|March 13, 2015||Imperialism’s Role in Ending Slavery||no comments|
|December 12, 2013||Thoughts about tolerance - and breastfeeding||1 comments|
|November 12, 2013||Is Texas Disenfranchising Women?||3 comments|
|July 31, 2013||A New Prince, a New Law, and the Abortion Debate||no comments|
|July 03, 2013||The Kite Runner and Political Stability in Afghanistan||4 comments|
|June 13, 2013||A Grad Student in Cuba||2 comments|
|April 19, 2013||The Boston Marathon: What it Means to This Runner and How You Can Help||1 comments|
|February 01, 2013||Flipping the Coin on Benghazi: A Tragedy Under Bush||4 comments|
|January 25, 2013||Preble’s Pivot on Foreign Policy||1 comments|
|January 03, 2013||Nothing to Toast in 2013 Politics||2 comments|
I started to think deeper recently about ways in which Americans have not always reached their stated aspirations as per the antebellum period in which slavery was a lawful and culturally acceptable practice.
If you did not know, the word slave in the English language is rooted in slav for the history of slavery in the world is much older than the Triangular Slave Trade with which most Americans are familiar. In the context of the West, slavery was imposed on the weakest groups in any geographic region. In Europe, this often meant people of Slavic descent. However, per its origins, slavery was not about race-based subjugation but general conquest.
To explain how race then became so entwined with the American South's vision of slavery thousands of years after the practices inception, Thomas Sowell, an economist and social theorist at Stanford University, put forth a very interesting theory grounded in part in intellectual history.
When the United States was first born, the idea that men were all created equal presented a peculiar problem to the Founding Fathers. If this was true, no men should ever be enslaved. Therefore, slaves had to be thought of as less than men.
This twisting of logic took place as the Brits, too, had wrestled with what was a revolutionary change in perception about this ages old practice in their colonies. Virulent racism in the United States thereby grew out of the desire to preserve the “peculiar institution” despite changing attitudes about equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
In Europe, once the idea that men are men are men and thus natural rights cannot be denied them took hold in the United Kingdom, the British as a major imperial power began to stamp out the slave trade as immoral. (Think Quakers. Think William Wilberforce.)
Conversely, though not successful in removing it from the country, from the very founding of the United States, some Americans understood that slavery could not be squared with American ideals, and the practice disappeared in certain regions shortly after the American Revolution. (Think New England states.)
Eventually more Americans caught up with the British way of thinking and were again bothered by the doublethink required to allow slavery to thrive in a country professing a love of freedom. By then, however, there were even more economic interests tied to slavery that were as deeply entrenched and difficult to dislodge as the racism that was used to sustain them.
Though a bloody and brutal civil war had to be fought, there was an intellectual movement that had been taking place for a long time per the ideas of the West that had, indeed, pushed Americans closer to their own ideals on this matter.
The costly and incredible moral crusade with which the British engaged much earlier and throughout the 19th century to end the slave trade even played a role in the South’s losing the Civil War. This is because it was unacceptable for the British to side with the Confederates after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued despite economic incentives to do so. Per British leadership--and the power Britain wielded through an expansive empire--slavery gradually became morally despicable throughout the entire West and was confronted often on the high seas.
The United States would eventually follow the Brits' lead as evidenced by the American squashing of the slave trade per our own adventures in imperialism that led to the decades-long ruling of the Philippines.
I do not minimize here the horrors of slavery or ignore the negatives of Empire. However, if Sowell is correct, despite the errors of the past, one should be proud to be part of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, which confronted some of the contradictions of their societies to undergo painful cultural evolutions to reach higher moral planes.
In the context of ending slavery, British Imperialism was an especially wonderful thing.
For me, Giselle’s advocacy has prompted some thought about bigger questions of tolerance—and what that word practically means—within our society.
First, there has been a huge movement within the United States to make breastfeeding in public more acceptable. It's a natural thing to do. Of course breastfeeding mothers should be accommodated in public.
