Why We Fight over Foreign Policy

By Nau, Henry R. | Policy Review, April-May 2007 | Go to article overview

Why We Fight over Foreign Policy


Nau, Henry R., Policy Review


WHY DO WE DISAGREE SO stridently about foreign policy? An easy answer is because leaders lie about events abroad. (1) Take the decision to invade Iraq. Didn't Tony Blair say before the war that Iraq could assemble a nuclear weapon in 45 minutes? He was obviously lying, right? Or what about George W. Bush, whose CIA director said at the time that it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had nuclear weapons? He obviously knew better. Didn't he?

Well, maybe. But what if we disagree not because leaders are wicked and lie but because they, like we, see the world differently and assemble and emphasize different facts that lead to different conclusions? Saddam Hussein evaded UN inspectors. That's a fact. But was he hiding something like weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? Or was he behaving as might any leader of a country that comes under external threat? Answers to those questions are interpretations. Some looked at Iraq's glass and saw it was half full of WMD; others concluded that it was half empty.

Simplify but not simple

NO SUBJECT IN the world is as complex as foreign affairs. You are dealing not just with natural facts, such as disasters and disease, but also with social facts such as human beings who change their minds and behave creatively. Natural facts--like a virus--don't do that. They behave according to fixed laws. Further, social facts are embedded in different cultures. People from different cultures interpret the same facts differently. What does a devout Muslim see when he or she walks by a Christian church? In some cases, an infidel institution. Not exactly what a devout Christian sees. Individual human beings and diverse cultures create multiple meanings from the same set of facts. Given this enormous complexity, how do we make any sense at all out of international affairs?

We simplify. We approach the world with labels and models that direct us toward a particular slice of reality. We can't see it all, so we use our learning, experience, and judgment to select a direction, to look for certain facts that are important to us in terms of how we believe the world works. Surveying the material for his biography of Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg wrote that "anyone dealing with the vast actual evidence cannot use the whole of it ... therefore ... he ... picks what is plain, moving, and important." (2) We have to neglect some facts not because we are ignorant or ideological but precisely because we can know something only if we exclude something else. If we knew everything, we'd know nothing until we knew what was important to us--and what's important to us is a matter of personal perspective and judgment. Thus, we emphasize certain facts, and our opponents often emphasize other facts, perhaps the very ones we deemphasize. We reach different conclusions not because we dissemble and lie but because we see the world differently and judge different facts to be more important.

Consider four facts related to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons--the accumulation of weapons-grade plutonium before 1994, the 1994 agreement which froze the plutonium production program, the start-up in the late 1990s of a separate uranium enrichment program, and the termination of the 1994 agreement in 2002. Those who believe that direct negotiation with North Korea is the best way to handle this issue emphasize the second and fourth facts. The freeze agreement prevented further production of plutonium and thus capped the amount of weapons-grade materials available to produce nuclear weapons. The termination of the agreement allowed North Korea to resume plutonium production and test a bomb in October 2005. Thus, from this point of view, the termination of the agreement was a mistake even though North Korea had begun a separate enrichment project because that program was still a long way from producing weapons-grade materials. (3) Those who believe that sanctions and isolation are the best way to deal with the problem emphasize the first and third facts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Why We Fight over Foreign Policy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.