The monastic innocence of the foreign-policy establishment approaches the eerie incomprehension that one associates with Moonies. There is the same earnest inanity, the same self-delusion and odd unfamiliarity with the workings of the world. The spaciness is mystifying considering that officials at the State Department are not stupid. The explanation perhaps is their academic mode of thought. We have too many professors when we ought to have poker players.
The professor is preoccupied with formulating abstractions, which he manipulates in the belief that they correspond to the world. His world teems with theories, principles and impersonal historical forces, of which he believes reality to be the vector sum. He speaks of the decline of colonialism, the rise of the Third World, millenarianism, interrelatedness. Without quite realizing it, he sometimes comes to think that abstractions are the world. A decade ago he believed that the domino theory was discredited when enough professors in New York had attacked it in political journals. The opponents who concern him are not the hostile countries with which the United States must deal, but the people with whom he argues.
In contrast, the poker player looks around him and sees not abstractions but men. His approach is intuitive instead of theoretical. He views Hitler as an unwashed psychotic, not as the result of Weimar decadence, Teutonic authoritarianism and lingering resentment at the war-guilt clause. He watches mankind with less than dewy-eyed optimism, believing that rationality and benevolence in human affairs are subordinate to greed, self-interest, fear and combativeness. He knows how men should act, but also how they do act, a distinction the professor doesn't make.
The professor thinks that a Soviet invasion of Europe is impossible because it would risk a holocaust. The poker player knows that many men like to gamble. He immediately asks the crucial question: would the United States immolate itself to prevent a conquest of Europe? Or would it sit back and appoint study commissions? The poker player knows a sporting proposition when he sees it.
The professor tends to be a decent man from civil surroundings and believes, perhaps unconsciously, that other men are like him. A high proportion of policy-makers go to exclusive private schools and then to Harvard. The rest come largely from sheltered suburbs. To them an internecine struggle means an exchange of savage book reviews. Even lawyers play by legal rules that preclude any real damage to an opponent. A lost case means an unfavorable property settlement, not a hurried call for an ambulance.
These nice people apparently believe that the world's leaders play by the same rules. The terrible weakness of Jimmy Carter, a moral man, is that he behaves as if he lived in a moral world.
The poker player tends to have had rude experience of a more brutal life. He has spent time in barracks, waterfront bars, truck stops, a bad section of Brooklyn or a small Tennessee town. Maybe he has seen sadistic toughs beat a stranger into a intensive care unit for the sheer fun of it. He knows that a mean drunk in a pool hall is utterly irrational and very dangerous. He sits near the door. The poker player, having no illusions about the gentility of humanity, expects men to behave like the men he has seen. He knows that many of the world's leaders would be considered peculiar in the men's room of a New York bus station.
The professor dislikes conflict and consequently persuades himself that others also dislike it. His means of kidding himself are varied. One is to accept an obvious aggressor's protestations of injured virtue. Today he believes that SALT and detente are genuine indicators of Russia's desperate search for good will. In another time he believed that Austria, the Rhineland and the Sudentenland were each Hilter's final territorial demand.
Yet another means of self-delusion is to rely on the inevitability of historical trends. By viewing the rise of the last Reich as the historically ordained resurgence of a vigorous country, he persuades himself that it is inevitable. Why fight history?
The professor will also engage in logical acrobatics to avoid confrontation. He accuses the American military of being warmongers but never make the leap to ask: what if other countries have warmongers?
The poker player knows that some men like to fight.
Because the lower social and economic classes have seen the rougher side of life, they tend to be hard-liners. The genteel professor attributes his differing view to his superior education. It is merely a different education. The question is whose understanding corresponds more closely to the real world.