But if a man (or woman) thinks this very intimate action should be done discreetly, does that make him (or her) intolerant of breastfeeding? Would it have been okay for that man shown curling Giselle’s hair in the US photograph—eyes directed at the back of Giselle’s head—to ask Giselle to take a moment to tend to her child before he continued his work?
I suspect that the lactating billionaire might not have felt very sympathetic—or shown much tolerance—for the feelings behind such a request.
Conversely, if a woman other than Giselle chooses to not breastfeed for any reason, does that make her a bad mother? Should she be forced to make a different choice when few dispute breast milk offers massive benefits for babies?
I think Giselle Bundchen would say women reaching for bottles are hurting their children.
Furthermore, though she has modified her public statements to no longer condemn those women who don’t breastfeed, I suspect the private Gisele still feels not only completely in the right on this issue but smugly justified when judging people with whom she disagrees.
Remember. She once wanted to codify her opinion!
Ultimately, whatever one thinks about her methods, Giselle has sparked an interesting and vigorous debate about breastfeeding, which is productive enough.
But how would one feel if suddenly Giselle convinced the government to support her view and breastfeeding became a requirement of parenting?
What do we call it when changes that challenge core beliefs about choice are foisted upon people by their own government?
For a different example, though some people think their views are practically “medieval,” is it okay for the owners of Hobby Lobby to not pay for a morning after pill in the health insurance policies they are told they must carry for their employees?
This calls to mind one of the most thought provoking texts I’ve encountered in graduate school. In her book Charitable Hatred, Alexandra Walsham considers some of the religious views of people who inhabited early modern England and the implications for free thought.
Once upon a time, people in power would burn an individual at the stake in an attempt to change his mind about the most important questions of the day, those that dealt with his salvation. This was right versus wrong! If a man had to go up in flames to save his soul—or to stop him from corrupting the souls of others—then so be it.
The zealous destruction of individual deviants from the monarch-endorsed opinion was completely justified—even considered a kindness—in the minds of those who stoked the flames.
Fortunately religious (and intellectual) freedom in England evolved out of public burnings. But becoming more "tolerant" for those early modern groups did not mean becoming more “accepting.”
For a complex society to work and continue to expand, it was very important for people who made different judgments to show tolerance of others with whom they disagreed. This didn’t mean that they didn’t still hate each other’s beliefs.
Just to clarify, I’m not trying to suggest that Giselle Bundchen with her breastfeeding crusades—or healthcare mandates that have come down from on high—are equivalent to Mary Tudor ordering Hugh Latimer to be burned to death in Oxford!
I am trying to use a fairly benign example of a contemporary debate in the public square prompted by a super model to ask a few questions that have been asked for centuries.
When do attempts at persuasion turn into impositions of opinion? When do actions to further a political goal seen by many to undergird a moral right—i.e. the goodness of having healthy babies in a society or the goodness of having minimum standards for healthcare—turn into the practical oppression of individuals?
I don’t have the answer. I simply feel it’s worth careful consideration.
Those broader questions are actually more important than a celebrity’s opinions on any one issue as conveyed through an image included in a glossy magazine.
Many of my liberal friends seem to feel that I have moved to a draconian state in which women, minorities, old people, and probably vegetarians are being systematically disenfranchised as part of a mean Republican plot to win elections.
Of course, it was actually Democrats who once used the law to systematically disenfranchise large swaths of Southern voters, but there is no need to muddy the waters here with the historical record. Today I am only concerned with the horrible impositions the new Texas voter ID law has thrust in 2013 onto weak and easily confused women like me.
Here I detail for you my long-suffering experience.
First, if you were unaware that last Tuesday was an election day with various issues on ballots in states across the country—or you didn’t care—you would be like more than ninety percent of all Texans… and most Georgians. Off year elections have notoriously small turnouts because the issues can seem small.
In fact, in my new district in the Lone Star State, there were only a few constitutional amendments on the ballot along with a basic housing bond, which had already been voted down once in 2012 by the good citizens of Austin.
