Monday, December 20

First Things First

"Pundita, I've been trying hard to get better informed about US foreign policy but the more I learn from reading blogs, journals and online newspapers, the more I realize how much I don't know. You wrote that Americans should be learning more about US foreign policy decisions and I agree, but there are so many angles, so many facts to consider. I wish there was one source I could trust to do a good job with reporting on US foreign policy. Can you suggest such a source? Thanks.
[Signed] Dan in Chicago"

Dear Dan:

I put your question to the possum, who asked, "Has he visited the state department?"

I think the possum put it clearly enough, but allow me to expand on her observation. You're doing things backward. Before you learn what pundits, scholars, reporters, journalists, and newspaper editors are saying about US foreign policy, first learn what the US government says about US foreign policy.

The first step is to visit the White House web site. Of course, everything you will read on the White House site is slanted toward the US and the Bush administration view. But that's exactly what you need to learn first -- the administration view.

At the site you can sign up for weekly news briefs, skim the White House daily press briefings, read about various White House foreign policy initiatives and Bush's foreign policy speeches, and use the site's search engine.

The White House search engine is very helpful; you can simply type in the name of a head of state or a country to about learn the most recent administration's statements on the subject.

Next, tackle the US Department of State web site, which you will find tons of information about what the US actually does to implement policy. Check this link to gain an idea of how much information State posts about US aid and how it's used to implement foreign policy.

Once you've read through the above link, click back to the Countries and Regions section on State's website, and take a look at the list and links. Those links are your homework.

When you come to a discussion about a particular country that you're unfamiliar with, go the CIA website, which has short articles on every country. The articles will remind you of a high school textbook. You'll find out how much rainfall the country receives, how many people in the country are literate, and so on. But the articles provide a good overview of the country and its current political system.

All this reading could take you weeks or months to complete, depending on how much daily time you can give the effort. But the readings are the best grounding in US foreign policy and how it's implemented. Despite all the bad press about State and the CIA, their web sites are a gold mine of information.

Once you've gotten several State reports under your belt, you can bone up on the congressional committees that deal with US foreign relations. At that point you will be introduced to debates in the Congress about various foreign policy initiatives and how they impact specific countries.

Once you've done your homework, you'll have a feel for the Bush foreign policy, and for the problem (perhaps "failure" is a better word) that the policy was formulated to correct. I will address that failure in the next post.

For now, it's important to make a clear distinction between the foreign policy and its critics and between the policy and the Bush national security doctrine. Once you're grounded in the policy, you won't get lost in the data and analysis that are provided by various media, including the blogosphere.

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