Saturday, March 26, 2011

President Carter Meets President L. Johnson

Although "existential angst" is generally too strong a term for anything that I feel, it approximates the intellectual struggle going on inside of me right now. Fortunately, it is completely externally oriented around the question of whether it is better to have a strong leader who takes stands even if they are sometimes wrong or a weak leader who takes stands only after everyone else has left the table.

On paper, it is more difficult than it seems. If the former is the leader of a nation or a military, lives will be unnecessarily lost when he messes up. The latter, by dithering, would prevent losses, right?

Well, here we are in the real world, where things on paper rarely translate into on-the-ground realities.

I shall leave aside the small matter of congressional consent for war. There is no time to focus on exit strategies (which are probably a red herring anyway). Instead, my struggles come down to this: is it morally justifiable to send our countrymen to war if we have no intention of doing whatever it takes to win?

This is not a new question. Folks who lived through the Vietnam era will undoubtedly recognize it. But it is timeless, as current events have shown and continue to show.

On what grounds can I, as an American citizen, support telling my neighbor that he should go to some foreign land and die, but not so that we might win a war and advance our nation's core interests; instead, he should go and die so that civilians in another country won't, or so that a real but nebulous threat might be held at bay?

If we are going to be the world's police force, couldn't we at least get some nice badges or maybe a few boxes of donuts out of the deal?