13 August 2009

Geese vs Ganders

Comparing the Bush and Obama foreign-policy styles, the distinguished military historian Eliot Cohen wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:

". . . the patter of applause from a press whose sycophancy would embarrass a Renaissance court should not hide the dangers inherent in Mr Obama's style, which is characterized by an easy assumption of foreign policy omniscience and omnicompetence.
"Some of his ambitions will come crashing down into ruin, and surely ghastly surprises lie athwart our path. The Bush administration, many of its critics said, fell victim to hubris, the fatal arrogance punished, according to the ancients, by the goddess Nemesis. The Greeks would understand the irony if we discovered that cold-eyed lady, always hovering closer than politicians realize, turning an increasingly disapproving gaze on today's White House."

So . . . and do you suppose Mr Bush's critics might also have been right? Or has the current administration alone managed to corner the market on hubris?

Maybe I'm getting harder to please. I've often enjoyed articles by Mr Cohen over the years. And particularly those having anything to do with the War on Terror. But what is it about today's climate of political debate that makes me more than a little nauseous? I keep getting the sense that fair-mindedness, over the past 15 or so years, either (1) has become something ridiculous and passe, or (2) has been re-defined beyond recognition. Here, in essence, is what I understand commentators of this Enlightened Global Age to be saying about political morality:

"Whatever it is, it's good - or at least OK - when we do it, because we're good. By the same token, it's bad when you do it, because - well, you know . . ."

Or, to put the matter still more delicately: "What is at most a pardonable failing when done by my side - say, for example, arrogance - becomes at the very least a matter of deep concern (i.e., lots of brow-furrowing and hand-wringing) when you guys do it. The reason? Well, being less corrupt than you folks to begin with, we are by definition not only better able to handle the temptations of power, but less dangerous when we succumb to them. Got it?"

Note the reasoning here. Notice how those exact vices which become most deadly when I fail to perceive them in myself - like arrogance and self-conceit and over-confidence - are made more excusable, not despite my being subject to them, but because I am subject to them! And all because I'm on the right political side! And so those same excusable (but only in ourselves) vices go on to poison the whole political discourse and atmosphere of a country, even as they become more and more detestable to each contending side.

And who loses out worst in the end, worse than even our smug, pompous Democrats and Republicans? Oh, nobody important. Only a certain more or less negligible human entity - as I suppose all mere countries are these days - known as the United(?) States of America. Meanwhile, a certain Osama looks out upon all that he has made, and lo, it may not be very good. But it's looking better with every passing day.

God heal America.

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