"Polis" : Greek, old, hard to translate, the root of "political" , "police" , "polite", etc.
The state of the union is a sad state. President Obama, not ordinarily considered an ignorant or unintelligent man, stood before a joint session of congress and proclaimed that we would never let Iran come to possess a nuclear weapon. He amplified this statement by declaring that we would rule out no action needed to maintain this position.
The president has just mostly ended one disastrous military adventure initiated by his dim-witted predecessor. We remain mired in another war, originally less easy to reject out-of-hand, but no less hopeless now, ten years later, the longest war in our history and absurd to carry on. Opinion polls say the public opposes both wars, in one way or another. Their costs, conveniently described outside the rest of the defense budget, have been ruinous. Yet. . . .
When Mr. Obama implies that we will use any degree of military force to plunge into a third war on the mainland of Asia, the people's representatives stand and cheer lustily. To the casual viewer of television, those cheers were without notable exception. Stupidity? Insanity? Why did this happen?
I put it to you: we are no longer the pragmatic lovers of Yankee ingenuity and struggling immigrant worker's ethics; we are no longer the restrained people who tended to try to disband their armies after every war. The world has changed, of course. It is smaller, and we are more vulnerable. We have the choice to remain peacefully conservative and less powerful, or something else. So now, with our only supreme power the power to destroy, we have become a Romantic people, and this trait continues to drive us to big trouble.
In The Roots of Romanticism, Isaiah Berlin says the Romantic believes “[T]he only thing which is worthwhile . . . is the exfoliation of a particular self, its creative activity, . . . its creation of values, its dedication of itself to these values.” Well, that is a very pedantic way of saying, “if you really believe in something and try with all your might, the striving is a good thing, all by itself.” And this belief is exactly what we, as a representative democracy, have embraced in the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan and-- may it never happen-- Iran. Now the commander-in-chief exhorts us, and the obedient order-followers, to do it again.
Please not, O-man. Put an end to ill-considered no ruling out anything. An end to bad examples. There is a measurable difference between being all that we can be and simply being really strong, brave, and indefatigable without asking what at.
Does this mean we are reduced to pacifism? That we might never defend ourselves with force if attacked, as we were ten years ago? It does not. The pragmatist can defend with force, but only the Romantic thinks that the value lies in the force, rather than in the ability to mount a needed defense. Idiotic Romantic evaluation is why the congress cheers the thought of another war to be fought right between two others we have just lost, shattering, in the process, our attempt to rebuild an economy hijacked by scoundrels who hope to profit from the new version.
We had to do something about the mostly-Saudi Arabian force which attacked us with help from their bases in Afghanistan. We should have been able to do something rather well. The Bush family had long had good commercial relations with the corrupt and vulnerable Saudi kingdom. America, also, has a history of successful covert subversion of other governments, far less justifiable than that in Afghanistan; e.g., the democratically-elected ones of Chile, Guatemala, and Iran itself. It could be well-argued that we and our British allies' brilliant installation of the so-called Shah of Iran is the basis for our present need for bellicose posturing in the chambers of congress. We would have done well to try some t kind of subversion of al Quaeda and the Taliban. That effort could hardly have paid off worse off than what we did.
Or better yet, we could have tried to figure out why people who used to admire us came to hate us. When I went to London the first time in 1971, I could walk up to and into the American embassy in Grosvenor Square, then and now one of the more sedate parts of London, without anyone giving me more than a passing glance. In October, 2002, I walked into the same square and faced chain-link fences and concrete barriers. I never bothered to walk closer than the statue of Franklin Roosevelt, standing on a plinth in the heart of the plaza. London! Imagine what defenses we need in hostile places.
So what should we do about an Iran? Watchful waiting is the way. Iran is no danger to this country. If it is a danger to Israel, as is often suggested, we should try to convince the Israelis to make it less so by peaceful means. This does not include continuing to send billions of dollars to the Israelis and other near-by countries every year to buy our weapons and their own.
This kind of suggestion often is equated with cowardly, craven Chamberlainism rather than brave, stalwart Churchillism. This is a false criticism. Churchill rightly appreciated the danger posed by Hitler, which many did not. But Chamberlain kept Britain out of war when Hitler would have destroyed its army. Churchill's was a recidivist military blunderer whose record already included the disastrous Romantic escapade of Gallipoli, and his inclinations might well have made Dunkirk the site of the disappearance of the British army rather than of its deliverance. You do not win by re-fighting the last wars, particularly when you've lost them. O-man, take heed.