Looking Around Corners
New York Times columnist David Brooks said, in evaluating President Obama’s policies toward Syria (and maybe NSA spying), that the American people want a President who can look around corners and tell America what the government should be doing. Brooks was contrasting President Obama’s tendency to quote poll numbers when saying why he was pursuing a certain course of action. Hmmm.
I agree most people prefer a leader who is brave, bold, and right in his/her judgement. From my earliest days with the cowboy hero who wore a white hat, I plus all America have been conditioned to respect leaders who do the right thing no matter what the mob thinks. (I am not as sure about the impact of the modern “super heros”, however.)
“Looking around the corner” presupposes the “looker” sees things correctly. I wonder whether Brooks thinks “W” and Dick Cheney saw very clearly around the corner when they elected to invade and occupy Iraq? There are huge responsibilities that go with doing the un-obvious.
In the Clinton years, “triangulation” was popular. Clinton would float an idea or policy position and see how the polls reacted. If favorable he continued, if not, he floated a new idea or variation. It was pretty clear that getting reelected was priority number one for Bill.
This proposition is also complicated by estimating what “no action” will bring. Our media tells us, “only America can do it”. Using Iraq as an example there can be few clearer examples of letting the genie out of the bottle. Once out, it is extremely hard to predict what will happen, and usually it can be impossible to get the genie back in.
Many argue that had the US should have gotten involve in Syria sooner, thousands of lives might have been saved. Maybe. But maybe not. Those fighting the Syrian government have yet to explain clearly how things will be different should the insurgents win. If the rest of the Middle East is relevant, we should expect hard line Islamists to use the polling box as a tool to gain control and push everyone else out. Once with control, the Islamists (depending upon whether they are Sunni or Shiite) will move to populate the military and the government with their supporters. In the end, the “today have nots” will become “tomorrow’s haves” and “today’s haves” will become the “have nots”. Simple but totally unpredictable.
When one looks back at the folly of Cheney’s Iraq War, one normally thinks of the many US dead and grievously wounded and the tremendous cost. There is another unrecognized cost. Iraq was not broken and had “W” had the fortitude to wait, the balance of power between Iran and its natural enemy Iraq would made the Syrian situation play out differently.
With Hussein still in power (and our no fly zone still in place), the US would have been much freer to pick a side amongst the Syria insurgents. Today all that can be seen “around the corner” is that sunnis are just waiting to kill shiites and those insurgents most likely to win will be unsavory and become our new “friends”.
Maybe David Brooks is wrong. Maybe President Obama did look around the corner and didn’t like what he saw.