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America under George Bush embarked upon a remarkably assertive foreign policy placing heavy reliance on the use of force of arms and downplaying diplomacy. As a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush promised that “humility” would be the keynote of his foreign policy. What he delivered was of course anything but humble.
Still America’s reputation abroad was once the envy of much of the developed world, and to a considerable extent that reputation did not rest either on military might, or diplomacy. Instead it was a commitment to education, broad support for education programs – especially higher education – and the superiority of America’s model of higher education that made the difference. That explains why dozens of “American universities” now span the globe. They are not in any respect to be equated with Donald Rumsfeld’s “lilypads,” the system of ready-to-operate military bases constructed around the globe. To the contrary, these universities are successful because, like the American institutions they take as a starting point, they define themselves in terms of service to their community. It’s difficult, for instance, to imagine a more intensely anti-Bush Administration environment today than Beirut or Cairo, and yet the American universities in these cities have grown deep roots that place them right at the center of the communities they serve, and insulate them from rough times when relations with Washington sour.
A fascinating article appearing recently in China’s Oriental Morning Post helps make this point. The article is captioned “Why American Schools Create Better Leaders Than Ours …” and it proceeds to make a strong case for the superiority of the American higher education model across the board. But the author argued that the system started very early, with a process that challenges youth to think for themselves.
To cultivate our future citizens with a strong sense of responsibility, we must therefore let them organize and judge among themselves. After all, children cannot obey parents and teachers for the rest of their lives. When they grow up they should be independent, free-thinking individuals and make their own choices in life. Our educational system should prepare them for a future of taking responsibility.
Even as the world unites in an increasingly critical posture towards America over its foreign policy misadventures, our educational system remains the world’s envy. America’s recovery of its authority and respect on the world stage must start by capitalizing on this vital asset.
The German philosopher-poet Friedrich Schiller argued, in one of his great historical lectures delivered at the University of Jena, that there are only two forces in the world that were capable of improving the condition of mankind: legislation – by which he meant both the process of making laws and forming social morals – and education. Progress will occur most smoothly when both of these tools are used together. And war, he said, would never be effective as an agent for positive social transformation. Too often the law of unintended consequences kicks in, producing a result that was unplanned. The experience of a neo-imperial policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is quickly validating his final observation. But his arguments about education seem very promising, and particularly of benefit to American foreign policy makers.
They may easily be dismissed as “tools of the weak,” but in the strength of America as a great nation of educators is far better attuned to the accomplishment of American objectives on the world stage – particularly if those aims include the founders’ vision of spreading freedom, prosperity and happiness. At this point education is the one tool in our foreign policy arsenal of which no American need feel anything other than pride.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”