Unintended Consequences

As I tried to point out in a recent article at the Daily Caller, foreign policy is an extremely complicated thing.  This sounds self-evident, but it’s amazing the extent to which certain officials think they can control events occurring around the world.  I like to characterize US foreign policy in the Middle East as throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest, and then expecting to be able to control the hornets when they emerge.  The consequences of intervention are so many, so widespread, so complicated, and so unforeseen that no one can hope to be able to manage them, without inevitably intervening even more and thus fueling even more unintended consequences.  (You can see a strong parallel between the overconfidence of government officials in the area of foreign policy and their attitude in areas of attempted economic control.  But, that’s a separate discussion.)

Thanks to the wonderful (in my opinion) people at WikiLeaks, we have been able to see a much more realistic picture of the war in Afghanistan than has so far been available.  CNN reports on one element of these reports that is none other than one of these most unintended of consequences — some of the most advanced military technology in our country’s arsenal falling into the hands of…well we’re not really sure who.  CNN reports:

When unmanned aircraft crash in Afghanistan, scavenger hunters frequently aren’t far behind, U.S. military incident reports published by WikiLeaks suggest.

On several occasions, military units sent to recover the aircraft — known as tactical unmanned aerial vehicles — have arrived to find the aircraft stripped of valuable parts.

In April 2007, a parachute deployed on one that had maintenance issues, one report says. Troops sent to recover the aircraft couldn’t reach it until the next day, when they discovered it was missing some of its electronic components and its payload.

Is this a surprise?  For me, no.  For most of the readers of this blog, no.  For those who oversimplify foreign policy to international powers moving on a chess board, yes.  Government officials often forget that at the end of the day we are not dealing simply with “the Taliban” or “Al Qaeda” — we are dealing with individual human beings.  And while the Taliban and Al Qaeda as groups may seem predictable, individual human beings are essentially the most advanced supercomputers ever to exist on this planet.  To think that one can predict the actions of human beings on the other side of the world, especially human beings whose culture and background one hardly understands, is nothing but the highest form of hubris.  And, just like in Greek tragedy, the hubris comes just before the fall, when it turns out that the prideful character did not have everything under control, and in fact is the victim of consequences that he was too prideful to foresee or even consider as a possibility.

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