Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bush Assails ‘Appeasement,’ Touching Off Storm

New York Times

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. - Winston Churchill (1954)

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. - John F. Kennedy (1961)

In a speech to the Israeli Knesset, President Bush said (quoted in the New York Times)

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along, . . . We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

It is a sound bite, but high school logic and rhetoric students will recognize it as a strawman argument. The purpose of speaking to opponents is not to persuade, but to understand. And the purpose of understanding is not to pretend that differences don't exist, but to make sure that we determine what the differences really are, and that noone has false assumptions about the severity. To forget this is to get into needless fights, make enemies out of those who would not otherwise be, make enemies out of friends, and make friends turn away.

Barack Obama has been criticized in the past for stating a situation that would lead him to order an attack on a sovereign country. The reality is that part of the role of leaders of sovereign nations is the decision to defend or pursue identified interests, and this includes the use of deadly force, and the placing at risk of its young men and women. In modern history (and probably also in history going to antiquity) few of those who became heads of government for any length of time have avoided this question. The question for nations is how to choose those people who make that decision and for what reasons. In democracies (of any form) the decision is made by citizen voting for its representatives (directly or indirectly). To think that there is no reason to go to war is denial, and it is a statement that nothing is of value, including your lives. But it should be a choice made soberly and wisely. As Churchill states, speaking is better than war. But he was also a man who was perfectly capable of using his time in jaw-jaw to make the choice to go to war.

In a democracy, people use many criteria for voting for a leader. Many of these are issues. But reality is situations change over time, even the short time of the term of a U.S. President. What we are electing are how people make decisions and their values. And one of the things we are voting for is a thought process and criteria on the use of force.
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