Saturday, August 22, 2015

Braggadocio and Its Apppeal

People Like A Strong Man

Strong Men Make You Feel Secure

"The trouble with life is: the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubts."
--Bertrand Russell

Last night I watched the West Wing Episode of "West Wing" in which the President's daughter has been kidnapped by men who demand the release of a slew of imprisoned terrorists in exchange for her release. President Bartlet invokes the 25th Amendment, by which he temporarily resigns the presidency and hands over the office to the Speaker of the House (the vice president having recently resigned), so he cannot accede to the kidnapper's demand, because he is no longer in power.  The Speaker, played by the inimitable John Goodman, is a blustery, straight talking oaf, who turns out to be just right for the moment.

He is a Republican, and he stands in stark contrast to the cerebral Bartlet, who, the Speaker believes, overthinks everything, agonizes about killing "the bad guys."  The Speaker, as President, sends in the bombers and the Special Forces to destroy what are thought to be training bases in the home country of the terrorists. Of course, the home country is one of the last Arab countries to be at least nominally allied to the United States, and it is the country of the terrorist who President Bartlet killed because this particular terrorist was killing people and plotting to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge even as he was posing as the ambassador and exchanging gifts with the President in the Oval Office. Bartlet, after much soul searching, concludes the man is simply too dangerous to tolerate, and orders his murder/execution. Now, some of his countrymen, who may or may not have been motivated by that killing, have captured his daughter.

The Speaker, in his new role as President decides to unleash the dogs of war and, as he says, who knows what will happen next? But it feels right.

It is all so eerily close to President Bush's reaction to the 9/11 attack: Let's just go kill somebody; who cares if we got the right guys? We are pissed and somebody's gonna feel our wrath, and if it wasn't Iraq that did this, they probably know who did and maybe they'll get to those guys for us, just to take the heat off.

When Barlet's crew watches the Speaker/President's press conference, they have to admit, they admire the way he's played it. They say he looks "Presidential."  What they really mean is he has said politically incorrect things which express what the public really believes. He dismisses objections that the United States has violated international law, saying there is no such thing unless everyone plays by the same rules and clearly terrorists do not, so they're not protected, which justifies our killing them without due process or anything other than a personal conviction these guys are the guilty ones.
They Know How to Inspire

It is the same simplicity of approach which Donald Trump follows:  Don't give me law and principle: I know what feels right and I'm gonna do it.  
That sort of thinking, of course,  is what got us mired in the Iraq fiasco. 
John Kerry pointed out that attacking Iraq after 9/11 would be like attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor--attacking just anyone doesn't make sense. You really ought to go after the right someone. That argument never gained much traction among the public, spoiling for a fight. We wanted to find someone to charge up San Juan Hill and avenge an act of terrorism.
A Good Glower Helps

But what kept us in Afghanistan was something else, and a lot of that something else was legalistic thinking, worries about our "commitments" to some dummy government we helped set up and sustain.  When it comes to international relations, the idea that we are not all playing by the same rules,  and so we can make our own rules,  is a very appealing "truth."  It plays well on TV.

It's played very well for Donald Trump, and not just for questions of international policy.  But it plays especially well there. When illegal Mexican immigrants become rapists and thugs, well, let's call them that and galvanize opinion around a strong leader. 

Doesn't the murder of a foreign official undercut our moral authority to
condemn human rights violations in China and Africa?

We live in the real world. Our moral values system only works if everybody
plays by the same rules.

But didn't it violate the Neutrality Act protecting citizens of friendly
nations from prosecution?

Terrorists aren't nations,...


Liz, Abbey, and Ellie are sitting on the couch watching the press conference.

...and the Neutrality Act doesn't give a free pass to people who support
the murder of women and children.

...violating international law?

Abbey, deep in thought, gets up from the couch and leaves the room.

International law has no prohibition against any government, superpower
or otherwise, targeting terrorist command and control centers. And Abdul
Shareef was a walking command and control center.


Damn. Good answer.

You stated that as Speaker, you knew of and supported the assassination. Do
you now regret that support?

My only regret is that we only got to kill the bastard once.

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