Under the title «Arab revolutions pose«, Harvard University Prof. Joseph Nye reviewed for The Washington Post on August 31, 2013 Obama’s answer to the traumatic events taking place since the end of 2010 in most Arab countries, distancing himself from all those asking for grandiose visions no matter what.
When we cannot be sure how to improve the world, prudence becomes an important virtue, and grandiose visions can pose a grave danger. This is sometimes forgotten by those who want Obama to place bigger bets in the revolutions of today’s Middle East. It is one thing to try to nudge events at the margins and assert our values in the long term; it is another to think we can shape revolutions we do not fully understand. There is a difference between a limited punishment of Syria for breaking an international taboo on the use of chemical weapons and becoming involved in a civil war. In foreign policy, as in medicine, it is important to first do no harm. Bush 41, who lacked the ability to articulate a vision but was able to steer through crises, turned out to be a better leader than his son, who had a powerful vision but little contextual intelligence about the region he tried to reshape.
In trying to explain the role of secretary of state, George Shultz once compared it to gardening: “the constant nurturing of a complex array of actors, interests and goals.” One of his successors, Condoleezza Rice, called for a “transformational diplomacy.” There is a role for both, depending on the context, but we should avoid the common mistake of celebrating the transformational landscape architect. In reacting to what may turn out to be a decade of Arab revolutions, the better leader is a careful gardener…
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