The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 35

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
DECEMBER 2013
35
David Galbraith was a Rusk Fellow at the Institute for the Study of
Diplomacy at Georgetown University from 2012 to 2013, and is cur-
rently on a detail at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. His
previous Foreign Service assignments include Egypt, Saudi Arabia,
Iraq, Venezuela and Washington, D.C. The analysis and views offered
in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of
the Department of State.
Whenever proponents of a policy
cite a historical analogy as their main
justification, listeners should beware.
BY DAV I D GALBRA I TH
THE USES
OF HISTORY:
LESSONS FROMA
GEORGETOWNCLASSROOM
T
he Danish philosopher Soren
Kierkegaard once said, “Instruc-
tion begins when you, the teacher,
learn from the learner.” My stu-
dents at Georgetown University
and I certainly learned together
this past semester, but that did
not surprise me. What I was
not
expecting was how applicable
what I learned in the classroom is
to being in the Foreign Service.
I had the good fortune to spend the 2012-2013 academic
year as a Rusk Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for
the Study of Diplomacy. The highlight of my fellowship was
developing and teaching an undergraduate seminar on U.S.
policymaking in response to the Arab Spring.
I conducted the course from a practitioner’s perspective,
but sought to develop more general lessons from the specific
issues at hand. (I think I succeeded, at least at the macro
level. One student, following a simulation of a National Secu-
rity Council meeting on Syria, exclaimed: “That was a great
exercise. I never realized policymaking was so f------ hard!”)
One of the central questions we considered in the course
was when the United States should use force, with Libya and
Syria as case studies. On the surface, there are many similari-
ties. Both countries were run by unfriendly dictators, and
threatened by humanitarian catastrophes (which have come
to pass in one). But I also sought to tease out the many dif-
ferences between the two, exploring why President Barack
Obama chose to intervene militarily in Libya but not (at least
directly) in Syria.
The students did an excellent job of identifying these con-
trasts, ranging from terrain and demography to geopolitical
complexity and the nature of the regime. Historical analogies
frequently came up in the conversation: Rwanda, the Balkans,
Afghanistan and Iraq. But I didn’t let the class dwell on them.
For their final papers, I asked the students to write a memo
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