“Have we forgotten how beautiful it is to be on fire for justice?”

“Have we forgotten how beautiful it is to be on fire for justice?”

No matter the country, our foreign policy seems to make the same mistake over and over. What’s behind this pattern?

“Novelists write the secret histories of nations.” I am not sure who made this bull’s eye remark. But I cite it even without attribution because it has been much on my mind of late. For one thing, so much of the history we now make is buried that unearthing it becomes the project, and for this we need writers other than the usual opinion-page hacks. They, indeed, are typically among those doing the burying.

For another, there is the related problem of monotony, and this I will explain.

After a time, any foreign affairs columnist is bound to find a certain nonsensical consistency in the work. Every question taken up—China, Syria, Ukraine, Latin America, name it—is altogether different and altogether the same. One watches American policy people make identical mistakes in every case. Make that “tragic mistakes,” for the innately destructive character of American foreign policy is, post-September 11, far beyond denial now—the unclothed emperor our tethered media insist on honoring.

If consistency is the mark of dull minds, we are forced to conclude that those populating our foreign policy cliques are in the last row of class. “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them,” Einstein famously observed. It is a pithy point, and it has been the problem since Teddy Roosevelt invented reasons to attack the Spanish in Cuba and the Philippines in 1898, so launching us into the pockmarked “American century.”