Tuesday, January 24, 2012

War and the American Electorate

Before the State of the Union and its focus on the economy, I wanted to say something about foreign policy issues, and particularly the issue of war and peace.  The GOPer debates are showing clearly that their candidates (except for Ron St. Paul) are clueless Cheny clones, pandering to a delusional and perhaps illusional base.  The candidates' generally warmongering attitudes could very well plunge the world into more wars, even nuclear wars, while bankrupting the country in the process.

That's the good news.

Because part of their cluelessness is totally misreading the majority of American voters, who are clearly sick of stupid wars and all their costs.  Barack Obama won the presidency largely on his promise to end the war in Iraq.  He ended the war in Iraq, and that's going to be a major reason he will win reelection.

The GOP candidates arguments are the same as the Cheneyites, except cruder, if that's possible.  But this time the counter-arguments are going to be made by the real President and the real Secretary of State, with solid foreign policy accomplishments, including one that has to be obvious even to the generally uninterested voter: they got rid of Osama bin Laden and crippled al Queda and its ability to harm this country or its citizens.  Less obvious--though just as ignored by the GOPer candidates whose only possible tactic is lying, which they do regularly--is the success so far of U.S. strategy on Iran.  It's still a dangerous situation, but efforts short of war now underway are effective.  A little demonstration of that, and it will bolster the public's clear opposition to engaging in another war.

The Obama administration hasn't been perfect.  They haven't succeeded in closing Guantanamo, and it remains a stain and a scandal and a moral tragedy. Many of the excesses of the Patriot Act and so-called anti-terrorism tactics that violate civil rights, human rights and any civilized conscience, still remain.  But it's interesting that a journalist has chronicled President Obama's relationship with the military hierarchy, a story of progress resulting in reasserting civilian control after eight years of abuse.  Other parts of the bureaucracy have changed slowly and unevenly to match actions with the goals and principles the Obama administration brought with them.  I have high hopes for real progress on all these matters in a second term.

In a way it is similar to another story--by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker-- which purports to follow President Obama's learning curve on the limitations of presidential power.  As a student of history, I doubt he was entirely surprised by either the power of the generals or the lack of presidential power, although it's likely that the lessons are a lot more impressive in reality.  But at least in the abstract, I understood these as a teenager avidly following the Kennedy administration.

 Newsmagazines followed JFK's disenchantment with the generals after the Bay of Pigs, and his amazement at their Doctor Strangelove-like advice during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Between the two he learned to trust his own judgment and assert his control.

In end of the year interviews--I think even after the first year, and certainly the second--he stressed the limitations of presidential power.  It was a theme of two popular political books of the time, which I eagerly read, naturally, and still have: Presidental Power  by Richard E. Neustadt and Decision-Making in the White House by his own long-time advisor and presidential assistant, Theodore Sorensen.  (Since Sorensen also supported Obama and they met, I'd assume he knows of this book.)

 Yet it was after understanding these limitations (and successfully defying the generals in the Cuban Missile Crisis), that JFK engineered his two boldest initiatives: the successful effort to get the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed and ratified, and introducing the Civil Rights legislation that became the basis for the historic laws passed after his assassination.  Both changed America and American politics.

So there are two points here, I suppose: President Obama will be an even better President in the next four years, having learned what he learned in the first four.  That's not unusual, but in our times, it could be very important for the country and the world.

But the point I started with is this: Americans are for all intents and purposes anti-war.  If the economy offers some hope, President Obama will be re-elected simply on the strength of his record in ending the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, and his largely successful efforts to achieve justifiable American goals without the bluster and bullying and especially the whine of bullets.   GOPer candidates are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the electorate on this.

No comments: