In response to Colonel Lang's observations on the way that Karzai has pulled the wool over Obama's eyes on the prospects of maintaining an American troop presence in Afghanistan, you raised the question of why, 'after more than a decade of deep immersion in the Islamic world,' American policymakers are still 'so dense.' And you asked whether the problem was simply at the 'senior policy-making level', or whether it also extends to the 'experts' who brief and write papers for those actually making policy.<p>At the risk of lapsing into platitude or egregious error, due to the thinness of my knowledge, let me hazard some reflections in response to your questions.
American self-images reflect certain particular Western intellectual traditions. One of these, republican thought, is classical in origin and initially emerges from reflections in one troubled polity, fifteenth-century Italy, about another: Rome at the time of the transition to imperial rule. In it, a pessimistic view of human nature has ambivalent implications. On the one hand, it leads to an immense suspicion of unchecked power. Controlling power is portrayed in part as a matter of balance - having opposing social forces, such as patricians and plebeians in the Roman republic, as well as different parts of government, limit each other - and partly a cultural matter, with an overwhelming emphasis on republican virtu.