Zakaria on Obama

This is interesting.

The beginning:

I never thought I’d be in this position. There’s a debate taking place about what matters most when making judgments about foreign policy—experience and expertise on the one hand, or personal identity on the other. And I find myself coming down on the side of identity.

On Obama’s argument that he owns a unique qualification given his biographical background:

I never thought I’d agree with Obama. I’ve spent my life acquiring formal expertise on foreign policy. I’ve got fancy degrees, have run research projects, taught in colleges and graduate schools, edited a foreign-affairs journal, advised politicians and businessmen, written columns and cover stories, and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles all over the world. I’ve never thought of my identity as any kind of qualification. I’ve never written an article that contains the phrase “As an Indian-American …” or “As a person of color …”

But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world, about the advantage that I may have over others in understanding foreign affairs, it is that I know what it means not to be an American. I know intimately the attraction, the repulsion, the hopes, the disappointments that the other 95 percent of humanity feels when thinking about this country. I know it because for a good part of my life, I wasn’t an American. I was the outsider, growing up 8,000 miles away from the centers of power, being shaped by forces over which my country had no control. (italics original)

As someone who lives outside the United States, was raised traditionally Roman Catholic in a Protestant-dominated country, has spent a good deal of time residing and traveling outside the US, and even when living in the US after graduating from college at 20 often lived in poorer non-white, mostly immigrant neighborhoods, this idea of knowing what it is not to be an American speaks to me. I know it too.

I know exactly what Obama and Zakaria are talking about. It is not anti-Americanism. But it is not an unquestioned nationalistic sensibility either. Nor is is something that is learned via the web or a textbook (though those are important elements):

I couldn’t do my job well without the expertise. But any insights I have are thoroughly informed by the perspective and judgment that I’ve gained from being first a foreigner, then a foreign student, then an aspiring immigrant and now an American. My biography has helped me put my book learning in context, made for a richer interaction with foreigners and helped me see the world from many angles. So I understand what Obama means when he talks about his life and its lessons.

We often talk about globalization, but the better term I believe is glocalization: the globalizing of the local. And the localizing of the global. “All Politics is Local” so goes the saying. But as Dan Drezner aptly put it, “All Politics is Global.”

This is not an argument for “One-Worldism” or whatever. I think the UN should be scrapped and the Kyoto Treaty is bunk. Understanding the perspective, the intuitive life-vibe of others around the world, is not some panacea. It is not all determinative. Not everyone will like you if you understand them.

When what is globalized is local phenomena, the sense of the local (around the globe) matters a great deal. Particularly given that the local is often defined somehow or other in relation to the American/Western. (I’m for modernization not Westernization).
A lot of what is local is hope for a better future. Other elements include violent reaction, criminality, tribalism and the like. The interior spaces of the world’s cultures (the local) are being shared across the Global Brain–which to date, as Wilber says, lacks a Global Mind to fill it.

This intuitive feel like I said is not all determinative and not a perfect guarantor of success or smart policy. But I think it does matter–a great deal. I think increasingly it will be a necessary though not sufficient cause for foreign policy. Though by no means the only such condition.

Published in: on December 17, 2007 at 9:02 pm  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Here is exactly what I’m talking about. Dude…..where and when have you been trained in foreign policy? Yet you lump yourself in with someone who has?

    The height of delusion. Is the only name for it.

    And identity politics…..geez. Obama, Zakaria, ANYONE who thinks that has any role in foreign policy smarts is basically demanding that their view is watered down “absolute moral authority” and that is no way for the world to operate in any healthy sense.

    Foreign policy requires principles. Period. Hard for postmodernists like you to understand.

  2. “But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world”

    Hubris, 101. Masturbatory is another related concept.

  3. “lacks a Global Mind to fill it.”

    Snicker. Because I know you actually swallow that pap without puking. A “global mind”. Sounds fascist, to me. Couldn’t be anything else. Certainly isn’t anything born of liberty.

    You are a cosmopolitan. The notion goes back a long way, as you know. It isn’t American, though. Not by a long shot.

  4. “Not everyone will like you if you understand them.”

    Probably because you’ve deluded yourself into thinking you understand them, and THAT in and of itself gives off a stench that even penetrates computer screen and the internet. now I know why I hold my nose when I visit your site.

  5. Matthew,

    The article cited clearly stated that both study and experience were necessary. It was just highlighting the experience side for a moment.

    When I said I know what he is discussing, I mean the part about not being American. Not being a foreign policy expert. That should have been clear–if it was not, there it is.

    In the study of religion, obviously there are principles, methods, canons and so forth. But I have to say that generally I find that the best scholars on religion happen usually (though not exclusively) happen to be religious practitioners themselves.

    I think something similar in this regard. I agree there is a fine line there, which can easily devolve into identity=authority. Keeping that danger in mind, I still think there is something valuable to what he is saying.

    You disagree. Fine. No need for the personal slurs.

    I’m not anti-American. It is true that I’m not first and foremost an American. That’s not my primary identification.

    I’m Christian first. That’s far more important to me than national identity.

    A better frame to understand what I’m after than ancient cosmopolitanism vs. American republic (I think) is Augustine’s argument about the Two Cities (God and Man). [And no that doesn’t mean I’m comparing myself to Augustine–just that he is a major influence upon me].

    But anyway, we are not really having a rational debate here.

    I don’t like to cut off discussion, but at this point you are veering dangerously close to flaming. More outbursts like these, and I will delete them. [I’d prefer not to have to go there].

    I’m not asking you to change your opinion of me, just when you comment please refrain from ad hominem. Contrary to what you have written, I do take what you say seriously into account, even if I decide to do otherwise.

  6. You say slurs, outburst and ad hominem, I say I’m finally jiggling some honest statements out of you. Not to mention SHORTER statements.

