This past weekend I attended my last Model UN conference ever. (I’ve told friends to punch me squarely in the face if they should see me at one again.) I’ve been going to and staffing at such conferences since high school. And now that I’m at the end of my undergraduate career, I think it’s best that I leave this part of my life behind me as well.

This was also the first time that I took a back seat at one of these things, and it gave me the chance to reflect. My favourite type of committee is the “crisis committee”, a committee that simulates a national cabinet–such as the US National Security Council or, say, the Chinese Politburo’s Standing Committee–and attempts to replicate for delegates the kinds of crises and constraints that actual members of these cabinets would face. Running and participating in crisis committees has given me insight into how terribly misconstrued our thinking of the world really is. I’ve made two frightening observations about how people tend to make–or pretend to make–foreign policy:

Firstly, a rigid idealism clouds any sense of nuance. This is especially true of delegates from the United States, who see the world divided into realms of good and bad. “We must support democrats”, they say. Or “we have to kill X because he is our enemy.” Now, to be fair, I know that this is Model UN and the delegates function in a world without real consequences, but this strain of thinking permeates even the highest levels of government. Consider, for example, the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. Or listen to any hawkish Democrat or Republican. This naiveté is where neoconservatism comes from.

Secondly, and most worryingly, delegates believe that they can bomb their way out of any problem. I rarely heard delegates try to bribe their enemies or to use diplomacy as a means to quell an insurgency. And this follows the way the Bush and Obama administrations have fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan, failing to realize that they too are human and are amenable to political dialogue. This mental habit, elsewhere described as “military metaphysics”, I’ve termed “the Vietnam syndrome“–the opposite of Ronald Reagan’s understanding of the term, which meant chiding Americans’ refusal to go to war.