Understanding US Foreign Policy
January 30, 2008
A malign and poorly understood influence on foreign policy is the paranoid truculent male (though a few females share the ailment). The PTM is a fairly well-defined type, who believes that They Are Out to Get Us. He doesn’t much care who They are. If one They fails him, he will find another. These They must be fought to the death. It’s us or They.
As a current example, I get email telling me that Moslems hate us and want to enslave us. We must therefore gird our loins and prepare for an apocalyptic conflict that will determine whether Western civilization will survive. A war of peoples approaches, and we must win it.
This of course is transparent nonsense. A week or so ago I spoke with a friend in government service who recently returned from an extended period in Jordan. Perfectly friendly people, he reported. That was my own experience, years back. They knew he was an American, and consequently wanted to talk to him. He traveled by public transportation to Petra and so on. Not the slightest problem.
The difference between documentable fact and ferocious email was predictable. An unvarying characteristic of the PTM is the belief that his current enemies are implacably evil and united in pursuit of his enslavement. Frequently he hasn’t had the most minimal experience of this relentless enemy. Few of today’s PTMs have passed time in Moslem countries. Many do not have passports. The proportion who speak Arabic or Farsi or actually know any Moslems is very low. It doesn’t matter. PTMs share a specific personality that wants an enemy. They will always find one.
The PTM endows the enemy with near-magical powers. The utter irrationality of this doesn’t faze him because he doesn’t notice it. Only sub-clinical paranoia can explain the view that Moslems are going to enslave America, or even want to. A reasonable person looking at the Moslem world sees a disunited, industrially backward, technologically primitive group of ramshackle semi-civilizations that couldn’t enslave Guatemala.
The same thing happened during the days of the Soviet Union. It was in fact a vast, rickety, unstable, and backward empire butting heads with the US in the standard manner of large nations. To the PTM, the USSR was—altogether now—evil, relentlessly focused on our destruction, plotting a nuclear first strike, and desirous of enslaving us. (“Enslaving” is a favorite word of PTMs.) Odd. When I visited the USSR, I liked the people and they liked us. Nations in conflict, yes. Weird obsessive hatred of us, no.
The Soviets too had magical powers, said the PTMs. They were stealing our secrets. They were rapidly catching up with the US in all technologies, and actually ahead in the crucial ones. Their weapons coming off the assembly lines were better than ours, shrieeeek! Their tanks were robust, deadly, and practical, not high-tech gizmos like ours.
I had covered American tanks extensively, and knew a lot about Soviet armor. I went to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to talk to the enlisted men who actually worked with captured Russian tanks. Junk, they said. Hard to use, broke down constantly. I knew that Russian armor was at best using microchannel photomultipliers for night-vision instead of thermals. I had spent a lot of time with the M1 Abrams. I knew exactly what would happen if the two fought each other, and it always did.
None of this dented the PTM’s delusional armor. The Russian weapons that I had seen, that the Israelis had faced in ’67 and ’73, were “monkey models,” said the PTMs: primitive versions stripped of their lethal everything, just to fool us into complacency. (Everything is a conspiracy. No exceptions.) I reflected that the whole Russian economy must have been a monkey model. In Russia the stores had used the abacus. The only computer I saw on a two-week press junket was the Agat, a bad knock-off of the Apple II, I think it was, with an English operating system. Russia amounted to Mexico, without the consumer goods and technology.
An unvarying part of the PTM’s mental furniture is the belief that enemies within bore away at the national fabric. (Does one bore at fabric? I won’t take responsibility for my metaphors. The little voices give them to me.) Spies multiply like nits. Secret saboteurs await their chance. We must be afraid of everything. The world is a dark and perilous place, and They are everywhere. We must Suspect.
Thus Commies were lurking under rocks, penetrating every aspect of American society. Today of course it’s terrorists. We must tighten security, multiply surveillance, read email, suspect secret messages in photos, search all and sundry. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, say the PTMs (though "eternal lunacy" might be closer). It doesn’t occur to them that excessive vigilance ends liberty, because they don’t care about liberty. They want war with the hated enemy.
The notion that the enemy is demonically evil and magically powerful justifies any countermeasures, certainly including nuclear war, which latter appeals to the PTM’s adrenals. They believe they are practicing realism. The usual argument is that the enemy—Russia, the Moslems, soon China—has a huge population and therefore can afford to lose several hundred million people in a nuclear exchange (which sounds like Christmas presents). The stupidity is patent, but the PTM allows nothing to compromise his delusion. Since the enemy is determined to destroy us, we must be willing to kill those hundreds of million.
The tendency to see life as conflict with a merciless opponent engenders another favorite preoccupation of the PTM, that We Have Grown Soft. Yes. Americans no longer chop cordwood of a morning, don’t hunt bears. The rude strength that made the country great is sapped by suburban life. We are become a nation of metrosexuals. Awake, America! Before it is too late! Gird those loins.
PTMs can be highly intelligent, and their barely subdermal hostility—the largest component in their makeup, along with a total lack of empathy—gives them a lot of horsepower. Questions of morality do not interest them: Greater things are at stake. We must fight! Thus one often finds them at the levers of power.
It can be difficult to distinguish the true PTM from the merely conscienceless without talking to them. Still, Curtis LeMay was a prime example, perfectly willing to burn a hundred thousand civilians alive in a night. Ariel Sharon fits. So do a lot of the neocons who run the US. And so America, with no military enemies, raises the military budget relentlessly and finds ways to use it. Fairly few in the military are PTMs, but the Pentagon embraces them to justify get more money, and the weapons contractors milk them like cows. Hey, scare the public, take up a collection, and blow hell out of the demons twisting in the inner shadow.