America’s Short-Tail Diplomacy in a Long-Tail Game


My convenient definition of ‘short tail’ for the purpose of this article is politics and ‘long tail’ is statesmanship. Politics usually (and far
too often) shoots from the hip and statesmanship is the long and tedious work
of looking way down the road for mutual agreement and benefit. True
statesmanship is rare in the modern diplomatic world. Much to my surprise,
Secretary of State John Kerry has shown himself (for me) to have this talent.

I understand that
Americans are not much interested in International Diplomacy. We are a
bread-and-butter, jobs oriented society and as long as we can plunk down the
monthly payment on a late-model car, we’re happy campers. Our focus outside our
own borders stops at gas prices and preventing another terrorist attack. From
this perspective we are more an island nation than a world power of
unprecedented strength
.

But the 98% of the
world that lives elsewhere cares a great deal. I make the case that the
ninety-eight percent’s perception of America has, in the brief period of four
presidential terms, moved from Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” to most
feared nation on the planet
status.
I make
the further case that our love affair with the investor-class and the quarterly
dividend is behind it all.
Business
lives or dies on the quarterly
dividend. The stock-price reigns supreme. Quarterly expectations must be met and it doesn’t mean all that much if your
hamburger or automobile is great. Corporations run more on fear than vision and
American
politicians live or die on the same terms;
two-year quarters for Representatives, four-year quarters for Senators and
Presidents.

Which puts America
dead square on the horns of its major dilemma—how to contribute to a world that
desperately needs long-tailed statesmanship when all we have to offer is short
tailed politics?
The
United States Foreign Service (of which part includes the State Department) has
a total of 15,000 professional employees. Yet its leadership is all by
presidential appointment (with consent of the Senate). A truly professional and
scaled up Diplomatic Service is an essential first step and it’s long overdue
The
Brits have a bit of a jump on us in this regard, employing a Permanent Under-Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
who also serves as the Head of the Diplomatic Service.
Furthering that jump on us, Oxford University offers a Foreign Service Program,
as does the Diplomatic Academy of London, the longest established British
institution providing advanced degrees
and training programs
in Diplomatic Studies and International Relations.
How can we have gone
so wrong? Britain had its hand in the game for hundreds of years, while we are
newcomers to world power and use it like adolescents. It shows, in the muddle
we have made of things since Eisenhower’s return from WWII. Our short-tail in
this regard brought us a Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and (very
nearly) further screw ups in areas where we have very little experience, history, language skills or worldview.
Our
precious quarterly dividend mindset steadily
escalated to the point where we presently spend 55% of our national budget on
military hardware—with what can only be defined as a disastrous return on
investment. When more than half the national budget is spent on hammers, everything
begins to look like a nail. So we continue to Whack-a-Mole our way through
international intrigues while our infrastructure and other needs at home
collapse.
Which
arguably might be okay, if it worked, but it clearly doesn’t.
We not only have
banks too big to fail, but a
military-industrial complex way too big
to manage or control
—just as Eisenhower warned.
The wheels came off
our former communist adversaries under exactly those same circumstances
(leaving out the banks). Yet every single
American politician
is terrified of looking weak before the electorate in his next personal ‘quarter.’ No
statesman would accept that. 
But short-tailed politics enabled neocons to fear-monger their
way through one war after another with no
human, political or economic progress to show for it
.
America
needs to grow a longer diplomatic tail–and be quick about it–before the
adolescents among us bring the nation to its knees and China’s historic long-tail
wraps itself around the planet.

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