Fareed Zakaria shouldn’t blame politicians for doing what’s politically necessary.
There’s a rather cruel old story about a man who, as an infant of three months, moved with his family to a small Maine town. He lived in the town for all of his 96 years, never setting foot outside the borders of the town. When he died, his fellow-citizens put on his tombstone: He Was Almost One of Us.
In a lengthy article looking Beyond Bush, Fareed Zakaria finds something to criticize in the positions of all of the present covey of candidates for the Presidency and stops just short of endorsing the candidacy of Barack Obama. He has no good words for the Republicans:
The competition to be the tough guy is producing new policy ideas, all right—ones that range from bad to insane.
He castigates Romney for the suggestion that U. S. mosques in which hatred is preached might be wiretapped and Giuliani for get-tough rhetoric. He notes, correctly, that American Muslims are not radicalized:
The crucial advantage that the United States has in this regard is that we do not have a radicalized domestic population. American Muslims are generally middle class, moderate and well assimilated. They believe in America and the American Dream. The first comprehensive poll of U.S. Muslims, conducted last month by the Pew Research Center, found that more than 70 percent believed that if you worked hard in America, you would get ahead.
implicitly cautioning against alienating that population. Unfortunately, imams in the United States
are less educated (and more radical) than Muslims in the U. S., generally. They are predominantly foreign-born and funded from overseas, often by some of the most reactionary religious extremists. While we shouldn’t hyperventilate about it, it seems to me that some prudent level of concern is warranted.
He isn’t a great deal easier on the Democratic candidates:
Though Democrats sound more sensible on many of these issues, the party remains consumed by the fear that it will not come across as tough. Its presidential candidates vie with one another to prove that they are going to be just as macho and militant as the fiercest Republican. In the South Carolina presidential debate, when candidates were asked how they would respond to another terror strike, they promptly vowed to attack, retaliate and blast the hell out of, well, somebody.
He goes on to praise Barack Obama’s hipshot reaction (which must have given his handlers some uncomfortable moments):
In fact, Obama’s initial response [ed. that he would bolster first responders] was the right one. He said that the first thing he would do was make sure that the emergency response was effective, then ensure we had the best intelligence possible to figure out who had caused the attack, and then move with allies to dismantle the network responsible.
Note that Fareed Zakaria doesn’t merely argue against overreaction. He’s arguing against reaction, specifically, that any reaction imperfectly targetted would be an overreaction and in this I don’t think that a youth spent in India, Ivy League education, and adulthood spent in Washington, DC and New York have furnished him with the political realities of the United States. The political realities that Mr. Bush faced in 2001 were that he had to respond. President Clinton would have done so (I heard him say as much after the invasion of Afghanistan). I suspect that President Gore would have done so.
Would President Gore have invaded Iraq? I don’t honestly know. I believe he would have been tempted to do so. If he had not, he would have had to contend with flagging sanctions and a Saddam Hussein which everyone at the time believed possessed weapons of mass destruction and was pursuing more.
But the president would have responded. Or been replaced in 2004 by someone who would. And every one of the other bad secondary effects that Mr. Zakaria points to would have come to pass.
Mr. Zakaria continues with concerns about the rhetoric of Democratic candidates:
For the Democrats, the new bogeymen are the poorest workers in the world—in China and India. The Democrats are understandably worried about the wages of employees in the United States, but these fears are now focused on free trade, which is fast losing support within the party. Bill Clinton’s historical realignment of his party—toward the future, markets, trade and efficiency—is being squandered in the quest for momentary popularity. Whether on terrorism, trade, immigration or internationalism of any kind, the political dynamic in the United States these days is to hunker down.
Liberalism ain’t what it used to be.
Mr. Zakaria ends on a hopeful note:
At the end of the day, openness is America’s greatest strength. Many people on both sides of the political aisle have ideas that they believe will keep America strong in this new world—fences, tariffs, subsidies, investments. But America has succeeded not because of the ingenuity of its government programs. It has thrived because it has kept itself open to the world—to goods and services, ideas and inventions, people and cultures. This openness has allowed us to respond fast and flexibly in new economic times, to manage change and diversity with remarkable ease, and to push forward the boundaries of freedom and autonomy.
It is easy to look at America’s place in the world right now and believe that we are in a downward spiral of decline. But this is a snapshot of a tough moment. If the country can keep its cool, admit to its mistakes, cherish and strengthen its successes, it will not only recover but return with renewed strength. There could not have been a worse time for America than the end of the Vietnam War, with helicopters lifting people off the roof of the Saigon embassy, the fallout of Watergate and, in the Soviet Union, a global adversary that took advantage of its weakness. And yet, just 15 years later, the United States was resurgent, the U.S.S.R. was in its death throes and the world was moving in a direction that was distinctly American in flavor. The United States has new challenges, new adversaries and new problems. But unlike so much of the world, it also has solutions—if only it has the courage and wisdom to implement them.
He’s right that the idea that we are in decline is absurd—look at which way the canoes are headed. How many people are immigrating to China or Iran? As to why we may be discouraged, the relentless PR campaign against us being waged all around the world as well as by our own media and politicians may have something to do with opinion here and overseas.
I’m not arguing that retaliation is right, just, or effective. But, when attacked, America will respond and, if the president doesn’t do it, Americans will find a president who will. That’s the political reality here and Mr. Zakaria should know that.