    For example:

    It is true that I’m not first and foremost an American. That’s not my primary identification.

    I’m Christian first. That’s far more important to me than national identity.

    I’m glad you’ve copped to this. For it is a deeply confused position that in part explains why what you write is so deeply confused.

    Now, note the plausible deniability you have left yourself. Tricky, you.

    But leaving that aside, here’s why your position is deeply confused. You are committing a category error in thinking that identification as a Christian has anything to do with identification with a nationality. You commit this category error by parallel word construction, calling both a kind of means of identity. Sloppy writing, that.

    These aren’t related, nor present an either/or scenario. That you obviously think these do is your error.

  7. The Global Brain is from Howard Bloom. I’m using in the way he discusses.

    Global Mind then is not fascist. It could be, sure. If it were A GLOBAL MIND imposed from above. That’s not what I’m advocating though.

    It is just to say that the brain (in this case the technological brain over the planet) is not identical with consciousness (mind). It’s a metaphor.

    I think integral culture is (at least partially) about finding a way forward with all the religions, philosophies, etc. available and mobile.

    But not as some eclectic one-worldism.

    You don’t; you have a different view of integral. Cool. It’s a legitimate difference of opinion we hold–from my end. From your end, my view is a weed that needs intellectual Roundup spray.

    I think it would be an interesting discussion if it were not simply another in a long line of personal attacks.

  8. They are not an either/or proposition. I didn’t say they are. I’m both, but I place more value/emphasis on one than the other. If it comes to the point where I have to choose, then I put my stakes on the Christian not the American part.

    Relating the two as identity is not a category error. Your position suggests something like faith is a private matter. That’s an American & Protestant viewpoint.

    I find it an appropriate distinction for a civil society. But not for my own personal sense of self. I appreciate living in a society where I can choose that and others can choose differently.

    It may be correct or not (or correct in certain ways), but it is a view. Your position is not the only logical one to hold on the matter.

    It’s hard to argue that nationality isn’t an identity when many people around the world do not consider themselves as “nationals” but as members of X,Y,Z tribe or clan or ethnicity.

    You wrote:

    “You are committing a category error in thinking that identification as a Christian has anything to do with identification with a nationality.”

    Think really deeply about what you just wrote. Observe how close you are to saying that Christianity has nothing do with politics.

    Jesus spoke about something called “a kingdom of God”. Was he making a category error–I mean kingdoms belong to politicians right?

    This has huge repercussions by the way. Thoreau, Gandhi, and King all argued that there was a higher moral law. So if a national law violated that moral law, they would break the civil law (non-violently) in order to uphold the moral.

    [Again I’m not MLK, Jr. I’m just saying I agree with that position].

    Which is to say if I think the US government is doing something that I find wrong by my moral and religious views, I will say so. I feel it is my religious obligation to do so.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important to love and have pride in one’s heritage. But The Gospel is more important to me than the US. Again, two cities.


    PS Augustine used the word “citizen” of the two cities. Are you saying Augustine was sloppy?

  9. And btw, there was no “copping” to that fact. I’ve been saying that openly all the time. That goes back long before I ever started blogging.

  10. Dude. KEEP THINGS SHORT. Brevity is the classical mark of intelligence.

    Regarding most of the above, typical postmodernist evasions.

    Yes, relating the two is absolutely a category error. It is precisely akin to a scenario where you and me were plants, where I issue challenge for you to acknowledge your kind of plantness, and you respond by saying, “I don’t identify with my plantness; I rather identify with the sun”.

    i.e., classic non sequitor. Confused it putting it lightly.

    Regarding the rest, your typical clap trap. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy/identify with the Gospels if there wasn’t a civilization or country to provide sanctuary. And without a strong country, you wouldn’t be able to relegate it to lesser importance like you mistakenly do.

    Regarding Augustine, I have not read that work. But I don’t trust your interpretation of it, since I trust nothing of what you say.

  11. And ultimately, your identification is irresponsible. Because a society of people with that view is a theocracy.

  12. Last time I checked there were Christians long before America. So no you don’t have to have a country to provide sanctuary. It helps. It’s a good thing. I never said it wasn’t. Still, Christians (and other religious people) have lived (and continue to live) under persecution, in secret, even in empires that patronized their religion.

    My point was that governments often try to legitimate themselves by claiming they represent the will of God or such-like. I think such claims should be challenged, particularly if it is a Christian legitimation. I don’t think any earthly government is a perfect instantiation of the just society. Some are better. Some are worse. (see Reinhold Niebuhr’s writings if interested).

    So there is no absolute need for a strong country in order to relegate it. Relatively no doubt it’s better. But again, there are people saying the same thing all through Xian history. Under kings and societies Christian or otherwise.

  13. I said that I think for a civil society non-confessional/non-state sponsorship is the best. First you said I was a socialist, yesterday a fascist now a theocrat? Get real homes.

    I said for my own personal choice I put more emphasis on my Christian identity than my American one. i.e. If they are in conflict, then I choose the former. I’m not for legislating or enforcing that on anybody.

    Where do you get off with this nonsense? For God’s sakes I’m marrying a non-Christian. Not exactly a theocratic move.

  14. And as to your plant analogy–wrong on all counts.

    The point is not that I’m completely dis-identifying with my Americanism. That would be hard to argue given how many posts are on American politics.

    To follow your weird analogy: I would say that if you asked my citizenship (plantness) and my national identity, then yes I’m an American plant.

    But if I was asked about my religion and my plantness and which I value over the other (which I again I think is legitimate question), then the answer is the religion. Verbally–American who happens to be Christian. Or Christian who happens to be American (or fill in the blank nationality or religion for that matter).

    It is how I prioritize the identities I have. Not evading one by discussing another.

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