In the introduction to their book The Silence of the
Rational Center, authors Halper and Clarke assert that American foreign policy
has recently been largely unsuccessful. They identify three elements as being
inherent flaws in the contemporary foreign policy decision-making process,
producing irrational and impulsive policy-so-called “Big Ideas,” the
24/7 cable news cycle, and the silence of what they call the “rational
center,” the analysts, scholars, and professionals with thorough foreign
policy expertise.The first element or elements, Big Ideas are described by
Halper as being “rhetorical devices” which typically boil complex
foreign policy issues down to an overly simplified, few-word, dichotimic
phrase. One example is “Axis of Evil,” a phrase which originated in a
speech made by George W. Bush and used to describe foreign governments which
supposedly sponsored terrorist organizations. The phrase lumps together
countries with very little in common, doing away with the complexity of the
issue and leaving no room for the nuance needed to arrive at a successful
policy for dealing with all of them. Halper and Clarke claim that these Big
Ideas are rooted in both American Exceptionalism and the unusually strong
religious faith of the nation, which have given the American people a
propensity for moralistic and idealistic missions from the country’s birth.
They point to two Big Ideas-9/11 Changed Everything and Nation at War-as being
responsible for oversimplifying the situation in the Middle East, rallying the
public around the president, and making dissent almost impossible in the face
of the Bush administration’s poor decision to invade Iraq.

The second issue to which Halper and Clarke point is one
oft-cited in laundry lists of problems with the state of America-the rise of
24/7 media. Media companies seek first and foremost to attract viewers and
generate profit, which naturally leads to sensationalistic journalism. Big
Ideas are typically catchy and quick phrases, making them perfect tools for
news networks. Thoughtful and comprehensive discussions of foreign policy, on
the other hand, are complex, long, and tedious, none of which are qualities
particularly attractive to viewers. This forces experts invited to appear on
television to water down their policy opinions to one snappy sound bite and
frames complicated issues as black and white, when they rarely ever are.They point lastly to the silence of the rational center as
being the most crucial problem with American foreign policy. The role of what
they identify as the rational center is to offer expertise, examine the data
and the historical facts surrounding a particular issue, and provide objective
advice on how to proceed diplomatically and policy-wise. In calm times, the
rational center is quiet; in times of crisis, their voice is shut out
completely. But what is even more problematic according to Halper and Clarke is
that many experts are abandoning their roles in favor of becoming talk-show celebrities.
These analysts and academics, are supposed to be credible sources, appear on
television and offer 45-second hot takes on issues, distorting their own
expertise and advice. Halper and Clarke then list what they have
identified as four elements of foreign policy-decision making and diplomacy
that America has lost, hampering their ability to formulate successful foreign policy
making. The first is a balance between idealism and realism. While an
idealistic worldview is one of the qualities which makes America special, it is
important that it be tempered with realistic policy. The second is knowledge,
it is essential that the Americans involved in diplomacy have extensive
knowledge and understanding of the other parties’ perspectives and backgrounds.
The third is listening, as it is essential that other countries’ concerns are
heard and respected. The last element is political-military balance, While in
previous American foreign policy successes, such as the reunification of Germany, military generals have been consulted only on technical
military matters, technological advances have given the military a bigger hand
in decision-making than ever before.

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