There was an interview with John Brady Kiesling on Fresh Air last night. He is the former mid-level diplomat who wrote a letter of resignation shortly before the war in Iraq started. The interview was both interesting and depressing, though not very surprising. Kiesling thinks nation-building and democracy-establishing in Iraq will require far more money and attention than the US has any intention of bestowing on them, that the tensions between Kurds and Shiites are going to be even worse than Saddam was, that the US has thrown away the good relations with Europe that the State Department has spent years and the efforts of people like Kiesling building up, and that the US fails to realise how much it benefits from the UN.

His dissent is all the more interesting in that he is not an across-the-board anti-interventionist. In fact he was one of a group of twelve diplomats who wrote a document in 1994 urging the Clinton administration to intervene in Bosnia to prevent the genocide there. The administration in fact did listen and did change its policy, and Kiesling and the others won an award from the American Foreign Service Association for ‘constructive dissent’. He is neither a pacifist nor an ideologue, he is apprently in fact someone who learns from experience, observation, evidence and other such bits of the world around him that don’t always agree with our preconceptions or wishes. He is correspondingly unimpressed by the president who doesn’t share that ability. He was more explicit about these criticisms in an interview in Salon recently [the interview is premium content but can be read after watching a brief and not-too-revolting advert].

But what I’ve discovered from the people who’ve searched me out is that there seems to be this incredible unhappiness in the traditional American internationalist foreign policy community that the president, just out of ignorance and ideology, is taking apart what these people had built through careers…Since he is not intellectually equipped to understand why such a huge part of the world could have these negative feelings about us, he’s looking for a simple answer…a president who apparently tunes people out if they disagree beyond a certain point.

Butterflies and Wheels is all about not letting our preconceptions and wishes, our entrenched positions (as my colleague says) and even our loyalties, get in the way of our ability to notice and understand things like changing circumstances, complicating factors, evidence, competing goods. Kiesling mentions the notion that loyalty may be over-valued in this administration.

So much of the debate in the United States is not a debate over interests, but a debate over loyalty; are you loyal to the president or not? And put in those terms, the sort of pack mentality does prevail. I guess you could argue that the good of the group requires solidarity in the group, even though that solidarity leads the group to do something insanely stupid.

I have to agree. Particularly, loyalty to someone who is not intellectually equipped, who looks for simple answers, who is both ignorant and ideological (what a godawful combination), who tunes people out if they disagree with him beyond a certain point. Those may be good qualifications for some kinds of work, but they simply aren’t for the line of work Bush II had the conceit and temerity to think he was fit for.

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