Now, I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here, but that last item is germane to any discussion about how political groups—in this case, liberal—often subvert the will of voters. You see powers that support a special interest—like a housing bond—often quietly overturn the will of a majority without ever using anything so publicly demonized as a Voter ID. An apathetic electorate often disenfranchises itself when voters don’t continue to show up, as would be the case in Texas in 2013.
But perhaps I digress from my real focus: the scheming plots of those on the Right who want to undermine the will of women!
On November 5, making the effort to do my civic duty, I got into a short line at the appropriate poll. I pulled out my newly acquired Texas driver’s license. A man noted that my full name was on the voters’ roll, but it was not printed the exact same way on my official government-issued ID.
Was I then thrown out of the place? Told I should drop that pesky maiden name I do so love to bandy about? Not allowed to register my opinion?
I was allowed to fill out a form so that my names would match up exactly in the future. Then I signed an affidavit that said I am, indeed, me. This whole process took an extra thirty seconds of my time before I entered a voting booth.
Incidentally, the guy who was in line directly behind me hadn’t spelled his middle name out on his license either. Perhaps a political party is conducting a war on tall white men in snappy beige blazers? (Alas! He managed to sign an affidavit, too.)
But what if I had shown up with a completely different surname on my driver’s license than the one I’d used to register to vote? I would have cast a provisional ballot and been given six days to return with proof of my identity for that vote to register.
Sure, such an eventuality would have been a pain in my shapely rumpus—as is changing all forms of government documentation like one’s social security card after getting married—but I like to think I would have muddled through it because it is important.
After all, I know women once stood in front of charging horses to gain the right to participate in the political process. It seems a little anticlimactic to me to make a big deal out of having to find my marriage license so I can vote, too.
Regardless, those on the Left who care so much about my trampled-upon interests can put their minds at ease. Whew! Voter ID or not, I figured out how to cast my vote. I’ll continue to do so… even in future elections in which liberal candidates who deploy the demagogic “war on women” mantra like Wendy Davis, for instance, might prefer a politically conservative woman like me to just stay home.
However, as I am spending this summer within shouting distance of the Austin capital building where new limits have just been imposed on the practice of abortion in the state of Texas, the buzz about the birth in London got me thinking.
When people were watching Kate’s “baby bump” grow—a highly chronicled event during which a lady’s belly was scrutinized on a practically daily basis—was that bump ever considered only tissue? When did it stop being tissue and start being a prince? How can so many Americans greet the life of a stranger with such joy and anticipation whilst calling any move to protect legions of the more common unborn as some sort of salvo in a war on women?
To be fair, none of these questions have easy answers.
For many people who say they support “choice,” a baby does not exist at all until a baby draws breath on his or her own. Therefore, when measures to stop conception fail, these folks feel the woman has simply been inflicted with a biological condition that changes her body and has little to do with new life. Choosing to return to one’s original, physical state is about as morally complicated as taking an aspirin to disperse a headache.
However, when one takes the position that a fetus is not a baby, it seems getting excited about a wanted pregnancy—such as that of the future king of the United Kingdom—as opposed to an unwanted pregnancy—such as the more than 1,000,000,000 fetuses that have been terminated world wide in just my own lifetime—requires a certain amount of doublethink.
When a fetus begins to move, many people suddenly want to touch a woman’s belly and see if they can feel a kick. I can imagine this was true about the Duchess of Cambridge as well. The flutter that is noticeable for most women by sixteen weeks is viewed as the stirrings of life when a baby’s arrival is joyfully anticipated. It is apparently dismissed as insignificant as gas when the baby is to be discarded.
Here can be found the main divide that exists in the abortion debate.
Those who believe in “choice” sincerely want women to have control over their bodies and futures. Despite rhetoric sometimes deployed against them, their primary purpose is not to kill babies. The vast majority of these people do not think life begins at conception. Therefore, only the woman’s future should be considered when making any decisions about termination. Even the father isn’t a significant decision maker because no one is talking about his child. Those kicks at 16 weeks are involuntary spasms. This mindset should not change simply because the baby is wanted. A fetus is not a baby.
