Dennis C. Jett wants to be taken seriously.
He should be.
Mr. Jett, the Dean of International Studies at the University of Florida, is also a former career diplomat with service in Argentina, Israel, Malawi, and Liberia. Before departing the Foreign Service he also served as the United States Ambassador to Peru and Mozambique.
Dean Jett is in the news cycle recently because the Gainesville Sun published the Dean’s op-ed, a piece that in turn was read by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web Today” online feature. (For the record, while I do not know Mr. Taranto, he edited a long-ago article of mine for the WSJ; as it happens, a recent article of mine for this site was run the other day on the WSJ’s Online edition as a result of TAS’s involvement in the “Opinion Federation” series.)
Taranto ran an excerpt of Dean Jett’s op-ed, “The Nation’s Values, Not Survival, at Risk,” dutifully providing a link to the original. Taranto also ran a heated objection from Dean Jett afterwards. The essence of Mr. Jett’s point was that Taranto had distorted Jett’s views by only publishing 200 words of 800 (he ignored the fact of the link), and that had readers seen Jett’s entire piece they would realize “the stupidity” of the questions posed by Taranto. TAS readers can link up and read both articles for themselves, and certainly Mr. Taranto needs no help defending himself.
But while Dean Jett seems to suffer from the modern liberal disease of humorlessness, he nonetheless has a point in asking to be taken seriously. So, Dean Jett, allow me.
First of all, let me start by thanking you for your service to our country. The Foreign Service is filled with dedicated men and women serving around the globe in situations that can be as dangerous as they are unglamorous. You stepped up to the plate and I applaud you for that.
Alas, however, experience in the Foreign Service, other branches of the government or — yes — even the military does not necessarily gift anyone with the ability to get it right when it comes to understanding the essence of a serious threat to our national security. The list is long of men and women with distinguished records in diplomacy, war, or government who utterly failed to comprehend serious national security threats until it was too late, or who wanted to call a halt to a war and simply retreat in defeat. This is a commonplace not only in American history but in the history of other nations and cultures as well.
In our own country a short list would include names like General George McClellan of Civil War fame (who insisted the war was a failure in his 1864 campaign to unseat Lincoln), Senators William Borah of Idaho, Gerald Nye of North Dakota and Burton Wheeler of Montana, all three of whom insisted the U.S. should not involve itself in trying to stop Hitler in the 1930s. Ditto World War I flying ace General Eddie Rickenbacker and Colonel Charles Lindbergh, both men of spectacular courage yet blind as a bat to Hitler. In our time there was World War II hero Senator George McGovern who blithely declared “the war against Communism is over” in 1972 with all of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain and the invasions or take-over through surrogates of places like Afghanistan and Nicaragua still in the future. Not yet a senator, John Kerry, dressed in his battle fatigues, famously assured the American people in 1971 that “we cannot fight Communism all over the world and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.”
This doesn’t even touch the experienced officials of Great Britain and France in the 1930s, the Baldwins, Chamberlains, Lavals and many more.
In other words, appeasement and the inability to see a serious threat to national security is a sentiment that knows no generational, educational or professional bounds. Dean Jett is obviously a patriotic and well-educated, very experienced man. In contrast, the mechanic who fixed the family car the other day is not even close to the Dean’s level of schooling or professional experience. Nonetheless, out of the blue he lectured me at length about the danger of not dealing with bullies whether they were in the schoolyard or the international arena. He had lived a life, and he knew something about mankind and human beings.
LET’S TAKE A FEW OF Dean Jett’s points.
The Dean says that the deaths of three thousand on 9/11 simply do not compare with the deaths of sixty million who died in World War II. “Comparing the threat of terrorism to that of Communism or the original Axis of evil is not simply historical ignorance or hubris. It is sheer political opportunism. Do those in power really think the nation’s very survival is at risk because of a handful of fanatics? Or do they know that their political survival depends on convincing 51 percent of the people of that?”
The striking thing about this line of reasoning is that it does in fact come from a Dean of International Studies at a major university who has such considerable experience in the Foreign Service.
Surely one would think that Dean Jett would know that in the 1930s, when his philosophical ancestors held sway in America, Britain and Europe, there was no such thing as the Axis powers nor were there sixty million dead. There were, however, “a handful of fanatics” that had been clambering around the bowels of German politics for over a decade. Ironically, CBS journalist William Shirer, in his award-winning The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich uses an almost identical phrase when describing Adolf Hitler and his cronies before their rise. They were, Shirer writes, a “little band of fanatical, ruthless men.”