The evenings have begun to grow cooler now, as the arrival of fall is imminent. The false optimism once associated with the much-touted “Arab Spring” in the Middle East has given way to more realistic appraisals as the true nature of various “freedom fighters” is becoming abundantly apparent. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Are these delineations realistic in any sense when applied to the melee that is the Middle East, and particularly Syria? Can we intelligently employ broad brush categorizations to such astoundingly diverse cultures, ethnicities, and religions all residing within the national boundaries of Syria (or almost any Middle Eastern country for that matter) when we devise foreign policy? Colder weather seems on the horizon if we continue to manage our international affairs along such vastly oversimplified lines.
President Vladimir Putin revealed in his recent letter to the New York Times an apparent depth of understanding of tactics employed by Middle Easterners in their armed conflicts that is vastly more profound than anyone in the U.S. government has demonstrated to date. He is tough, experienced, savvy and highly intelligent. Can anyone realistically confer those attributes upon our own president?
Experience leads to rational decision-making, discipline, and humility and there is no substitute for it. I would never have been able to excel in a position at the Defense Intelligence Agency many years ago without my having spent two years as the intelligence officer at a Marine Corps infantry battalion. In my medical career, there were certain operations that I would not have attempted alone right out of residency. I sought more experienced hands to guide me through and to help insure that I performed the surgery in the safest possible way. Now that I have ten years and more than two-thousand cases under my belt, I am a much better judge of my own capabilities and limitations. The most important guiding principle in all of my professional endeavors–medical or otherwise–has always been that the greatest measure of experience, judgement, and intellect in any professional situation is a comprehensive understanding of one’s own limitations. The bloated egos and outrageous presumptuousness of our president, his cabinet, and our congress is leading us down a dangerous and difficult road. Have we not seen enough of the influence-peddling, bestowal of status, and repayment of political favors with important appointments? It certainly has paid poor dividends in terms of our nation’s ability to field a coherent, meaningful, and respected foreign policy. Perhaps the most feared label one person can confer upon another should be “wunderkind.”
What of the Arab Spring? From where I sit, the term “Arab Spring” is insulting, demeaning, and fraught with bigotry in that it implies that all persons of Arabic descent are trapped in a cold winter of demoralizing, despotic tyranny dictated by their heretofore untenable culture but are, thanks to the West, slowly clawing their way up out of the mud of their ignorance toward the glow of Western democratic governance so as to bask in its warm sunlight. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The so-called “Arab Spring” is a drive to establish state systems of greater repression through religious autocracy. The term was created solely as a means of self-justification for armies of incompetent American diplomats up to and including a recently-retired Secretary of State who revealed their true dogmatic narrow-mindedness by this utterly ridiculous, cooked-up label. How many hours were spent in comfortable Department of State conference rooms with steaming cups of Starbucks coffee to come up with such a nice-sounding description of terrifying events? All of which served principally to give the appearance that this was just part of our well-planned and executed foreign policy–like the kid who rides his bike into a curb and flies over the handlebars then jumps to his feet declaring victoriously, “I meant to do that!” Just as the president and his armies of sycophantic apologists and worshippers have recently been doing to cover his being upstaged and outmaneuvered by President Putin. It is just another opportunity for a political victory in the face of strategic defeat: turning the sour lemons of failure into the sweet lemonade of success in a shameless attempt to recast the appalling reality of a confused, unfocused foreign policy in shambles into a well-thought-out, brilliant series of feints and maneuvers that put us into exactly the position that we knew they would all along. Our national command authority is a sham of competence and statesmanship.
The unfortunate phraseology, “Arab Spring,” also reveals the profound ignorance of American planners and politicians in that it completely ignores the extraordinary cultural and ethnic diversity of the peoples of the Middle East and lumps them all into the narrow-minded, cliched category of “Arab.” Will we never learn? It is astounding to me that, given so many failures to win the hearts and minds of distant cultures often radically different than our own, we still cling to the arrogant premise that our way is best. It is best for us, not for everyone else. Do we not yet understand that global dominance is neither a plausible nor even a desirable goal?
Our foreign policy of late appears to be using a simple-minded, cookie-cutter approach which inevitably fails to take into account the culture of the nation subjected to our heavy-handedness. The great neurosurgeon Henry Garretson often remarked to me during my training, “Never use the cookie-cutter approach to patients or operative cases–every situation in neurosurgery is unique.” This wisdom could not be more correct when applied to vastly diverse professional endeavors–including foreign policy and diplomacy. One of my own internal rules for making operative decisions is that restraint is often the best form of patient advocacy. This maxim, now more than ever, should hold sway over the bombastic, poorly-informed, and self-righteous elected officials before they allow their egos and desperate need to step into the limelight–even while playing video poker–to take us and the innocent people of Syria down the short road to disaster.
Yes, it seems fall has arrived and spring is long gone. And, if we don’t butt out of the affairs of Syria and the peoples of the Middle East, winter will be upon us before we know it.