On the other hand, there are a great many people who think that the miracle of procreation does not involve one body or soul but two bodies, two souls. Despite rhetoric sometimes deployed against them, there is no desire to impose a life of servitude on a woman who does not want a child or who is not ready to support a baby. There is simply a desire to protect the two people who are most impacted by an abortion. Life begins at conception, and those kicks at 16 weeks are clear evidence of a separate human being.
Though there are people who fall firmly in one camp or the other—pro-choice or pro-life—there are many more who form their opinions in gray zones. They aren’t sure when life begins, but they feel the mother’s life should have more weight than the life of an embryo smaller than a kidney bean. For them, there is a point in which an abortion is acceptable—especially under certain circumstances—and then there is a point at which it is not. They do not want to defend abortion at all costs, but they tolerate it as necessary.
When looking at the Texas legislation, the idea that abortions after 20 weeks—five months—is now illegal is a cause of celebration for anyone who views a fetus as a baby. Of course pro-life advocates want to eradicate abortion all together. Science has made the date of viability outside the womb much younger per any reckoning, but, again, pro-lifers consider the baby a baby from the beginning. However, no matter when the magic “switch” from “tissue” to “baby” clicks in the minds of others, those in the “gray zone” can look at an ultrasound of a 20-week-old fetus and find a face. The debate is no longer about an abstract by then for them either.
Therefore, when arguing that a fetus is still just tissue and thus disposable, the pro-choice lobby seems radical to many. It is also weak to say a woman cannot make a decision in this amount of time about how she will address her pregnancy. The vast majority of abortions happen before 20-weeks anyway, so the desire to keep this delay legal seems to be a devaluing of life in the womb for more than just the pro-life lobby.
Having said this, one should consider the impact of other restrictions on abortion clinics also in the Texas bill. If abortion is regulated out of existence per lack of access, those in the “gray zone” might shift their opinion to supporting more pro-choice agencies because of an intrinsic ambivalence about when an embryo is a fetus is a baby. For these folks, better balance between the two lobbies—pro-choice and pro-life—is the most essential outcome for the debate.
I also understand that whilst there are exceptions to the Texas bill for fetuses with severe anomalies, some medical professionals are concerned about physical issues that are not detectable for a mother until after 20 weeks that should be considered when taking into account the health of all involved and keeping options available for protecting an unborn child from what might be undue pain after birth. Who would argue that this isn’t a legitimate problem?
Though I am personally, unapologetically and fervently pro-life, I think it’s important for reasonable people to recognize the different ground on which each side stands, the reasons why advocates feel the way that they feel and thus push with equal levels of passion for different laws.
On the left, there is primarily a hope that women can always control their own lives. On the right, there is primarily a belief that the least of all human beings—the unwanted unborn and the handicapped—are as worthy of individual consideration as royalty.
It seems to me that both sides can be seen as springing from noble intentions.
Regardless, when a new baby is celebrated—and a new law comes into being—there is another opportunity for Americans to think deeply about how one frames, understands, and feels about this very divisive issue. Perhaps they can even work harder to identify points of common consensus.
That sort of effort—to have discourse and consider all viewpoints—might be the healthiest choice of all.
After his family was granted political asylum, a fifteen-year-old Hosseini started high school in California. Adjusting to the culture of American dreams, he followed a traditional educational trajectory, which eventually led him to medical school.
Somewhere along the way, drawing from the well within him, he wrote a short story called “The Kite Runner,” which he put in a yellow envelope and stored in a box in his garage. It had been created for himself alone. But then his wife found the envelope. She liked the piece and encouraged revisions, so six months before 9/11 shook his adopted homeland to its core, Hosseini had begun crafting a novel set in two hemispheres.
Khaled Hosseini’s work is vivid and powerful, but he understands his book partially struck a chord with the American public because of timing. American sons and daughters were being deployed to Kabul as The Kite Runner was published. Not only was it a great novel, there was a hunger to understand something more about a country so few could point to on a map. Perhaps Afghanistan wasn’t just a harbor for hate. Maybe there was humanity to find in the fiction.
