) what the nation collectively thinks U.S. policy is or should be. As you note, one is proscriptive, one is descriptive.

    It seems pretty clear to me that U.S. foreign policy for much of the past century or so has been about encouraging economic and strategic stability conducive to our own interests as a nation.

    It may also mean that we should be a force for good in the world, spread democracy, champion human rights, etc., even if we haven't always done so and even if you don't necessarily agree with the means this administration has chosen to pursue these ends.

    I guess I don't see them as necessarily mutually exclusive. Clearly we want to promote stability and pursue our own interests...what nation doesn't? I also think that championing democracy and human rights can be consistent with those basic goals...democracies don't go to war with each other, nations with strong economic ties don't go to war with one another, nations with growing economies are more likely to develop into democracies that respect their citizens' rights...

    Now whether our current policies are consistent with or counter to those goals is another question...

  2. It goes to show that you have a supremely realistic grasp on the realities of the career that you are getting yourself into &, probably more so than a lot of your colleagues, understand what is going to require for you to be successful at it and then, in the end, you'll get to do some of the things that your personal bias tells you is correct to do. It shows that you're pretty damned smart.

    So Ha!