"Walk a Mile in My Shoes" is a song that urges people to attempt to understand someone else's situation before they criticize it. Trying to view things from a completely different perspective can also be an opportunity for introspection and not just on an individual level, but a national one as well.
To do that, consider for instance the plight of strategic planners around the world. They are the generals, politicians and bureaucrats, whether they are in China, Brazil, Russia or Britain, who have to look forward a decade or more. They need to do that to make decisions now about what contingencies to plan for and what strategies and weapons they need to have to meet those possibilities.
Obviously they will all have to take into account and make projections of where the United States will in the years ahead. That is not easy given that the world's only super power seems not just a supercilious power, but also about as predictable as a drunk on the highway.
It didn't seem that way not so very long ago. People around the world breathed a sigh of relief when the presidency changed hands and there appeared to be an administration in Washington that was willing to work with other nations to address some of the world's problems.
Then the reality of America's two-party political system set in — the party of hope and the party of nope.
The former hoped it might someday use its majorities in congress and control of the White House to actually accomplish something. It hasn't because, aside from calling themselves Democrats, the party members seem to have not that much in common.
For its part, the latter party staked its political future on being the party of Reagan — Nancy not Ronnie. Just say no became their answer to everything. They have been devoid of ideas since they failed to come up with a convincing sound bite during the last election for why the McCain/Palin ticket should be put in power. "Employ the elder and inexperienced" for some reason did not resonant with enough voters.
So they have now gone back to a tactic that has served them well since 9/11 — scaring people stupid. In a recent interview, Palin suggested that President Obama might attack Iran in 2011 or 2012 in order to get reelected. That thought occurred to her because that is what George W. Bush did in 2003 when he invaded a country with no weapons of mass destruction, ties to al Qaida or anything to do with 9/11. Reelection was after all the only mission he did accomplish.
So if it worked once to win an election, the calculation is that it can work again. Health care reform, talk about death panels, Regulation of the financial sector, link it somehow to bank bailouts. Taking action on global warming, say it will put everyone out of work.
And then of course there is the old standby — the war of terror. Forget how the Bush administration handled the shoe bomber, the underpants bomber has to be tried in a kangaroo court or none of us will be safe. What does a little thing like the rule of law matter when that bulge in the pants of the guy sitting next to you on the plane must be a bomb.
If this panorama is not enough to cause outside observers to doubt our collective sanity, then there are the tea baggers. A crowd of crackpots whipped into an angry mob by talk show hosts and other con men (and con women.) They could not fill a good sized auditorium but are dutifully treated by the media as the political future. And that future is filled with xenophobia and bigotry as their keynote speaker Tom Tancredo made clear. He used a mental condition to obtain a draft deferment during the Vietnam War and apparently has not improved since then.
Another tea bagger super star is the leading contender in the polls on the Republican candidate for 2012 and the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. She is going to run for president if god tells her to and it is right for her family. Emails from her brief stint as governor indicate the first dude took an active part in running state government. Perhaps he can be given the nuclear football to carry, the briefcase with the launch codes for our missile arsenal. Anyone who can hunt and fish as well as he can, surely knows when to pull the nuclear trigger.
So for those strategic thinkers abroad trying to make sense of where America is headed, good luck. This nation probably won't go rogue, but don't plan on it.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs. His most recent book is "Why American Foreign Policy Fails: Unsafe at Home and Despised Abroad."
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.