Hosseini continued to be a doctor for eighteen months after The Kite Runner was launched. He did not see himself yet as the writer he clearly was even though patients started asking him for his signature during their check-ups. Once he started seeing people reading his book on airplanes, he began to think that maybe a career in letters was possible. Flipping channels one night, he saw his book was the answer to a question on Jeopardy. He knew then it was time to resign from medicine.
Hosseini’s talent has always been his own, but the opportunity to share that talent was a gift from the United States. The stories that poured from him came from Afghanistan. Today the writer gives back to both nations as a goodwill envoy for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Additionally, the Khaled Hosseini Foundation provides humanitarian assistance to refugees in one of the most war torn and poverty stricken countries on the face of the planet. Through his involvement, he is well positioned to have an opinion about that country’s future and American involvement within it.
First, he has always expressed a deep hatred for the Taliban and its totalitarian tactics. He was happy when the Bush administration toppled this group from power. However, he has been openly critical of what he felt was misguided neglect of Afghanistan after the Iraq invasion. This criticism is fair.
When asked about what he thinks will happen after American troops leave in 2014, he reminded the audience of which I was a part that the West has never had the power to change the Afghan people, but the exceptionally young population of Afghanistan is slowly changing itself. The last twelve years have been very important in this process. The Americans opened the opportunity for freedom, and this should not be overlooked or taken for granted.
Even so, most are very frightened of the vacuum that will be left upon US withdrawal. Afghans know the central government is weak. Though support for foreign troops encamped on Afghan soil has eroded because of effective propaganda spread by the Taliban, collateral damage from drone strikes, and the natural eroding power of time, the Afghans themselves fear militia wars and chaos more than they fear anything else. Yet he is certain no one wants the Taliban back in power.
Hosseini did not address what he thought about the Obama administration including this group in negotiations, but he told the New York Times in May that “it’s really important that we don’t rush toward a resolution for the sake of having a resolution…”
I hope someone in the White House is at least considering what Hosseini is saying.
A ubiquitous Che Guevera in his one-starred beret stares down from the countless walls on which he’s been painted. He serves as an “ejemplo” for the common Cuban. He is the ideal, this guerrilla soldier who once earned the nickname “Butcher of La Cabana” in the “service” of his adopted people.
Lining political enemies up for execution, this hero of the Left once famously declared, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail.”
There is such irony in the t-shirts plastered with his face—this man mired in Marxist ideology—that are peddled today on ever corner of Havana. Then again, perhaps it’s a fitting legacy for this leader of the proletariat who died in Bolivia wearing a Rolex.
Regardless, after time in Cuba as part of a study abroad program, I feel as if I have witnessed some of the inarguable failings of Che’s vision.
Whilst fire trees flame Cuban streets with brilliant color, and there is a constitutional “right” in this worker’s paradise to healthcare and housing, poverty is gut wrenching and glaring. Buildings in which people live are literally falling down, as many as two a day in the capital city. Starving dogs roam the neighborhoods. Old people beg for soap from park benches.
Whose fault is this misery?
Our guide blamed the United States and the Cuban exile community in Miami for his country’s financial distresses. Of course, he also blamed the Bay of Pigs on Dwight Eisenhower and said the Cuban government never expropriated private property from any citizens unless they had chosen of their own free will to leave the island.
That’s a perspective, I guess.
Yet I concede it is true the long American embargo supported by many Cuban exiles has never fulfilled its purpose of removing the Castro brothers from power. In fact, in some ways, American policies have kept them breathing--sucking all the freedom off the island—because they can point to the “imperialists” up north who are perpetually blamed for policy failings.
For this reason alone it is worthwhile to pragmatically debate whether or not economic sanctions against Cuba should be maintained. But it’s also worthwhile to have a long, hard think on exactly what Cubans themselves have fostered without American intervention since the moment Castro’s 26th of July Movement was proclaimed victorious.
