Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Future Do We Want?

Political forces in the huge region from Afghanistan to Somalia appear to be moving toward confrontation (e.g., the Lebanese civil war, the Ethiopian-Eritrean border conflict). Problems fester unresolved, indeed frequently unaddressed, even unacknowledged. Both elite and popular frustrations seem to be growing. It is difficult to find evidence that would suggest that things will improve over the next few years. The region seems to be moving deeper and deeper into an historical era characterized by confrontation rather than consultation, anger rather than empathy, the intentional disregard of opportunities for cooperation, the exploitation if not the manufacturing of excuses for hostility.

The longer such trends exist, the more momentum they acquire. The more accustomed people become to extreme positions, the more they think their positions are reasonable and the less willing they become to listen to reason. Behavior that yesterday might have been just rude may tomorrow come to be seen as justification for war. Increasingly, those desiring to make trouble find opportunities, those desiring peace are accused of “treason.”

It’s time to do some hard thinking about the long-range implications of our behavior.

1 comment:

P.R. Kelley said...

It's a most opportune time for that hard thinking you reference. Lately, I've wondered why we don't require our presidential candidates to show us their capacity for this kind of thoughtful analysis. Imagine that in lieu of the strictly timed debate formats that only allow for recycled talking points, even if they are nonresponsive to the questions posed, we were able to watch or listen to 90-minutes of a well-led discussion on foreign policy -- just foreign policy -- between the presidential candidates before the general election.

Imagine how illuminating it would be to listen as the candidates thought through a complex question, and then adapted their answers as the relationships between questions became clear -- if they identified such relationships. For example, I think it would be great if (fast forward) Jim Lehrer asked the Republican nominee, "Do you contend, sir, that the vast region from Afghanistan to Somalia seems to be moving deeper into an historical era characterized by confrontation rather than cooperation?" Followed by a question to the Democratic nominee, "What risks are likely to arise if we fail to identify the trends that are gaining momentum in places like Lebanon, Somalia and the Eritrean-Ethiopian border?" Imagine a debate when the answer of one acts as a ratchet; it forms the factual predicate for the next question presented.

I agree that we should all be doing some hard thinking about the long-range implications of our behavior. But those with political power are in the position to act, and do -- whether they're thinking about the long-range implications or not. To obtain the future we intend to have, rather than the one that unfolds unimagined, we also have to do some hard thinking about how we interview the applicants for our most important leadership roles.