Understanding a subject deeply is certainly no guarantee that you’ll make the correct decisions. Planes crash. People die on operating tables all the time. And being ignorant of a given subject (or country, in this case) doesn’t mean you won’t get it right once and a while (it’s called luck). But over the long term, it strikes me as far better to empower decision-makers that actually know what they’re talking about rather than those who pantomime right-sounding principles as a substitute for genuine understanding.
This touches on what I was saying in the previous post. When someone today says that “Romney was right” on some foreign policy issue, there is no attempt to prove that Romney understood the issue, and that may be because understanding doesn’t matter very much to the person saying this. When someone says “Romney was right,” he is mostly just affirming that he prefers Romney’s hawkish assumptions and instincts. Unfortunately, there is probably no worse combination than hawkish instincts and poor understanding of other countries, as we have been reminded at great cost in Iraq and elsewhere over the past two decades.
Lane’s argument brings to mind Chamberlain’s unfortunate reference to “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” He takes for granted that there are many quarrels around the world between people “of whom we know nothing” (apparently including their location), but the difference is that the lack of knowledge doesn’t discourage him at all from wanting to plunge into the middle of the quarrels. I submit that this is a good example of ideological thinking, and it is this sort of thing that kind of thinking that leads the U.S. into making so many foreign policy blunders.