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Expertise and Wisdom

While commenting on Herman Cain, Rod makes this remark:

George W. Bush might not have been the second coming of Metternich, but his national security team was taken straight from the GOP foreign policy elite — and they gave us Iraq. Expertise does not guarantee wisdom.

It’s true that expertise doesn’t guarantee wisdom, but this needs to be qualified. First, the people in and around the Bush administration decidedly were not experts in the politics, culture, or history of the Near East. For the most part, the people who were most knowledgeable about this part of the world were the ones shouting loudest not to invade. Bush himself was not quite as ignorant as Cain seems to be when it comes to foreign affairs, but he wasn’t that much better even after years of being tutored by Rice. For her part, Rice’s official expertise was in Soviet and Russian affairs, and her earlier familiarity with the part of the world that preoccupied the Bush administration for most of its eight years was not all that great. That alone doesn’t explain the failures of the Bush administration or the Iraq war, but it goes a long way towards accounting for how the debacle in Iraq could happen. There is always a danger that experts will believe that they can successfully implement policies that should never be tried, but a good way to recognize someone with genuine understanding of a subject is his recognition of the limits of what he knows and his respect for the limits of what expertise can accomplish. On the whole, the less that people know about another part of the world, the more confident they are that “we” can reshape it to “our” liking.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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