Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Famous People Say America Must Lead

No, it isn't a sign of the Apocalypse.

These aren't famous celebrities, just famous people. Specifically, former American secretaries of state. Including Henry Kissinger: a man who's so well-known, my spell checker recognized his name.

As CNN program notes put it: "5 former Secretaries of State tell Christiane Amanpour & Frank Sesno what advice they have for 'The Next President.' " Frank Sesno wrote a commentary on the discussion, "Former Secretaries of State to next President: Get over it. Get real. Be smart" (CNN (September 19, 2008)
Frank Sesno, CNN Special Correspondent), that contained quite a bit of good sense.

I think that Mr. Sesno summed up their discussion, and his commentary, in this paragraph:

"Here's what the secretaries' bottom line was: get over it. Get real. Be smart. The world is a complicated place. America has to lead. Play down the ideology, they seemed to say, and approach the world rationally and with perspective. Imagine that."

Those ideas are so startling, I'll repeat them as a bulletized list.
  • Get real
  • Be smart
  • The world is a complicated place
  • America has to lead
  • Play down the ideology
  • Approach the world
    • Rationally
    • With perspective
I don't agree with every detail, but the general approach is sensible. Some of Sesno's commentary is drearily familiar:

"... they laid out three things the next president should do to start to fix it: close Guantanamo, end torture and take the lead on climate change.

"On Russia, the message was similarly realistic. Georgia fired the first shot in that little August war..."

Isn't This Politics?

Some of these issues are used by politicians, but with one exception they are directly related to the War on Terror.

I don't have the "intelligent" stand on any of the four issues.
  1. Guantanamo?
    • Al Qaeda and Professor Churchill probably want it closed
    • It provides a topic for anti-American propaganda
    For that matter, leaders of organized crime probably want ADX Florence closed: but that doesn't mean it's a good idea
  2. Torture?
    My guess is that this refers to unpleasant interrogation techniques like waterboarding - "everyone" may know it's torture, but I'm not so sure
    • I don't think that the American military tortures its own troops
    • The American military subjects its troops to waterboarding, as part of their training
    • Waterboarding may not be torture
  3. Climate change?
    • Yes, there are changes going on
      • When I was young, we were supposed to be concerned about the coming ice age
      • Now, we're supposed to be concerned about global warming
    • I know a little too much about paleontology to be hooked
      • Climate change happened before the Industrial Revolution
      • Climate change happen is happening
      • Climate change will probably continue to happen
  4. Russia and Georgia?
    • Yes, Georgia "fired the first shot," moving troops into a part of Georgian occupied by Russia - against American advice
    • A "little August war?"
      • Viewed against the backdrop of the ages, as one event in the unfolding of the universe, yes: it was a "little August war"
      • I wouldn't want to tell that to someone living in Georgia, though
The prison at Guantanamo, and the "torture" of prisoners are familiar topics related to the War on Terror. I've argued that the Russian invasion of Georgia is also related to the conflict: As for climate change, I don't think that Osama bin Laden is trying to sink New York City by melting the ice caps, and I have doubts about big bad industry destroying the Earth. I'm not even sure whether the changes that have happened during my lifetime are natural, artificial, or a combination of both.

I do think that the 'America-is-killing-us-all' version of climate change is on a par with the (successful, multi-billion dollar) silicone breast implant lawsuits.

America Must: Lead?!

What I found most remarkable about Mr. Sesno's commentary was his apparent acceptance of the idea that "America must lead." This is a far cry from feeling that America is just another country, like Sudan or Myanmar, except not quite as nice, and shouldn't act without getting permission from people who know better.

I think that nations of the world need leadership, and that America is the least unqualified candidate for the position. I'd love to live in a world where people act nicely because it's the right thing to do, but that's not the way it is. America has the economic and military clout to get attention when saying, "we should do this:" and (in general) the good sense to act after talking things over with other nations.

But what about Iraq?

America unilaterally invaded Iraq with a coalition of over two dozen other countries. The occupation of Iraq by the coalition was under a United Nations mandate.1

I emphatically do not believe that America is an ideal nation. But I think that America is a nation of ideals: including that of personal freedom. Given a choice between a world where American leadership gives nations a direction to follow, and one in which the leaders of all nations debate until everyone agrees on a course of action, I'll take American leadership.

Saying that actions should be taken only when there's a consensus among nations sounds very open-minded. Until you realize that the council of equals would include places like Myanmar, France, the Solomon Islands, Venezuela, China, Sudan, and Sri Lanka. The debates of such a council might be entertaining, along the lines of a World Wrestling Entertainment event, but hardly productive.

I'm glad to see that five former secretaries of state agree that American leadership is a good idea. I'm even happier to see that their opinion got some attention.

Mr. Sesno's commentary generated quite a bit of discussion (now closed). For me, the vox populi was quite a contrast to what the former officials had to say. Despite the impression left by some of the comments, presidential candidate Obama was not mentioned in Mr. Sesno's piece.

