Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Mind Games of Diplomacy

"Hugh Kenrick did not attach any significance to dreams. He once wrote to his mother that they were 'but the skewed, tilted, involuntary recollections of one's experiences and thoughts.' Tonight, however, he had one of his infrequent dreams, and if he had been able to remember it, he might have seen some relationship in it between its events and those of the last month."

The events of that last month, in Sparrowhawk: Book Four - Empire, were the struggles and triumph of securing passage of Patrick Henry's Stamp Act Resolves in the Virginia General Assembly in May 1765. Hugh, an ally of Henry's, had spared no effort to help secure the passage of those Resolves, which would serve, for the first time, to unite the colonies to oppose Parliamentary authority. It had been a Herculean struggle, pitting Henry and his allies against the gods of privilege, deference and complacency, whom Henry calls the "Tidewater grandees" and a "great weight of ballast."

Hugh, some days after passage of the Resolves and the dissolution of the General Assembly, and exhausted from the effort, falls asleep on a divan in the home of his friend, Jack Frake. In his dream, he first imagines that, browsing through the used bookstalls in London, he discovers a lost play by Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Henry the Second, about the conflict between King Henry and Thomas á Becket. He sees it being performed by London's leading actors.

"Then, with unaccountable abruptness, the stage figures merged, and Hugh imagined himself, at times with Patrick Henry, and, oddly enough at times, with an older Thomas Jefferson [at the time, a law student, and with whom Hugh has struck up an acquaintance], delivering speeches on liberty to a malodorous assembly of men of Becket's time. Somehow, he knew that his scruffy audience understood every word he spoke, but also that what he was saying was unintelligible to every man in it. The serfs, the knights, the tradesmen, the princes all gaped up at him with cows' and sheep's eyes. He was standing on a dais with Patrick Henry and Jefferson, and turned to them to remark, 'We may as well be speaking Dutch, or Algonquian, or court German, sirs. Ought we to go on, before they take us for sorcerers, and burn us at the stake?'"

Contributing to Hugh's dream, by way of his subconscious, was his memory of the opposition to Henry's Resolves by men in the General Assembly who knew that Henry was right but were fearful of Crown authority and the punishment it could impose. The Tidewater grandees refused to acknowledge the reality of their dilemma. The political leadership of that era was proof against reason, and was eventually displaced by men who adhered to reason. Understanding it helped me to grasp why own political leadership is proof against reason and reality.

I often think we are faced with the same conundrum, speaking reason to those who can read, write and think, but to no effect. We see no consequences, no concessions to reason, no admission of fault. Unreason and illogic seem to move of their own power toward certain tragedy with a hubris oblivious to reality.

If one could corner someone like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and explain to her why her and President Bush's Mideast policy can only guarantee disaster for Israel and the U.S., and that the best way to secure "peace" in that region is to defeat the Islamists of all suasions, and to such a thoroughly humbling degree that neither they nor their creed could ever recover to challenge, and then threaten, Western civilization.

Could we reasonably expect her to agree? No. And she wouldn't. Given her record, and the long, sorry record of our foreign policy's repeated attempts to reconcile good with evil, which she hopes to make work this time, one should be one hundred and ten percent certain that one would be rebuffed and dismissed, with a parting caution by her not to meddle in the rarefied realms of foreign policymaking and implementation, to leave peace-making to the professionals and the initiated.

The truth is that modern foreign policymaking is founded on the same non-causal mysticism as alchemy and astrology, and is on the same level of illogic, fantasizing and wishing. Well, the policymakers must think, the stars are in the right positions, so that, if we mix the right base metals with the right precious ones, the stars will exert an ineffable influence and produce peace and amity.

Search long and hard, you will find no better premises in especially American foreign policymaking to date.

The main premise is: Evil, such as Hezbollah, is open to reason. It can be persuaded of the "evil" of its own evil and lured to coexist with the good. If evil would deign to agree to a mutual compromise of ends with the good, all its past butchery and destruction can be forgiven.

Conversely, if Israel can be persuaded that the "aspirations" of the Palestinians, Syria, and Iran are no less or more legitimate than Israel's wish to exist unmolested, then peace and amity in the Middle East are feasible ends and a compromise can be worked out that will satisfy all conflicting parties. After all, goes the thinking, good and evil are merely relative terms, and there is no reason to become fixated on absolutes.

What can account for this absurdity? The philosophical fallacy identified by Ayn Rand as the primacy of consciousness (as opposed to the primacy of existence), that is, the premise that mind moulds reality. Our foreign policy, inculcated in university graduates in foreign relations studies, goes something like this: If those responsible for evil acts, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the IRA, Al-Quada, etc., can be persuaded that their perception of reality is wrong -- for example, that Israel's wish to exist is no less or more legitimate than Hezbollah's wish to exterminate Jews-- then they can be brought into the camp of the "reasonable" and "practical" and a "deal" can be struck.

To borrow a line from the film, Cool Hand Luke, good and evil need only "get their minds right," and all will be well. Diplomacy, or the wizardry of adjusting reality to the exigencies of peace, can work wonders.

All these mental gymnastics wiggle around the fact that evil is evil, intent on achieving its purpose, which is destruction, which it will achieve, unless it is stopped and eradicated. But recognizing that evil is evil, that it is anti-reason and anti-life, requires a moral judgment. This is something our policymakers have refused to make.

Note Bush's pretence that if he does not talk directly with Hezbollah, he cannot be accused (or, in modern jargon, "perceived") as dealing with evil, thus keeping his promise that his administration would never consciously recognize the terrorist organization. Instead, he has pursued "peace" through third parties and the United Nations, first turning to the U.N. as a moral touchstone with the authority to sanction action (just as he did with Iraq).

Now, seeing that the U.N.'s "moral authority" carries little weight with Hezbollah, which has shown nothing but contempt for U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon and which continues to regroup and rearm itself while a ragtag force of "buffer zone" enforcers is assembled, Bush wants the U.N. to pass another resolution that will empower U.N. forces to disarm Hezbollah. Disarming killers will somehow transform them into non-killers. It is blaming guns and rockets for aggression, not the men who use them. If the killers do not have weapons, they cannot do "violence" and will turn to "democratic" processes to achieve their ends. (It "worked" in Iraq, didn't it?)

Which, of course, would mean Hezbollah's complete takeover of Lebanon's government. After all, Lebanon's president has already called Hezbollah his country's "militia" -- why not make it official? -- and said that he does not plan to disarm it. And the U.N. would be reluctant to empower its forces to attempt to disarm Hezbollah without risking their being cut to pieces by a force more formidable than the U.N.'s (since when has a U.N. force ever achieved a military victory?). The situation in the Mideast can only progress to a more complicated, intractable mess, unless Israel reasserts its right of self-defense and thumbs its nose at the U.N., just as Hezbollah has, and pursues its original purpose, to destroy Hezbollah, instead of agreeing to a truce with it.

So, the evil will remain, and our policymakers will huddle again to try to figure out why their wizardry has not worked. Reality will always out, no matter how often and how magically it is denied. Our policymakers are a new species of "Tidewater grandees," and hopefully they will be replaced by men of reason before it is too late and we and Israel are burned at the stake.

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