Saturday, March 03, 2007


Claudia Rosett:

It would be wonderful to feel warm and happy about the diplomacy now breaking out all over. Five years ago America was confronting the axis of evil. Today we are offering access to envoys. After years in the cold, North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan is on his way to New York for talks involving U.S. promises of aid and diplomatic normalization if Pyongyang just stops making nuclear bombs.

Later this month, at a "neighbors" conference convened by Iraq, America plans to sit down with Syria and Iran, whose leaders, in the grand tradition of Tony Soprano, are sending delegates to ponder ways of "stabilizing" the region they have been destabilizing with terrorist networks and bombs.

From global superpower and world cop, America is now recasting itself as feel-good therapist for rogue regimes - seeking to know what's really on the mind of Kim Jong Il, and ready to break bread with the ayatollahs. It all sounds so civilized.

But I am more worried now than I have been since that clarifying and awful morning of Sept. 11, 2001. While America's policy may be shifting, the nature of our enemies has not. We are now seeking good-faith deals with governments that rule by terror, and lie and cheat with an impunity that our own leaders cannot afford.

But according to the polls and according to the Democratic Party and according to the political left, this is exactly what we should be doing. And, we can expect to see more and more of this happy diplo-talk as we approach the 2008 elections. Unless, of course, there is another 9/11 type attack in this country.

Even then, I'm not sure that the people mentioned above who are vocally for "peace in our time" will grasp what it is they are doing to enable the enemies of peace, and to make the liklihood of our being attacked much greater.

I see many individuals who come to a psychiatrist because they ostensibly want change in their lives. Often, their world is in considerable chaos and turmoil. They are often desperate enough to insist that they are willing to do what is necessary to change, but what they want is a "magic pill" that will make everything better. Rarely do they see the crucial connection between their own behavior and choices and the resulting chaos.

Thus, I see battered and abused women who tearfully ask for antidepressant medication (and often, they are severely depressed), but who have difficulty understanding that giving them an antidepressant won't change the fact that their spouse gets drunk and beats them; and if they fail to change their own behavior or choices that lead to the dysfunctional situation, then nothing is going to change.

Then they get upset that the medication "isn't working" and want to try a different one, or a higher dose; or--even better-- a different doctor.

But the fact remains that no amount of medication will work if they do not also deal with the reality of their life; and changing doctors only allows them to keep up the pretense that they themselves don't have to change.

I sometimes explain this concept to my students by telling them about the "biopsychosocial model", which essentially argues that you can view any presenting medical problem by taking into account its biological, the psychological AND the social aspects; and then making sure you address each one specifically in your treatment plan.

Every presenting problem has a different proportion of the three, but if you neglect the social or psychological realities of a patient's life and concentrate only on the biological; then chances are that things will not significantly improve--no matter how brilliantly you might solve the biological component of the problem. If the medication (addressing the biology) helps the person to cope better (i.e., gives them energy to get out of bed in the morning or sleep better etc.) then it can have a beneficial effect on the psychosocial situation in that the patient might behave differently or make different choices. But medication or any biological intervention that ignores reality is destined not to work; nor is focusing on only the social aspects if there is happens also to be an underlying biological problem.

Expecting diplomacy--that refuses to take into account the psychological or social realities of North Korea or Iran and the psychopathologies of its leaders--to alter those dysfunctional regimes is completely unrealistic. In this sense, the West is behaving similarly to the battered spouse who fervently believes that a spoonful of medicine down her own throat will change the abusive behaviors of her husband.

It won't.

Diplomacy by itself, that ignores external reality is destined not to work either.

Medication and biological interventions set-up a stable biological framework within which a person can then change their life or situation. But individuals using it must acknowledge that medication alone will not alter the behavior of other people in their lives; nor will pretending that if only the perfect drug is taken, then life would be perfect. Reality must be embraced in toto for change to be optimal; you cannot pick and choose which aspects of it you will face and expect that all will then be well. Addressing one aspect at the expense of the others may indeed cause change by altering the balance--but it might not be the change you are hoping for; and it actually might make the situation worse.

The same is true of diplomatic solutions. Rosett notes:

Diplomacy has its own impetus toward promises, treaties and frameworks that depend on good faith from both sides. America, when making a pledge, is under tremendous pressure - by the very nature of our democratic system of transparency and law - to keep it. A Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, or a President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Bashar al-Assad, is not....

When we sit down to negotiate deals with their tyrants, we dignify and strengthen and buy time for the bomb-building Kims and Ahmadinejads, and the terrorist-backing Assads. We betray our own principles and our real friends. America is at core better than that, and if we are not honest with ourselves now, we are at high risk of getting hit - like it or not - with the much more costly and dangerous realities right down the road.

Diplomacy may be breaking out all over, but like a bad rash or toxic reaction to medication, it actually might make the international situation much worse; and ensure that the idea of "peace in our time" will remain only a fantasy.

UPDATE: SC&A remind us of history:
Diplomacy only works when the parties involved shared like minded values. Diplomacy effects compromise, which is easy to come by when dealing with Australia, Luxembourg or Canada.

An enemy, as opposed to an opponent, is a very different creature.
An enemy is someone with whom we, as individuals and as a community, have fundamental differences. An enemy has values and beliefs, that are very different than out own. An enemy wants to deprive us of our beliefs and values, because that enemy finds our beliefs repulsive or threatening to their own. Enemies will fight to the death, should they choose to engage us or we choose to engage them...

There are people who believe that enemies are opponents- that is, they can reasoned with and rationalized with and common ground can be had. Believing that an enemy can be an opponent is what led much of Europe to appease Hitler, in the beginning. Herr Hitler, it was believed, was after all a European. Surely he could be reasoned with. Surely he would respond to the rational idea that war was catastrophic.

The world watched and listened as Germany stated her objectives and prepared for war- and remained in denial about the obvious German intentions. The Germans could never be enemies, they believed. They might be opponents- but never enemies.

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