Tuesday, 22 January 2013
112 Countries Is About 80 Countries Too Much

Hillary Clinton has returned to work. And her faithful staff gave her a football helmet (obliquely commenting on the need to cushion her head) and a football jersey, with the number 112 on it.

Here was the scene:

"Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides handed Clinton a box, saying, "As you know, Washington is a contact sport."

"Inside was a football helmet with a State Department seal,  lots of good padding and also a football jersey that said Clinton on the back and on the front it says #112 which symbolizes the number of countries she visited as secretary of state," Nuland said.

"She loved it.  She thought it was cool.  But then being Hillary Clinton she wanted to get right to business."

All of this frantic plane-taking, these airport greetings, the trip to the hotel, the talk with local bigshots -- it wears one down, and it also gives the allusion that one is exempt from the kind of study of a place that matters. How much, after all, can a Western diplomat learn about what is going on in the minds of his Muslim interlocutors in Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, or Libya, or Iraq, or Syria, or three or four dozen other places, by meeting them? Wouldn't it be much better to spend time studying what is in the minds of such people, by learning something, anything, about the texts and tenets of islam, and the atmospherics of Muslim lands, and the attitudes to which those texts and tenets naturally give rise?

What is to be learned by shaking hands with this or that Pakistani general or zamindar, or even engaging in an hour, or three hours, of deep "and sincere" exchanges of views? It obscures, in most cases, reality, for the blague and nonsense they offer has to be listened to politely, and in some cases it may even be taken seriously.

In 19th century Great Britain, the man who dealt most successfully (and forcefully) with foreign lands was Palmerston. And Palmerston never left England. But he read, he studied, he could not be bamboozled. American officials have been letting themselves be bamboozled, especially by Muslim leaders, for decades now. They might better study --that is read, and then think about what they have read, and allow it to sink in, allow it to fully sink in, right at home.  There's entirely too much frantic to-ing and fro-ing by all sorts of bigshots. The habit of reading, the lamplit perlustration, not all these bullet-riddled executive summaries presented to the boss for her exhausted reading as she sits on some airplane, travelling from one area of ignorance to another.

Posted on 01/22/2013 10:22 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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