The nexus and the olive tree

Henry Kissinger has frequently observed that two of the key challenges of conducting foreign policy are learning to distinguish between urgent and important matters, and then devising techniques to keep the urgent from driving away all consideration of the important. In other words, the volume of pressing work is so great that officials sometimes fail ...

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images
HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images
HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Kissinger has frequently observed that two of the key challenges of conducting foreign policy are learning to distinguish between urgent and important matters, and then devising techniques to keep the urgent from driving away all consideration of the important. In other words, the volume of pressing work is so great that officials sometimes fail to answer key strategic questions because they are too busy answering the telephone.

With the constant stream of news coming from the Middle East these days, Kissinger's observation is more important than ever. The world -- including, undoubtedly, no small number of U.S. officials -- is currently captivated by the death throes of Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime in Libya. Just last Thursday, Aug. 18, however, Washington's attention was focused 1,300 miles to the east, on the travails of a completely different dictator, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was called upon by Washington to step aside. And of course, in the weeks and months before that, the foreign-policy community was focused like a laser on Cairo, Tunis, and Sanaa. 

Read more.

Henry Kissinger has frequently observed that two of the key challenges of conducting foreign policy are learning to distinguish between urgent and important matters, and then devising techniques to keep the urgent from driving away all consideration of the important. In other words, the volume of pressing work is so great that officials sometimes fail to answer key strategic questions because they are too busy answering the telephone.

With the constant stream of news coming from the Middle East these days, Kissinger’s observation is more important than ever. The world — including, undoubtedly, no small number of U.S. officials — is currently captivated by the death throes of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya. Just last Thursday, Aug. 18, however, Washington’s attention was focused 1,300 miles to the east, on the travails of a completely different dictator, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was called upon by Washington to step aside. And of course, in the weeks and months before that, the foreign-policy community was focused like a laser on Cairo, Tunis, and Sanaa. 

Read more.

 

Michael Doran is the Roger Hertog senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Salman Shaikh is director of the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Together they recently co-authored "The Road Beyond Damascus."

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