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A kind reader sent this comment:
… while following the Holbrooke trail on your site I stumbled upon MARS, VENUS AND EXTREMISM … imho a brilliant disentangling of issues as alive today as when you gave the address. Should be framed
This prompted me to re-read it – it’s a speech I gave in Stuttgart in 2004 to a large group of stolid but liberal Germans who seemed to find it too tough meat for their delicate Euro-tastebuds.
Check it out. If I were doing it again I’d slash it back by some 20%. Plus it has nothing to say about the rise of China/India and Western ‘decline’ – amazing how the debate has changed in in only some 330 weeks.
But it does have some powerful lines about foreign policy principles and process, if I say so myself:
Stereotypes are all about simplification. The trouble with simplification is that things are complicated. The trouble with things being complicated is that we need to simplify them…
Kagan argues that because the US and Europe have different options, they think differently.
“A man armed only with a knife may decide that a bear left prowling the forest is a tolerable danger … hunting the bear with a knife is riskier than lying low and hoping the bear never attacks. The same man armed with a rifle will make a different calculation of a tolerable risk.”
He’s right. Washington has different practical options for addressing global issues. It shows in their confidence. If they see a problem they want to fix it. They think they can fix it. They deploy money and people fast to do it.
… Going back to Kagan’s bear, the metaphor like the bear can run in different directions. A man with a rifle is well armed. But that does not make him any smarter. Hunters with only a knife creeping through the forest see things from closer range. They may notice that shooting the bear from a distance will stir up the nearby hornets nests.
Europeans live closer to the Middle East hornets nest than the Americans. We say we have special insights. We argue the need to proceed carefully.
We may even be right. But being right is not the same as being effective. Plus sometimes bears eat hunters.
… A few people armed with AK 47s or a hijacked jumbo jet can murder hundreds of people or cause incredibly costly disruption and panic. We need to mobilise moderate people round the planet against these extremists. But moderates are not going to be stronger or more intelligent than we are.
The planet’s masses are not stupid. They know that the West means democracy, cool gadgets and higher living standards. They may well accept Western and US leadership if it is explained in a fair-minded way. But they can’t be pushed around any more. Policies which are contradictory or unfair or done badly aren’t convincing.
Wisdom is all about keeping perspective. Policies which are unpopular today may be wise and far-sighted when seen over a ten or twenty year period.
Millions of Europeans and Americans alike thought that President Reagan’s call for Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’ was a dangerous provocation. But his firmness of purpose matched by a readiness to talk helped bring about extraordinary things. Such as the unification of your country.
And our policies must be Done Well. No scandals. No abuses. Careful planning.
But let’s also remember that even a policy which in important respects is not Done Well may well be better than doing nothing at all, saying that it is all too complicated, leaving problems to get worse and worse – but complaining when someone else does try to do something.
… My message to Mars: Being strong is not the same as being right. My message to Venus: Being right is not much use if you can’t do anything.
I think the word is teamwork.
Some of the time we live on Mars, some of the time on Venus. Most of the time we live between Mars and Venus, namely here on Earth. A planet where things are getting complicated but have to be explained in 18 second sound-bites. Where free societies which depend on each other need to work together on what really matters.