The Obama Moment
I write this as a national security democrat in the tradition of Truman, JFK and Scoop Jackson. First, my confession: I voted for Barak in the California primary. It was a provisional choice, one based on … hope. I really did hope that the junior Senator from Illinois would be that post-partisan, post-racial candidate we’d all been waiting for. And if he wins, of course I will still hope….
Ah, but reality intrudes. After all is said and claimed, we humans – especially our politicians – are the sum of our choices. More of Obama’s choices (and failures to choose) are emerging each month.
Reality is a drag. Of course, we yearn for more. The hope-and-aspiration component of the human character is never to be ignored. But reality can never ignored for long. This is why our hope-saturated outlines invariably fill themselves in with actual biographies.
Like my Jewish friends who are still waiting for the messiah, I’m still waiting for that post-partisan, post-racial candidate. In the meantime, we need adult supervision.
Barak Hussein Obama incarnates the spiritualization of politics in the moment — this holds a particularly powerful appeal for America’s post-religious liberals.
Now everyone – and I mean virtually everyone – yearns for something important to lift us out of the mundane and give “meaning and purpose” to our lives. The post-religious among us still need a Great Cause to fill that God-shaped hole in the psyche. Sadly, for a large subset of liberals, their politics is religion. These passionate partisans drive fundraising, propel turnout of the party faithful, and manipulate the media. But they operate at a huge distance – psychological, cultural and ideological – from the minds and hearts of the so called “ordinary” Americans.
Religion is bad politics. Politics is bad religion.
The Character Issue
How many of us have not been disappointed by a friend? The optimists among us (and I confess to being unreasonably optimistic much of the time) tend to confuse good intentions with good character. But our true character is revealed only under the most difficult and challenging conditions. Before that, all we have is hope. And this observation applies to our very selves: We can know our own character only as a result of living through life’s challenges.
Senator Obama’s charmed life will change dramatically within his first year in office. Only then will we begin to discover his true character.
Truman and JFK were tested in wartime. Even so, Truman privately worried that young Kennedy lacked the political and life experience to deal with the dangerous international environment that prevailed in the Cold War. Kennedy was first tested in direct conversations with Khrushchev – and the Russian Premier judged President Kennedy a lightweight. When Kennedy’s vacillation in Bay of Pigs seemed to confirm Khrushchev’s judgment, the Cuban missile crisis was the result. We were far closer to a devastating nuclear exchange even than anyone at the time realized.
The next president will face a rapidly closing time window after which the opportunity to contain nuclear bombs and missiles to a small handful of “responsible and deterrable” regimes will be gone, possibly forever. The US, Israel, England, France, China, Russia and India are among the responsible and deterrable regimes of the world. [No, Israel has not ‘fessed up’ to belonging to the nuke club, but we can be confident that her WMD’s would only be used in extremis to avert another holocaust.]
Korea manifestly is not a responsible regime, but remains marginally deterrable (and eminently bribable), especially given China’s proximity and security concerns.
Iraq and Libya have been removed from nuclear contention for now, and South Africa voluntarily left the field years ago. Pakistan’s government hangs by a thread at all times – just one Islamist coup away from becoming the region’s worst nuclear-armed nightmare.
This leaves Iran and Syria, both with close ties to Hezbollah, as presenting the highest possible risk of a breach in the nuclear dam. As we learned from the Korean experience of the last 15 years, when the possession of nuclear arms becomes a fait accompli, the game necessarily changes…radically. And radical is the word when we consider whether any extremist jihad-prone regime could ever really be said to be deterrable. MAD, the Cold War acronym for deterrence though mutually assured destruction does not apply here. Mutually assured martyrdom is very poor deterrence.
So a great deal will depend on the actual credibility of the next president – not to his supporters but to our country’s worst enemies. And that requires us to make a realistic character assessment. The stakes could not possibly be higher.