I've cherry-picked a sample, and put what I think are key points in bold. I don't necessarily agree with these comments, but I think it's informative to see what people say, with an American election coming up.
  • Maureen/CA
    September 19th, 2008 3:07 pm ET
    • "Yes Yes Yes! We do need a president that will engage. We need someone who will approach these leaders with diplomacy, intelligence, and understanding. This is what Obama has been saying all along during this campaign. McCain has the same attitude that Bush has. Don't talk to anyone that you do not like. This does not help to try to resolve anything. Frankly, it is an immature and unprofessional attitude to have for anyone, muchless the President of the United States."
  • James
    September 19th, 2008 4:24 pm ET
    • "The hardest thing the next president will have to do, is find a way to justify the lives lost and time and money spent in being in Iraq in the first place, much less after the new president is in.
    • "The U.S. hasn't lost credibility because George Bush decided to act like a stubborn child, we lost credibility because we didn't spank the child and put him to bed. The world is punishing us, not because we suffered a momentary lapse of reason, but because that momentary lapse hasn't seemed to lapse yet.
    • "How long will our government continue to claim to be the victim even as we make victims of others?
    • "The fact is, and I'm hoping to see some sort of reconing in your interviews tonight, the U.S. has lost it's credibility in the world because, not only did we rape Iraq and impregnate it with the idea of Democracy in retaliation for what Osama Bin Laden masterminded, unbeknownst to Iraqis, on September 11th, but we have also, so far, failed to take out or capture the initial attacker; Osama Bin Laden is still free, but hey… if they happen to come apon[!] him… we Americans, and the rest of the world, is expected to believe they'll act appropriately?! I think not.
    • "If you find my parallel disingenuous, please, enlighten me… and the 67% of the rest of the world who believes EXACTLY as I do."
  • JB in Chicago
    September 20th, 2008 2:10 pm ET
    • "jrq: please don't confuse the military with the foreign service (i.e. diplomats, ambassadors, etc.). what the former secretaries of state were saying is that we need more serving in that capacity because we have less people in foreign service than in one military aircraft carrier. i think you missed the point completely. you don't always have to rule with an iron fist."
  • Alec
    September 20th, 2008 2:55 pm ET
    • "'America has fewer people in the foreign service today, he said, than serve on one aircraft carrier. That's got to change.' That may explain why a single aircraft carrier is more beneficial to the U.S. foreign policy than the entire foreign service."
  • Angie
    September 20th, 2008 2:55 pm ET
    • "I agree wholeheartedly and it is refreshing to hear these words actually being said. I have thought the same thing myself - but what I don't understand is why wasn't this agenda - or why isn't this agenda - being followed. We - America - need to take the lead if we are going to be the leader in the free world. The days of threatening, intimidation, obnoxious 'stay the course' even if its wrong attitude need to end. I hear the word 'change' from the presidential candidates but no one has laid out a clear concise agenda - its still all rhetoric and thats[!] what scares me. Do they have a plan for our eventual demise or a plan for success? Most people think of foreign affairs as not our problem, I think the next President needs to address why it is our problem - because that connection needs to be explained."
  • Bob
    September 20th, 2008 3:26 pm ET
    • "Its a[!] humorous but sad to think of feeble minded sarah palin somehow standing with these intelligent and accomplished people. What a clown she is."
  • Paul
    September 20th, 2008 4:10 pm ET
    • "Interesting! However, I am always amazed at how the left thinks we can defeat our enemies by talking to them. The only way talking will work is if we move towards there way of thinking because they are not going to move towards our way.
    • "These people strap bombs to themselves and…
    • "Do you really think we can talk to them?"
  • suzanne
    September 21st, 2008 3:59 am ET
    • "Kudos for something intelligent and informative! Obama is spot on!!!"
  • Strom
    September 21st, 2008 4:40 am ET
    • "Good points but the answer isn't throwing money at the problem. Like education, we already spend enough in total but much of it is wasted. What we actually need in the Foreign Service is more Americans and far less contracted foreigners."

1 It's not too surprising that many people didn't see American involvement in Iraq as part of a multi-national effort carried out under the rules of a United Nations mandate. Details like that don't always get into the news. Facts like that are not exciting, and don't quite fit the 'all the news we feel like printing' approach that some news services seem to take.


sallreen said...

t is amazing that someone so arrogant as Sarah Palin can be somehow related to such a great man named Franklin Deleano Roosevelt the last great President America has ever seen. it should be the other way around Obama should be the V.P and Biden should be running for President on the Democratic side what a sham the election process has become in America McCain is too old and he looks half dead on a stage.
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Brian H. Gill said...


I'm not sure how this relates to the post.

I'm also not sure why you think Obama should be the Vice Presidential candidate to Biden's President. Age, perhaps?

But then, you don't approve of McCain being mature. ("half dead" was your actual term - and I agree, he'd make a lousy rock star.)

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.