Indeed, when it comes to foreign affairs, generations of highly credentialed foreign policy mandarins have not compiled a record that would suggest those credentials contribute to success. The two most consequential failures include misreading the Iranian Revolution as an anticolonial bid for freedom and popular sovereignty, rather than a religious revolution aimed at creating an Islamic theocracy; and failing to foresee and thus prepare for the collapse of the Soviet Union, something that was unthinkable to the big brains of our foreign policy establishment.
Moreover, the great foreign policy success in the postwar period was victory in the Cold War, which was the accomplishment of an ex-actor and foreign policy amateur looked down on by the government agency “professionals.” They contemptuously dismissed Reagan’s common-sense wisdom like “we win, they lose,” “evil empire,” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The latter iconic phrase, by the way, was argued against by the State Department and National Security Council because it was too provocative and naïve.
The simple truth that people like Noonan miss is that credentials, including military service, no matter how sterling or impressive, do not necessarily bespeak wisdom or future achievement, any more than exquisite manners, as Jane Austen has taught us, bespeak a true gentleman. They represent instead a promise that is broken more often than kept. What infuriates them about Trump, aside from his affrontery of getting elected over the highly credentialed Hillary Clinton, is that though lacking such credentials, and contemptuous of the political decorum of the ruling caste and their advice, he has been remarkably successful both at home and abroad.
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