Grand Bargains, Friedman, and the Problem with Moderates

Thomas Friedman, I suppose, thinks of himself as a moderate.  Maybe like Matt Miller from KCRW’s Left,Right, and Center who advocates for “radcial centricism” (or something like that).  This species of thinking imagines that the “left” and “right” can only be correct up to a point.  Hence, the one good path towards progress must, by definition, be some thing “in between.”  Friedman, especially, excels at taking what seem like irreconcilable differences and with his wise words, turn them into new consensuses that if only the irrationally passionate partisans of left and right would accept would lead us into a shiny tomorrow.

Friedman’s recent op-ed in the New York Times is a classic.  He argues that the great debate of our times is over “which capitalism?” instead of “which -ism?” Fair enough.  In this context, he defines “American Capitalism” as- that’s right- the perfectly moderate mix of opposites, of public and private.  I suppose that European “safety-net” socialism is unbalanced by inference from his argument.

To regain our American mojo we need to rebalance public and private. Hence, he calls for a series of “grand compromises.”  Between cutting the federal budget and raising taxes.  Between paying  for “nursery schools and nursing homes.” (Nice line).  Between labor and management.  Between environmentalists and extractive industries.  And so on.  Between Dogs and Cats.  Yankees and Red Sox.  No, not the last two.

I find this seductive.  Yes, let us come together and find common ground.  What a story: can we not have politicians who can use language, influence, guile, and all their dark arts to bring these differing parties to Friedman’s round table of Grand Compromises?  I want to be in that story!

But I am afraid it is a fairy tale.  Continue reading

Makes Me Mad…”Objectives of the Mission”

Makes Me Mad… short comments on news, punditry or other nuggets of conventional wisdom make me mad enough to stop hollering at the radio/tv/newspaper/screen and write.

Cross-Posted at the CSCC Blog.

I don’t know if the military operations in Libya is a good idea or not.  But in favor or against, I wish the conventional wisdom would give up on the mania over “mission objectives” or “end game.”  This is offered up as serious critique of Obama’s decision to start a new war.   We either see this as a concern or criticism from politicians, or embedded in news articles without any attribution which reinforces the sense that it is an unquestionably valid point.

Here is my objection: wars are messy, complex events.  The mania over a defined mission is some sort of collective learned response to Viet Nam.  That war is commonly seen as a mistake because it went on too long and their was mission drift from supporting the South Vietnamese government (which we either directly or indirectly installed.  Sorry, no time to make myself a SE Asia expert this morning).  Hence, since then, Presidents, congressional leaders, and paid pundits want every conflict or war defined in terms of “mission objectives” and “end games.”  As if this is a board game or a shopping list with discrete boxes we can tick off and then “go home.”

Here are some US-led or US-involved military missions that I would like to know what the “mission objectives” are which, once we ding the bell and get the gold star, we can imagine withdrawing and no longer being involved.

The Korean peninsula

The “War on Drugs” in South and Central America

Afghanistan (did it start in 1979 or 2003?)

Iraq

The Global War on Terror

Patrolling the Red Sea against Pirates

Taiwan

Military/Intelligence Drone operations in Yemen, Pakistan and who knows where else?

My point?  As Tolstoy described it in War and Peace, and I am paraphrasing, war is only clear when seen from the lofty armchair of those not involved.  On the ground it is fog, murk, rattle, and crash.  It is a foolish to act as if there are clean and discrete wars on the one hand and murky, protracted ones with unknowable, uncertain outcomes down the road.  They are all murky, liable to be long, and chock full of uncertainty.

I wish our public conversation could start at that point instead of the public relations blitz that this war is going to be different.  Maybe, maybe, we could then have a more honest conversation about what our gold and blood are paying for.