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I’m watching Frontline: Heat, which is fascinating, and this anecdote is particularly fascinating: unable to pass any kind of legislation to mandate lower emissions, the Clinton administration formed the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a public-private rah-rah joint venture sort of thing. Now, one thing I think people of all political stripes in America can agree on is that when government is making you do something, that’s strength, but when it’s asking you to do something, that’s weakness. But apparently Toyota and Honda didn’t see it that way, and tried to head off the (phantom) competition in hyper-efficient vehicles. This is where the Prius came from, and apparently the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? also supports this narrative, though I haven’t seen it.

Similarly, on Monday Matt Yglesias spelled out the consequences of China’s fears of encirclement for our Afghanistan policy:

What you’re really seeing in the article here is just that, again, Afghans have an Afghan-centric view of the world. I’m sure Afghanistan seems to be in a “crucial” geographical location of stupendous relevance to world affairs if you’re living in Afghanistan. Objectively, Afghanistan is a poor landlocked country with terrible physical infrastructure that’s extremely far away from all of China’s population and industrial centers. Yet I always think Americans don’t pay enough attention to foreigners’ oft-paranoid, oft-misinformed views of what it is we’re doing. In America’s internal discourse it’s all-too-often taken for granted that the purity of our motives is obvious and that the moves of foreigners is all about us. We regard “pro-American” and “anti-American” as key political/ideological categories and regard proclamations of our resolve and readiness to stick around as confidence building measures. Things look very different to outsiders.

My thinking on this is that we should deliberately do things to provoke foreigners into doing things beneficial to us. This is not necessarily a new observation (I’m sure Henry Kissinger is purring somewhere) but I think "bamboozled foreigners" is a woefully under-utilized resource. Perhaps we should strive to see all our problems as fences and America as plucky Tom Sawyer.

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