by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it is sometimes difficult to read a scan from a newspaper, here is the full text:
One sign of dry rot in the timbers of our Republic is that lately it has become fashionable to simply stop listening to opponents’ arguments. On virtually all difficult matters confronting the nation, the phrase-of-the-day now seems to be “we need to have an adult conversation.” By using it, in one breath the speaker both suggests his opponents are childish, while he positions his own views as mature, practical. Calling for “an adult conversation” actually has become a way to reject arguments we don’t like without even engaging their substance.
Medicare reform, lowering the Federal deficit, turning the Great Recession onto a road to prosperity, bringing a decade of wars to conclusion, these vexing national challenges do merit serious attention. But despite the grandstanding, despite repeated calls for that elusive “adult conversation,” little changes. A first step in a new direction may be to more openly acknowledge that, since none of us has a monopoly on the right answers, we all ought to try harder to hear others’ views.
This is especially needed regarding the war that began on 9/11. No regular reader here will mistake this columnist for a pacifist. For ten plus years, my “World View” has defended a robust military response to 9/11, supported the Iraq War, criticized allies for their release of terrorists, and generally advocated a hard line toward the extremists within Islam. Yet, ten years on, what I hear from my many friends serving in harm’s way, and what the plain facts now show, has tempered my enthusiasm for another decade of war. August 2011 in Afghanistan was the deadliest month in a long time for U.S. soldiers; Iraq, too, simmers dangerously. The project of building democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds will require years more of sacrifice, and billions more of our national treasure. Rep. Ron Paul most openly has declared this not to be in our national interest. Just because we may regard his other ideas as nutty (such as doing away with the federal agency that aids flood and tornado victims), this does not entitle us to treat as childish his questioning of the wisdom in pouring more down the endless hole that is Afghanistan.
What would be involved in a real “9/11 + 10” discussion about protecting us from Islamist extremists in the coming decade? It would begin by acknowledging that the Barack Obama Administration has done some things that have been successful. Osama Bin Laden and most of his Al Qaeda lieutenants in terror no longer walk this earth, thanks largely to a sharpened focus that’s been paired with less regard for Pakistanis’ sensibilities since January 2009. It would also assess fairly both the successes and the costs involved in transforming Iraq, then ask: where can we actually afford to keep doing these things? All year we have heard critics faulting Pres. Obama’s way of toppling tyrants from off-shore. Remember when leaving Libya chiefly to NATO was said to be courting disaster? Now that the strategy of keeping American boots out of that sand pit has been vindicated, it’s time to weigh this new model fairly. If democracy can triumph, and if oil can get cheaper when U.S. soldiers do not carry the primary burden, why should we still prefer the “go it alone” style of George Bush?
We are one nation, and a host of serious problems confront us. The “conversation” about any of them can help us to develop better policies only if we are listening, too. It’s time to take political bickering and point scoring out of the debate about national security policy.
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