Here I would point to a striking mural painted behind a university that shows the “ninety-nine percent” pulling down a giant monster whose various parts are tattooed with the stock prices of the world’s most important companies.
When I saw this image so graphically proclaiming the anti-capitalism principles of this tiny nation, I immediately thought it would please Che Guevara. It would certainly inspire those Occupy Wall Street folks who once took over American parks to promote the same leveling tenants of Marxism that were the hallmark of Che’s Cuban Revolution… the message his face still carries when plastered onto billboards and clothing.
The problem is that once the “monster” has been pulled down—as happened in a very real way in Cuba—prosperity doesn’t rise up to replace it. Rather, there is simply a country of “equals” milling about in the rubble of glories past. And then there are the new monsters that lurk in the economically egalitarian shadows, the gnashing teeth of real repression that devour dissidents.
Richest—and most ironic of all, of course—is the fact that Raul Castro is now cautiously looking to markets, private property, and future corporate development to sustain Cuba’s future. He is widening the harbor with hopes of welcoming American cruise ships.
Perhaps this version of perestroika in the Caribbean will result in something better for those Cuban people who yearn for something more, who wouldn’t wear the Che t-shirt even if they had the money to buy it.
I truly hope so.
This scenario starts with George W. Bush running for his second term as president of the United States.
After clear overtures of violence in an unstable region, an embassy is not fortified in any extra way on a date widely celebrated as a sacred moment of victory by a multitude of radical jihadists who harbor a death wish for the United States.
Nothing is unusual at that embassy until the night erupts with organized waves of men attacking a building that has not been adequately secured. They flood into the compound with military precision and military grade weapons.
An information management officer dies in a burning building. An ambassador’s whereabouts are lost. Staff from the embassy are removed to a CIA annex and eventually evacuated to undisclosed locations where even sitting senators will never be granted access to them again.
In the early stages of the attack, President Bush meets with Donald Rumsfeld, but it is unclear how engaged he remains with the event as it unfolds.
The multi-location attack eventually spans the time it takes an average commercial flight to go from Atlanta to Europe—not from Europe to Africa—and only stops when the weak home government’s militia finally reinforces American defenders.
By then, two more Americans have been murdered.
The death of the ambassador is finally confirmed.
President Bush holds a conference in the Rose Garden. After promising to bring the responsible killers to justice, he says, “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence.”
These remarks tie the embassy attack with a badly produced YouTube video the administration has already identified via outlets like Fox News as shamefully denigrating Islam and causing protests in the Middle East.
President Bush skips a daily intelligence briefing and flies to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
UN Ambassador John Bolton appears on the Sunday talk shows to state plainly that the video was the cause of the embassy attack.
The president of the country in which the attacked embassy was located refutes Bolton’s entire story as implausible and illogical.
President Bush and Condoleeza Rice meet four caskets flown home. Rice promises the families that the maker of the YouTube video will be arrested.
The filmmaker is, in fact, arrested and put in a jail cell where he remains.
CNN reveals its representatives—not American intelligence—retrieved the dead ambassador’s diary from the destroyed embassy.
In a speech to the United Nations, President Bush says, “There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice.” After a tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens, he talks about how a “crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world,” which perpetuates the connection between the embassy attack and YouTube.
In a national debate, Bill O’Reilly bolsters President Bush’s statements on the embassy.
Bush is reelected.
The Pentagon and the CIA release conflicting timelines for how special operations forces were deployed during the incident.
The head of the CIA resigns over a sex scandal that generates more front-page copy at the Wall Street Journal than the discrepancies in details about the embassy attack.
Donald Rumsfeld blames the “fog of war.”
Under oath, a diplomatic security official confirms the violence unfolded in real time in Washington. Security personnel give a scathing rebuke of the Bush appointment bureaucracy’s mishandling of security requests at the embassy.
The Accountability Review Board (ARB) appointed by (and thus working for) the Bush administration releases the non-classified section of their report, which generates more questions from Senator Diane Feinstein, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Senator Dick Durbin.
