I’ve had occasion here before to talk about Herbert Meyer, who served as vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council under President Reagan. (You can take in my exclusive interview three-part with Herb from two years ago here, here, and here.) Meyer was one of the few people to perceive in the early 1980s that the United States and it allies might have turned the corner and was on its way to winning the Cold War. But not without some dangerous times along the way, which he put forward in a remarkably lucid memo to CIA Director Casey and President Reagan in the fall of 1983, long ago declassified but still not fully appreciated: “Why Is The World So Dangerous?” (PDF link)
Now Herb is back with a sequel of sorts, a brisk, 19-page booklet with the same title, “Why Is the World So Dangerous.” As the title suggests, while we know clearly what the dangers are right now (a resurgent Russia, scheming Iran, the terrorist cesspool of the Middle East, the crazy Norks, etc), Herb thinks we don’t have a clear enough grasp of why things have gotten so out of hand in the world.
He never mentions Obama, and thinks that things have been sliding essentially since the end of the Cold War. Meyer’s most significant point is the unity of our foreign and domestic situations. Normally we divide foreign affairs and domestic affairs into separate domains with little or no relation to one another, but Meyer understands their vital connection, which he simply calls “soft thinking.” He’s suggesting there’s a reciprocal relationship between soft thinking at home and soft thinking abroad.
We’ve gone from being a culture that values hard thinking, to a culture that tolerates and even celebrates soft thinking. Hard thinking means that when you are faced with a new problem or issue, you look squarely at it. You get the facts, sort through them, and decide how best to move forward based on what makes the most sense and what is actually likely to work. . . Soft thinking means that your emotions matter more than your intellect; you decide how to more forward based on your feelings rather than on the facts. And when your plan collides with reality—as it always will—instead of making adjustments, or just admitting you were wrong, you find someone else to blame and you keep on going down the same mistaken path. . . The same kind of soft thinking that’s infected our domestic policies has spread to our foreign policies. . .
There’s no real need to mention Obama in this, is there? Above all Herb marks out two great lessons of the Cold War. First, that you cannot win by playing defense, and we’ve been playing defense against terrorism for more than 30 years, and lately playing defense against Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc. The Cold War didn’t start its decisive term until we decided to go on offense against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The second lesson is that only the United States has the capability of leading any serious offensive against the multiple threats to the world order. If we simply go away and hope for the best, no other nation or group of nations is going to step up effectively.
One reason Meyer doesn’t mention Obama specifically is that he takes a long-term view, believing that the latent strength of America will overcome a prolonged period of soft thinking. Eventually we’ll throw aside soft thinking and get some competent leadership again—maybe not in this election cycle, but some time in the foreseeable future.
I admire Herb’s optimism and hope he’s right. It’s getting harder, though, not to wonder whether there weren’t lots of Romans who thought restoration was right around the corner.
You can order your copy of Why Is The World So Dangerous, and other worthy things Herb has written, from StormKingPress.
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