Review: Seven Sins of American Foreign Policy (Paperback)

5 Star, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Information Society, Military & Pentagon Power, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)

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Instant Classic, for Students and Experts Alike,

June 20, 2006
Loch K Johnson
In 1983, Dr. Loch Johnson, arguably the Dean of the intelligence scholars who is also unique for having the deep insights that could only come from service on BOTH the Church Committee in the 1970’s and the Aspin-Brown Commission in the 1990’s, published “Seven Sins of Strategic Intelligence in World Affairs (Fall 1983, v. 146, no. 2, p. 176-204). I still remember that article, which informed me as a (then) clandestine case officer, and helped inspire my own critical reformist writings over the years.

This book is a completely new work on a grander scale and the seven sins (listed in the editorial information) are applied to foreign policy in all its forms.

The following quote reflects the rich content of the book:

“A foreign policy initiative is considered questionable (‘sinful’) if it is based on a false or sharply limited understanding of the region of the world it pupports to address; if it violates the bedrock constitutional tenet of power-sharing between the legislative and executive branches of government; if it too quickly or unnecessarily resorts to forcein the resolution of global disputes; if it runs counter to the established norms of contemporary international behavior accepted by the world’s democracies; if it signals a withdrawal from the international community; if it exhibits a lack of concern for the basic human needs of other nations or projects a haughtiness in world affairs indicative of an imperious attitude toward others.”

The rest of the book, including useful figures showing successs and failures across diplomatic, military, economic, and covert action fronts from 1945 to date, fleshes out the above quote in a very thoughtful manner.

Interestingly, deep in the book, the author points out that ignorance of global reality by the public is directly related to their choices of elected officials. If they are disengaged and uninformed, they will elect individuals who give short shrift to global affairs. I am reminded of the number of Senators and Representatives who used to brag that they did not have a passport “because nothing that happens abroad matters to my constituents.” Those individuals are still in office.

I know the author, who in his courtly manner and gracious ability to discuss all sides without rancor, while still being harshly critical, represents all that is good about informed academics who are also, from time to time, called on to serve the Nation. I put the book down thinking that this author would make a magnificent Secretary of State.

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