The Secretary of State responds, “What difference does it make at this point?” She takes “responsibility” for the attack, but there are no real consequences in the Bush State Department. No American arrests apart from the filmmaker are ever been made public. No American actions are taken against even the terrorist group that claimed responsibility the very night the attack took place.
Of course, we know President Bush left office in 2008, and all of these events transpired under a different administration.
But I ask, if the coin was flipped and George W. Bush had played a part in this tragedy, would Benghazi finally matter to Democrats?
Getting clarity on Benghazi—four dead Americans, the tragedy’s implications to national security, the failures of current foreign policy—should be important to all Americans no matter who is president.
Some issues just aren’t partisan.
Chris Preble is a smart guy. He is number eighty-two on the “Defense News” list of the one hundred most influential people dealing with defense in 2013. Speaking in Atlanta on January 15, he shared his ideas about the military challenges of a second Obama term.
As the Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Dr. Preble espouses a classic libertarian perspective that seeks to avoid foreign entanglements. This stands in stark contrast to the neoconservative position that dominated the Bush years and advocates the American projection of power to shape global affairs.
Therefore, Dr. Preble approves of the controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. For him, this appointment signals a wanted shift in the president’s approach to foreign policy, which will result in a further withdrawal of the United States from the role of global peacekeeper. His hope is that other countries will tend more to the expense of their own security when the world’s superpower does not act as an “indispensible nation.”
When rejecting American exceptionalism, Dr. Preble is in opposition to even mainstream Republicans. However, when he echoes the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine that once guided the Reagan administration and asserts that the government should only engage troops in missions that relate directly to American national security interests, he finds more common ground with conservative thinkers.
Furthermore, his belief that it is essential to define attainable foreign policy objectives with viable exit strategies before committing soldiers to war are parameters that American citizens in general embrace as common sense.
But as the French are discovering in Mali, even a simply stated goal—to dislodge terrorists—can become much more complex once a military engagement begins.
Let’s look back for a moment to 2001.
Dr. Preble says the American invasion of Afghanistan should have had three main objectives: to degrade Al Qaeda’s ability to commit violence, to dislodge the Taliban, and to telegraph a message to rogue governments to not support terrorists.
All of this was accomplished in a matter of months, so why didn’t troops leave? Instead, American commanders chose to launch counterinsurgency operations, which mired forces in the tribal mishmash of an impoverished nation for more than a decade.
Even so, from the audience, a veteran Navy Corpsman who served with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines stood to express his view that many other important objectives were also made and met in Afghanistan despite the focus put on Iraq, which meant the first war did not really get its due attention until as late as 2008.
Now he is concerned that too rapid a drawdown per President Obama’s plan will mean that many Americans he personally knew lost their lives in vain.
Acknowledging that members of the military cannot be faulted when given unachievable missions, Dr. Preble carefully answered that President Obama should never have supported a troop surge in Afghanistan, which only prolonged matters.
In other words, Dr. Preble thinks the Navy Corpsman’s fears were realized years before he was even deployed, and his mates’ deaths have indeed been for no good reason in the grand scheme.
This is a position that should be seriously reconsidered.
Dr. Preble’s idea that a quick exit would have achieved a better result in Afghanistan is academic. The future is always a murky thing to predict, but the impact of an action not taken is also a matter of mere speculation. After all, the last time the United States left this hellacious outcrop of war-torn rocks to its fate, a threat still gathered in its crevices.
So as Dr. Preble ponders a pivot in American foreign policy to create a smaller military footprint in future, one should not forget troops are still on the ground right now.
To concede defeat before an exit has been properly negotiated—to leave forces in a vulnerable position with numbers well below what generals want—is to break faith with American troops who are not pawns in a senseless chess game. It also breaks faith with those Afghanis who chose to ally with the United States. And an exit robbed of honor or any sense of success will never close a door on future problems.
