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9 Apr, 2019 07:19

Don’t mock college students because they handle failure poorly; they learned it from their gov't

Don’t mock college students because they handle failure poorly; they learned it from their gov't

The usual eye-rolling followed news that US colleges are having to teach stressed-out students "it's OK to fail," blaming everything from millennial entitlement to helicopter parenting - but the blame belongs with the government.

The US government has shown a truly awe-inspiring inability to handle adversity, from its many foreign policy missteps to domestic fiascos. We teach children from an early age that they should all aspire to be President someday, that serving your country is the highest calling, that they can truly "be all that you can be" by joining the military – yet none of our government institutions has demonstrated the ability to handle failure with anything less than the kind of meltdown that would give the most spoiled millennial pause. College kids incapable of dealing with failure are merely emulating these role models.

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President Donald Trump's unilateral, unprovoked decision to declare Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "terrorist organization" is just the latest in a string of geopolitical temper tantrums thrown by the world's most capricious nuclear power. After several rounds of sanctions imposed on Iran in order to force it to "act like a normal country" failed to prevent European and Asian allies from buying Iranian oil, the US opted to throw the chessboard across the room, rather than admit defeat and attempt to make peace with its opponent. It wasn't enough that Iran complied with the terms of the JCPOA nuclear deal, making the US look like the bad guy for pulling out in 2017 – they also refused to take the bait when the US tried to incite a "people power revolution" on the back of popular discontent! As if that weren't enough, last month, a Luxembourg court threw out a case filed by victims of the 9/11 attacks who had tried to sue Iran over its (nonexistent) involvement. Surely, the world's Only Superpower™ was not supposed to take all these failures sitting down.

The US could actually benefit from some of the courses colleges are reportedly offering their failure-fearing students in an effort to teach them how to "learn from setbacks." The Trump administration certainly hasn't learned from its predecessors' failure to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002, hiring the rumored mastermind of that failed coup, Elliott Abrams, as special envoy tasked with leading the installation of CIA farm team standout Juan Guaido as its pliant puppet president. Fear of failure is associated with a reluctance to take risks, and Team Trump has been downright religious in sticking to the script written years ago by USAID and revealed by WikiLeaks, down to the exact infrastructure failure predicted to send the Venezuelan populace into an uproar, overthrowing Maduro and embracing someone 80 percent of them had never heard of before he declared himself president.

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Even in the domestic policy arena, the US has shown an alarming inability to take failures in stride, and it's not just Trump: the Democratic Party, the intelligence agencies, and the media have beat the dead horse of Russiagate beyond recognition and continue to do so long after it became clear the collusion they'd trumpeted for nigh on three years did not exist. Rather than admit their failure and assail Trump from the many flanks on which he is vulnerable, many have clung desperately to the notion that Trump – whose administration has sanctioned Russia more enthusiastically than any other president this century – is a "Siberian Candidate" who owes his election not to the failure of Democrats to field formidable opposition but to the machinations of Vladimir Putin. Rather than acknowledge Special Counsel Robert Mueller's decision to file no further indictments after finishing his report, they have moved on to demanding the release not only of that report but of all the evidence used in compiling it. Russiagate has morphed into a full-on religion, complete with a hymnal composed of cleverly reworded pop songs. Surely, this is not what Stanford University meant when it created an event encouraging students to "celebrate their failures through song, poetry and other creative outlets."

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Some schools have even begun issuing "certificates of failure," and it's easy to see how this could be useful in the foreign policy arena. Rather than continue to feed soldiers into the meat grinder in Afghanistan, for example, CENTCOM could have received a "certificate of failure" back in 2013, when even the UK's Ministry of Defence admitted the 'war on terror' as it was being fought in Afghanistan was unwinnable. Certificate in hand, Trump's predecessor Barack Obama could have cut his losses and started pulling troops out immediately instead of hanging on to the detriment of literally everyone. This is arguably the point of Rand Paul and Tom Udall's 'AFGHANS Act', which declares a technical "victory" – Al-Qaeda is practically nonexistent in Afghanistan almost 20 years after the US entered the country, even though the Taliban controls more than half the country – while admitting the US wasted $6 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives in a vain quest to wage war on a concept.
But learning from our mistakes is not something the US government has ever been good at. If our college students are able to learn how to fail gracefully, perhaps they can start teaching classes in Washington.

Helen Buyniski

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.