Friday, September 12, 2008

God's wars

It is five in the morning and I am wide-awake.

Nothing keeps me up at night. I have always been a sound sleeper, never one to get up and read in the middle of the night. That would be my wife. But it is five in the morning and I am wide-awake.

I have not written on the Sarah Palin nomination prior to now, frankly, because I did not feel I knew enough. I have worked with many Governors, and other politicians, and I am quite comfortable that people can surprise you. You just don’t know. I did not have a sense of how she thinks, and I did not have a sense of how she carries herself.

The strongest signal to me were comments from Gary Bauer, and his enthusiasm for her based on her stance on a vary narrow set of issues. I know as a general matter that if Gary Bauer feels one way on something, I am bound to end up on the other side.

But her comments in her interview with Charles Gibson on ABC—and equally her lack of humility—on foreign policy were astonishing. She dissembled on the question of whether the Iraq War is a task from God. I had watched the whole video of her speaking before a church audience and she was not—as she suggested—arguing, as Lincoln did, that she meant only that we should hope we are on God’s side. His remark was made when considering the devastation and horror of the Civil War, and was a statement of humility in the face of horror.

But that comment was not decisive, as none of us would like to be held to account for every public utterance.

Rather, it was her comfort with war—combined with a very simplistic view of events. Hers is a Manichean worldview, of those who are for us and those who are against us. That is what pierced through. Her answers were largely scripted, but underlying the script, her comfort with that world shone through to me.

She brings a determined fervor to her comments that suggest that war with Russia would be a fine notion, if it grew out of an obligation to Georgia. She offered no sense that Russia’s volatility was a foreign policy challenge to be managed with the goal of avoiding war.

Last week, Dick Cheney described our conflict with Russia as one that pitted them against the “Free World.” Harkening back to the days of us vs. the Communists, he spoke with the certainty of a great ideological warrior.

The problem is that we are no longer in a great ideological war. The Berlin Wall is gone, the Iron Curtain is no longer, and however imperfect their democracy, Russia's future must now be guided by the Russian people. Russia is a capitalist nation, part of the world economy, and an integral trading partner with Europe and Asia, just as we wanted them to be. Our relations with them are no longer black and white, and the challenges with them are as they are with all nations, about how we navigate power, self-interest and mutual interest.

Eight years ago, George W. Bush preached humility in the world, and it masked his sense of good and evil in the world that has informed his conduct of foreign policy. Sarah Palin came across to me as a true believer, equally comfortable with a righteous sense of good and evil, but lacking Bush’s political sense to keep it under wraps—or Lincoln’s deeply rooted understanding that even as one must fight battles, the certainty of good and evil is never so simple.

I suspect that is why she appeals to Gary Bauer, and why it is five in the morning and I am wide-awake.

No comments: