They headed off to college as the Berlin Wall was coming down, were inspired by globalization and came of age with international terrorism. Freed from a constant nuclear standoff as a dominant fact of international life, members of Generation X no longer fear war or upheaval in the global status quo.
Understand them -- and where they came from -- and suddenly President Bush's Middle East forays, grand democratic experiments and go-it-alone strategies take on a different look....This small group of conservative Gen Xers -- members of an age cohort once all but written off as stand-for-nothing underachievers -- is the first set of American policymakers truly at home in a unipolar world.
Their adulthood has never included a fellow superpower or the need to reach accommodation with an enemy -- a Cold War concept none of the NSC's Gen-X crowd can get their heads around. Instead, their history begins with Sept. 11, 2001. It is the measuring stick they use when discussing their generation's challenge and the sole lens through which they envision the future. "We all built careers in the post-Cold War world," said Meghan O'Sullivan, who at 36 is the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan. "You have to think about what are the defining features of the age we live in. For me, that's American primacy, globalization, terrorism and WMD, which is why we do what we do. This wasn't applicable during the Cold War."
Generation X has never lived without pop culture and economic prosperity. It missed great moments of national triumph such as the victory of World War II as well as the ignominious defeats of the Vietnam era. Conflict, for Gen X, was the swift 1991 Persian Gulf War, which they watched like a television show.
At the NSC, staffers said the gap is most noticeable when their boss, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, recounts his years as an arms control negotiator during the Cold War. "We're like 'Arms control, what's that?'" said Michael Allen, Hadley's special assistant for legislative affairs.
"I often hear about arms control from the old-timers, but it's so different now. It's about all the places we don't have embassies now and it's very rare, it seems, that [Congress] is lobbying the executive branch to engage. Most of the times it's isolate, how can we isolate a country even more?" said Allen, a lawyer who grew up in Mobile, Ala. and could easily win an Owen Wilson look-alike contest. Don't ask the 32-year-old Allen about the era of bipartisanship; he never experienced it.
For many of the generals with whom O'Sullivan consults in her current job, the painful experience of Vietnam permeates their thinking on Iraq. Not for O'Sullivan. "We are the first post-Vietnam generation, without the baggage of Vietnam, which doesn't mean we don't try to learn some of the lessons from there about counterinsurgency and so forth, but it's not my first frame of reference and I think that's a good thing," said O'Sullivan.
Same goes for Afghanistan, where she and her team guide policy as the United States seeks to stabilize the friendly government of President Hamid Karzai installed after the fall of the Taliban. "If your frame of reference is the Soviet invasion and how they got bogged down, then I think you'd be very modest about what could be achieved in Afghanistan," O'Sullivan said. "That's not how I see it. I see an end of Taliban rule and a nascent democracy."
All riiiight. Out of touch with history and reality, and proud of it. I'm the same age as these people, and I remember the cold war and the Russian disaster in Afghanistan. And while I don't actually remember Vietnam, I'm well aware of it, and it does inform my thinking, especially when it comes to ill-conceived wars of choice.Jesus, no wonder our foreign policy is fucked up - it's being run by people who think history began when they graduated college.