Monday, August 18, 2008

Nuance Shortage

I stole the title from Michael Gerson's op-ed in today's Washington Post. Gerson seems to think that Obama's style at the Saddleback Church Forum- which he described as "analyz[ing]" and "wigh[ing" issues rather than "confront[ing]" them - is a detriment. Except that analyzing and weighing issues is a sign a sound judgment and a willingness to keep cool in the face of heated moments. McCain may show a willingness to "confront" issues in a head's down, no-holds-barred kind of way, but this only points out his repeated failures of judgment, his lack of any ability to remain cool in the face of a crisis, and his willingness to shoot from the mouth before giving careful thought to what is really needed in any given policy decision.

The events of the past few weeks have shown the limitations inherent in an approach to issues of the moment that favors confrontation. McCain's response to the war in the Caucusus between Russia and Georgia is "Exhibit A" in any argument that his reflexive desire to use force hurts rather than advances American interests. We have been saddled with a confrontational style for the past seven and a half years, and it has brought nothing but failure, death, and the destruction of any moral authority the United States might once have possessed in the world. The most aggravating thing about events since September, 2001 is that we had the world's sympathy and compassion. Even Iran and Russia expressed official sorrow over the events in New York and Washington. Rather than take those feelings of goodwill and offers of assistance, Gerson was the author of the phrase "axis of evil" and included Iran in it, thus eliminating forever any ability to work with the Iranians on common problems, including militant Sunni ideology represented by al Qaeda. With the "confrontational" approach now being used by the Bush Administration towards Russia, and cheerled by McCain (who wants immediate NATO membership extended to Georgia, a move that would only embolden the Georgians to new and even more stupid military action), we are faced with having our overall military and diplomatic weakness made far worse. We do not have the military capability to deal with the Iraq occupation and our relatively small force in Afghanistan. How in the world, logistically and otherwise, are we going to confront Russia over Georgian aggression? More to the point, why should we? This is no world-historical event taking place, but essentially a border dispute between a small country and its much larger, and near-hegemonic neighbor.

Since the Kosovo air war of the late-1990's, McCain has shown a willingness to expand our military actions in an alarming fashion, against the sound and reasoned judgment of the Defense Department and the military leaders on the ground. His "criticism" of the Bush Administration's approach to Iraq was simple - we didn't go in with more troops, and didn't keep more troops on the ground during the initial phase of the occupation. I would hardly call this "confrontational" approach a case study in sound judgment.

Indeed, there is a nuance shortage in our current conventional approaches to all sorts of issues, whether they be taxes, health care financing and delivery, or foreign policy. Part of the reason Bush is so unpopular and McCain (barring some catastrophe) will lose the election in November is that the confrontational approach to issues displays a lack of understanding, a refusal to take the time necessary to understand that, indeed, reality can be complicated and sometimes even intractable in its refusal to bend to ideological formulas. It might be nice, even somewhat reassuring to some, that there are those who seek high office who refuse to consider all the facts before barreling ahead in this world. Yet, look where it has left us after all this time.

As a kind of postscript, may I just add that I would so love it if the word "evil" could be eliminated from our public discourse.

Virtual Tin Cup

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