We need a good dose of muscular multiculturalism, not in the cause of undermining the American nation (the radical Left’s favorite use for it), but of advancing one of its most important foreign-policy goals.

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McMaster’s approach takes time and intellectual energy, much more than many people will ever want to devote to understanding rival tribal sheiks. As Packer writes in The New Yorker, the U.S. military is increasingly employing the opposite strategy of holing up in big bases where no one has anything to do with Iraqis.

Historian Niall Ferguson might have been correct when he urged the application of U.S. power in far-reaching corners of the globe, but wondered whether we had the right stuff to pull it off: “America’s brightest and best aspire not to govern Mesopotamia but to manage MTV; not to rule the Hejaz but to run a hedge fund. Unlike their British counterparts of a century ago, who left the elite British universities with an overtly imperial ethos, the letters ambitious young Americans would like to see after their names are CEO, not CBE [Commander of the Order of the British Empire].”

The military does have foreign-area officers, experts in a given region who, like one profiled in The Wall Street Journal, can speak Arabic with a Yemeni accent and hold long conversations with Bedouins about the joys of the drug qat. But there were only 145 foreign-area officers specializing in the Middle East as of last fall, according to the Journal. ~Rich Lowry

A phrase like “muscular multiculturalism” hardly passes the laugh test. Multiculturalism for the sake of preserving American hegemony would almost seem to be a contradiction in terms if domestic cultural fragmentation was not also the desired goal of the forces of consolidation. But focusing on the silly phrase itself is to miss what’s really wrong here. Besides the assumption that we need to marshal national resources for flawed policies of interventionism, rather than readjust our strategy in ways that suit our national character and resources, there is the mistake in confusing multiculturalism with a genuine interest in and knowledge of other cultures.

What Mr. Lowry is talking about in this article isn’t multiculturalism of any kind you or anyone else in this country has ever seen. He is referring to a regimen of education to produce people who are actually familiar with and interested in the intricate details of a foreign culture. Not to harp on the obvious, but this is one of those jobs that Americans usually really won’t do. You can blame some of this on the shoddy state of education, which sends many graduates out into the world with only a hazy idea of where on the planet their country is (forget about their knowing where Yemen is, or why the Yemenis like qat so much), but in most respects this lack of interest in foreign cultures is not new and has only been exacerbated by the recent predominance of English as a language of commerce and communication.

In the early waves of immigration, a decided lack of interest in cultural differences beyond colourful dances, traditional costumes and ethnic music and food (almost all of which can be appropriated by others and seems fairly “harmless”) was a sort of national defense mechanism for an American republican society that was supposed to have remained homogeneous but had instead become increasingly “multiethnic,” which therefore had to transformed into much more of a generic American society.

What Mr. Lowry is calling for, and what he is not likely to get, is a nationwide effort to study foreign cultures and languages, and moreover to study these things for the purpose of projecting American power. To put it bluntly, most of the people inclined to do this sort of studying are also the people most inclined to be skeptical of or openly reject the wild-eyed policies their knowledge is supposed to serve. If they are dedicated enough to learn about these cultures in detail and have learned to speak foreign languages fluently, they will not want to lend their knowledge to the service of a cause whose more or less express purpose is to transform in fundamental and occasionally violent ways the cultures and regions they have come to appreciate in their own right. Those most inclined to look down their noses at foreign peoples and believe them to be in need of some “uplift” are also those most likely never to have given a thought to how those people live. That is actually fairly normal and to be expected, but it is not the population to provide scholar-soldiers and diplomats for a foreign policy of global intervention. That is a very good thing–Americans are not suited for this sort of foreign policy, which suggests that there is something lacking or flawed in the foreign policy, not in the nation. It is not a deficiency on the part of Americans that they do not feel drawn to wheedle sheikhs and chew qat, nor is it a failure of policy not to encourage them in this direction.

Multiculturalism, to be clear, is that superficial, buffet-style of “exposure” to other cultures that makes the average multiculti think that because he has seen Devdas and eaten dal he is qualified to speak intelligently on questions of Indian history and culture. Multiculturalism, as it is always practised, has no interest in cultural understanding, because it is premised on two flawed notions: all cultures are basically equal and effectively interchangeable, and they are all ultimately insignificant in the field of human relations, which is why cultural differences can be “celebrated” rather than tamed or sublimated to prevent the conflicts that do inevitably arise between significantly different ways of life.

Think for a moment what would happen if a ecumenical religious conference, for example, dedicated itself to “celebrating diversity.” This would quickly devolve into heated argument or, in some countries, a small riot. No one does this. If diversity is mentioned in the context of religious “dialogue,” it is in the trite phrase “unity in diversity” where all differences are eschewed or tabled. In the real world in most places, where cultural norms are very significant and understood in diverse ways, people do not normally “celebrate their differences.” If these things come up, they seek to find points of agreement or other forms of identity (such as a world religion) that can include a number of cultures.