Smart men like Dr. Preble know Al Qaeda is resurgent, so as he helps shape the debate on how to best approach a rapidly destabilizing Middle East and Africa, he should push for the United States to secure a positive legacy for the sake of national security.
No matter what, it is reasonable to want President Obama—regardless of who becomes his Secretary of Defense—to clearly identify attainable objectives in Afghanistan that will secure hard won military gains if the desired outcome is indeed long-term peace.
On New Year’s Eve, I cared nothing about Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin in Times Square. I did not let off fireworks. I did not watch the peach drop. I did not even have champagne at midnight. Rather, I instructed the kid to avoid the perils of revelers on the road—stay in one place to sing Auld Lang Syne—and put my 2012 to bed at an early hour.
You see, when it comes to New Year’s, one can rightly call me a fuddy-duddy. I have always found this shift to “new beginnings” painfully artificial and mostly irrelevant. Real change has never been about a new date on a calendar or blowing horns in a crowd or getting a good luck kiss. Such rituals might be entertaining, but they amount to empty noise in the grand scheme.
In fact, it seems appropriate New Year’s Eve was the setting for a bit of political theater with which to close a tired year. After all, on New Year’s Day, I awoke to find the fiscal cliff magically averted by senators whose sole function lately seems to me to be to make me feel more cynical about my government.
Whilst understanding that a reasonable approach to macroeconomics can never be a matter of austerity alone, I concede little credit now to politicians from either party for averting a politically created crisis at the eleventh hour.
Was there not time to get an appropriate act together before the lame duck session? What ever happened to that Simpson-Bowles plan?
Regardless, the House has now also compromised with the president on tax hikes, and the result is that our glorious leaders in Washington have created what any intellectually honest person can see is the fiscal equivalent to pasting half a band-aid on a giant gash that is gushing streams of green.
However, as one of those taxpayers who knows I’m just expected to hear this miraculous fix, throw confetti and drink some more bubbly, this latest debt deal just sounds like more of those endless resolutions people make to little effect.
Of course some of this lack of change in the state of the nation is as predictable as a failed diet.
There will soon be a second inauguration for the exact same man currently on vacation in Hawaii, and the overall balance of power has never really shifted.
I’m even feeling a bit of déjà vu when it comes to snarky partisanship from the president.
On December 31, he made sure to reach across the aisle to announce with a smirk that those on the right had finally put aside deeply held ideological beliefs about raising taxes. He then added, “Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone -- and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that … [they’re] just going to… shove spending cuts at us... then they’ve another thing coming….”
It seems our fearless leader has decided to continue with his heart-felt efforts to unite his fellow Americans, which have long made him look to me like Moses pulling together the Red Sea.
Of course it’s true that President Obama’s gotten his tax hikes on the wealthy. This was the price Democrats set to stop the sunset of the Bush tax cuts on the vast majority of Americans they are always saying they are so interested in protecting.
Still, I’m not quite sure I’d want to tout this point too much.
When one understands that by compromising on top rates as they did—no small thing when having to answer to the voters they represent in their districts—Republicans have made permanent the middle class tax cuts that would never have even existed if Democrats had gotten their way when George W. Bush was in office.
Additionally, the “deal” negotiated at the last second on the clock of the time bomb that the White House itself started ticking actually increases spending by more than three hundred billion dollars over the next decade.
Even so, by agreeing to these terms, Republicans cannot now be painted as obstructionists. By not shielding top earners, Republicans have openly acknowledged that the president indeed won the election. Yet in a very challenging political climate, they have done their best to avert as much economic blowback as possible.
Yet I still must note after making no real attempt to deal with the deficit—only another speech on January 1 that calls for more “investment,” i.e. spending, and more revenues from the “wealthiest corporations and individuals” in future—I am left to wonder what exactly is the president “shoving” in Republicans’ direction?
I guess we’ll find out in two months when this drama resumes.
With the champagne corks and party hats in the trashcan, when it comes to Washington, 2013 looks exactly like 2012.
With no joy left for politics, I can only say, “Cheers!”