Thursday, November 03, 2005

Next word


It means "Re-creating one of America's greatest follies after first dubbing America "The Great Satan." And it has to be capitalized like that. I made it up, I make the rules.

I thought it up after reading this piece in the Post this morning about how it looks like Iran is shaking up its foreign policy establishment to reflect the more *ahem* conservative views of its newly elected president. Granted, almost every president--of companies or countries--have a way of putting people they trust in key places. But I'm worried that Iran's move is a little bit closer to what happened during the 50s under McCarthysim and HUAC.

Ignoring for a moment the civil rights and first-amendment rights these politico-religious crusades trampled, there is a more fundamental issue at stake, and one that transfers more easily to the Iranian system where there isn't the same level of protection for activities like speech.

When McCarthy, and his open-minded brethren launched into "de-communisting" America, they did some substantial, long-term damage to the American Foreign Policy Community. Nearly everyone with experience in Asia was canned. Why did MacArthur over-reach in Korea? Why didn't any top-level decision makers at State or Defense have a better sense of Ho Chi Minh's nationalist movement? Why did it take almost 15 years after the beginning of the Sino-Soviet Schism for American leadership to recognize there were cleavages needing to be capitalized?

Answer: Because all of the people who should have been advising decision-makers in the early and mid-50s were being pushed out. The people filling in behind them, those who should have been mid- and senior-level by the mid-60s were pushed out a few years later by McCarthy and his way of thinking. It left an ENORMOUS experience and knowledge vaccuum in offices that analyzed intelligence and set policy for some of the most important regions of American Foreign Policy.

What does this have to do with Iran today? I'm hoping nothing, but fear much. The announcement that 40 of Iran's most senior diplomats are being pulled out, likely because they aren't sufficiently ideological for the new president, sends shivers down my spine for Iran's relations with the West over the next 20 years. It's also unlikely to be just the Ambassadors who leave; it will be their staffers, and the junior people in the embassies who have come to respect and admire their superiors. Especially if those who replace the outgoing amabassadors are harsh, hard to work for, or generally disagreeable.

Look at it this way: you work for the foreign ministry (and any country could be substituted here, it's a very similar cut of cloth around the world). You're pretty good at your job, and you know it. How do you know it? Because you're working in Washington, London, Paris, or Tokyo. Places where the FM isn't likely to send wet-behind the ear types, nor people who are just coat-tail riders. In addition to Farsi, English, and French, you've probably got two or three more languages at your disposal. Having been in the job for at least 5 or 6 years, you've had a chance to build up contacts all over the world, in government, business, you name it.

Now you have the option to work for an ideological boss who may be harsh, may curtail the way you interact with others in your host country, may cut you out of significant work you'd been doing, all sorts of maybes. Do you put up with being jerked around for 4 or 6 or 8 years, hoping the next election will bring someone who understands foreign policy back to your presidency, or do you jump ship? Work for a multinational, start your own business, anything like that where you can make a lot more money and have a lot less headaches?

Let me tell you, FM types aren't usually going to sit around waiting for something better to come along. They tend to be the most well-educated, well connected, often elitist group on the planet. 80% of them aren't going to be willing to be jerked around when there are significantly better opportunities around.

And this is what I fear for Iran. That it will lose an unbelievable number of very experienced, talented, and savvy personnel. This will lead to a decrease in understanding between Iran and the West--something already in short supply--and will lead both sides to make considerable miscalculations about things that can afford no error. Things like, I don't know...nuclear weapons?

Let's hope Iran doesn't go down McCarthy road. I'm just worried it's running out of side-streets before it hits the expressway.

1 comment:

rambling barrister said...

By the same token, this event may be what causes a reactionary effect in the country down the road. I'm thinking of the cyclical nature of conservative times following progressive times and vice versa; tht this period will be necessary in Iran for real progression to occur.

I echo your worry though: will these actions hurt Iran and its people so much in the short term that the long term is required to recover from it?

My guess: this is an effort to show the progressives in Iran who's boss. It's the paper tiger move that the government will slowly renege on. It'll have only short-term political effect and long-term propaganda effect.

IMO, this emboldens the resistance in Iraq.