The Problem With Joseph Nye

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THE SPINE FEBRUARY 16, 2007

The Problem With Joseph Nye

The Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard University is Joseph Nye. He is one of those facile meliorists who seems to believe that any and all international crises can be solved with a decent measure of good will and a bit of ingenuity. After all, his last book was Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, A Twelve Step Method. No, I'm only kidding. There's no twelve step anything in Nye's book. But ... it is frightening to think that he was chair of the National Intelligence Council under President Clinton and, some say, in line to be John Kerry's National Security Adviser. Had I known that then, I would have been even more appalled that my party had chosen the lieutenant as its presidential candidate.

Nye has just published in the Financial Times an article titled, "The long view on China, Political Islam and American Power." Most of it is blah, blah, blah. Like that AIDS won't affect the balance of power in the world. But he touches on almost everything else that might: radical climate change, the collapse of the Antarctic ice shelf, a health pandemic, the prospect of dislocation in China, political crisis in the Gulf that would disrupt the oil supply, etc.

Amidst these non-controversial vapors, he ever so deftly insinuates several propositions that would be positively perilous if they were the intellectual underpinnings to a Democratic foreign policy.

Let's take the first:

The struggle against extreme Islamic terrorism is not a "clash of civilizations" but a civil war within Islam. A radical minority is using violence to impose a simplified and ideological version on a mainstream with more diverse views. While the largest number of Muslims live in Asia, they are influenced by the heart of this struggle in the Middle East, an area that has lagged behind the rest of the world in globalization, openness, institutions and democratization.

Now, one wonders why a civil war within Islam should have and have had so many Western targets. Nye posits a "radical minority" against a "mainstream with more diverse views." This is either a statement of faith or an invention. How has he counted the minority that is overwhelmed by the mainstream? And where are the voices of the mainstream?

Then Nye slips another dubious assumption into what goes for an analysis.

More open trade, economic growth, education, development of civil society institutions and gradual increases in political institutions might help strengthen the mainstream over time.

And, if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a pushcart.

Unhappily, even an optimist like Nye can't assure that "open trade, economic growth, education ... " will emerge among the mainstream (after all, it has happened in India but not at all in Pakistan). So he needs at least one outside prop to bolster that mainstream, and that one comes with an insidious charge against the West. The mainstream would be helped also by ... the way Muslims are treated in Europe and the US.

Are Muslims treated badly everywhere in the West? Nye seems implicitly to assert that. More invidious is his imputation that Muslims are treated badly here in America. Even the Muslim and Arab "defense" organizations do not make that claim. And any social survey of how these groups have fared, especially in contrast with other groups, like Central Americans or Cambodians, would disprove such a charge.

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posted in: the spine, entertainment, social issues, technology, environmental issue, person career, joseph nye

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