Thursday, May 05, 2011


Before we turn to specifics from "A National Strategic Narrative", I think a few words need to be said about the premises from which Mr. Y works. Any thoughtful assessment of our current historical moment should be realistic not only about the challenges we face as a country, but the social, cultural, and political conditions that color our perceptions of these challenges. The best policy in the world may well sit on a shelf, never to be implemented because the conditions for carrying it out simply don't exist. While the "Y" article certainly takes several steps in the right direction, the authors do not address specifics regarding our current national mood, except perhaps in passing.

I think the best entry point for such a discussion is the national reaction to the news that American Special Forces operatives killed Osama Bin Laden on Sunday. After many long years, including many when it seemed such an event would never occur, the news caused widespread expressions of jubilation and even public celebrations. Some of them have been quite ugly, to be honest. I know that, given the opportunity, such an eventuality was inevitable, determined by the actions Bin Laden set in motion years ago. His death, however justified and justifiable, is not an occasion for celebration in and for itself; even less should it be an excuse for outpourings of hatred.

For several years, our nation has found itself floundering. The past ten years have provided a legacy that has left us, by and large, without any sense that we can extricate ourselves from the hole we have dug for ourselves. The economy continues to be a pile of crap, to be blunt. Overseas, the Arab spring gives even more evidence of the irrelevance of the arguments once made for our presence in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the 100,000 plus troops seem to serve no purpose or strategic objective; while our service personnel face danger and death, there just seems to be no purpose, no rhyme or reason to it, and the upheavals in the Muslim world make clear our presence does little to effect the dynamics going on. At the very least, the successful execution of the operation in Abbottobad, Pakistan give us a reason to celebrate our military, a successful mission accomplished. In that respect, at least, the outpouring of national celebration seems understandable, even if slightly grotesque.

We have something to celebrate. It is a victory of sorts in a struggle that has been long and complicated, includes the horrific events of 2001 and the frustrations of a lost opportunity - I am quite sure through no fault of anyone, just circumstances - in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan that have come to be known as the Battle of Tora Bora. While we achieved initial success in ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq, the questions as to why do so in the first place, as well as our long occupation, have created bitterness at home and abroad. The spectacle of a stubborn economic slump in the midst of what its supporters insist is a war equivalent in importance to the Second World War raises a host of other questions that just don't receive any proper response. Our various approaches to public matters of grave import just don't seem coordinated; the effects of our actions seem to fade in the distance, if they ever come at all. While we can rest easier with the death of Osama Bin Laden, the underlying troubles and sense of helplessness remain.

For me, this is part of the importance of the "Y" article. In moving beyond the stale rhetoric of the past, it cuts across any narrowly-understood ideological or partisan divide and offers a way of thinking about public policy that, rather than a hodge-podge of base, narrow policy preferences and intermediate improvisations that seem to do little than attempt to patch a hole here or there without addressing the core set of problems we face. In particular with the death of Bin Laden, we can now face the present, and create a possible future, with this particular bit of nasty business out of the way.

Our on-going national funk creates a whole set of obstacles even to hearing what "Y" is offering as a vision for a vibrant, productive future with the U.S. as an important partner with others for making our world more livable, more safe for more people. We need to understand this particular set of obstacles in order to overcome them, so that we can all start moving forward together.

Virtual Tin Cup

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