Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obama and the Perfect as Enemy of the Good

Bret Stephens has a wonderful op-ed piece today in the Wall Street Journal on "Great (American) Expectations: Barack Obama shows why foreigners consider us naive."l. Among the droplets of wisdom:
Barack Obama, still fresh from his victory in Iowa last week and confident of another in New Hampshire tonight, has as his signature campaign theme the promise to "end the division" in America. Notice the irony: The scale of his Iowa victory, in a state that's 94% white, is perhaps the clearest indication so far that the division Mr. Obama promises to end has largely been put to rest.

Meanwhile, in Kenya last week a mob surrounded a church in which, according to an Associated Press report, "hundreds of terrified people had taken refuge." The church was put to flame, while the mob used machetes, Hutu-style, to hack to death whoever tried to escape. The killers in this case were of the Luo tribe, their victims were of the Kikuyu, and the issue over which they are bleeding is their own presidential election.

When foreigners assail Americans for being naive, it is often on account of contrasts like these. A nation in which the poor are defined by an income level that in most countries would make them prosperous is a nation that has all but forgotten the true meaning of poverty. A nation in which obesity is largely a problem of the poor (and anorexia of the upper-middle class) does not understand the word "hunger." A nation in which the most celebrated recent cases of racism, at Duke University or in Jena, La., are wholly or mostly contrived is not a racist nation. A nation in which our "division" is defined by the vitriol of Ann Coulter or James Carville is not a truly divided one--at least while Mr. Carville is married to Republican operative Mary Matalin and Ms. Coulter is romantically linked with New York City Democrat Andrew Stein.

I've lived overseas in five countries, including France, the UK, and Lebanon before it fell from grace. I've visited roughly fifty more for varying amounts of time, including a month in Pakistan and Egypt respectively. There is not a scintilla of a doubt that the USA is by and large the greatest country in the world to live in. A Pakistani friend recently told me that his sons "knelt on the tarmac and kissed the ground" after they returned to the USA after a couple of years in their ancentral land. Stephens notes a few other eccentric facts about the US:
From The Wall Street Journal's offices in New York City, one can look down at Ground Zero, still mostly a huge pit after more than six years during which its reconstruction, now in its umpteenth design iteration, was supposed to have been the signal proof that Americans would rebuild--better, taller, prouder.

Also across the way is the hulk of the old Deutsche Bank building, critically damaged on 9/11 and slated for destruction. In an attempt to ensure that not even trace levels of asbestos and other unpalatable elements would escape the wreck, a meticulous plan was devised to dismantle the building floor by floor, at a price exceeding that of its construction. In August a fire broke out, and two firefighters died after getting lost in the maze of internal scaffolding erected to keep the asbestos in. Those brave men lost their lives for the sake of an EPA standard, and there's been no work to speak of on the building since. It's a case of the perfect becoming the enemy--the mortal enemy--of the good.

So more NYFD personnel die because of the fatuous nonsense of PC nitwittery. Stephens ends in an interesting coda:
There is great virtue in the American way, which expects CEOs to perform on a quarterly basis, presidents and Congresses to reinvent politics in 100 days, generals to wipe out opponents in 100 hours without taking significant casualties, doctors to save life and limb every time, search engines to yield a million results in less than a second, and so on. There is also great virtue in the belief that what is bad can be made good, and that what is good can be made great, and that what is fractionally less than great is downright awful.

But these virtues can spawn vices. One is impatience. Another is a culture of chronic complaint. A third is the belief that every problem has a solution, that trial is possible without error, that risks must always be zero, that every inconvenience is an outrage, every setback a disaster and every mishap a plausible basis for a lawsuit.

It is often said that the Bush administration's effort to bring democracy to the Middle East wasn't so much a case of American idealism as it was of hubris. That may yet prove true. But is it any less hubristic to think the enterprise was ever going to be brought off without blundering time and again? It's a thought that ought to weigh especially heavily on Mr. Obama, dream candidate of America's great expectations.

As translations of the millions of documents captured at the fall of Baghdad are beginning to show, Saddam collaborated with the Sunni Taliban & Al Qaeda, at least in support of anti-Iranian activities and possibly further to export terror to his western enemies, especially the US:
The problem with Iraq today is that it is a net importer of terrorism and instability. Yet when the U.S. invaded, it was a net exporter of both. An improvement? On balance, probably yes. Since Iraq regained its sovereignty in 2004, it has had two presidents and three prime ministers. This is too much in the Italian mold of government. Yet who, outside of the CIA, wants to return to the strongman model?

Barack Obama might have to pony up on foreign policy a bit. He would do well to consider appointing a realist like Richard Holbrooke as Secretary of State, rather than an ultra-lefty who might diminish and even destroy the important gains American foreign policy has achieved under GWB.

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