Sunday, January 22, 2012

Barry Rubin: Why Contemporary Western Elites Don’t Understand the World and Why Their Foreign Policies Fail

By Barry Rubin

One of the benefits of spending much of my time talking to people from around the world is getting an original, fresh perspective on the United States, its policies, politics, and political culture.

Recently, I had a discussion with a brilliant academic who had grown up in a Communist country, has spent a lot of time in the United States, and studies this kind of thing. To explain how the U.S. conception of the world is shaped, he used the phrase, “engineering mentality.”

The “engineering mentality” is one of the main factors in America’s brilliant success. I take it to mean that one approaches problems with a can-do (another American phrase) style. One rules out extraneous, distracting cultural and historical factors in order to figure out a practical way to fix things. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! Construct buildings, roads, and bridges; invent new products; revolutionize production methods. Don’t be intimidated by the traditional; don’t be afraid of change; just because it has never been done before doesn’t mean it cannot be done now. Forget about ideology or preconceived notions. Just get the job done as quickly, cheaply, and efficiently as possible.

Such energetic and fearless pragmatism conquered a continent, industrialized an agrarian nation, and won wars. A century ago it allowed America to turn disparate ethnic and religious groups into a single nation. In recent decades with remarkably little violence or disruption it broke down long-prevalent racial, gender, and other barriers.

In the face of all of these achievements, the currently prevalent view that America has a shameful history and is a failed society is ridiculous, notwithstanding past shortcomings.

But how does this “engineering” approach deal with the outside world? Not so well.

Continue reading Why Contemporary Western Elites Don’t Understand the World and Why Their Foreign Policies Fail
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, to be published by Yale University Press in January 2012. You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reportsand now on his new blog, Rubin Reports, on Pajamas Media

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