Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bigness and Smallness

Here are two apparently unconnected pieces--Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (it's an excerpt from his new book in the NatPo) claiming that 9/11 was a "political gift" to Dubya and Rudy G. (because they supposedly "politicized" it), and Australian academic Ramesh Thukur claiming that Obama is failing because "he has has abandoned many core policy pronouncements."

As if. And if only.

What's the connection? It is this: When horrible events occur, some leaders--Dubya and Rudy, for example--rise to the occasion while others, for instance the man who was filled to bursting with the hot, wet air of hopenchange, will inevitably shrink down to their small, pre-inflated size.

1 comment:

Carlos Perera said...

Yeah, well . . . in a democratic republic, all public affairs involving governmental action--and acts of war are definitely a biggie in this department--necessarily involve their "politicization." Genghis Khan could decided whether or not to launch an expedition of rape, murder, and pillage against some hapless far-flung corner of Eurasia pretty much on his own (although, even here, he had to have some sort of consensus among his generals--a political consideration in its broadest sense); however, Winston Churchill and FDR had to worry about building and keeping the political will of the masses, and their representatives in Parliament or Congress, in order successfully to prosecute even existential war against the Axis.

In the particular case of FDR, I would say that, although, IMHO, he stank big as a political economist (and more generally as a peacetime leader, extending the Great Depression and keeping unemployment rates well into double digits long after European countries had pulled themselves out of the slough), he was a brilliant politician, which translated into being an inspirational wartime leader. His biggest contribution to the defeat of the Axis was that he successfully "politicized" the War, building a broad public consensus for total war, requiring substantial material sacrifice from the civilian population. To FDR's credit, he realized his limitations in the war-making sphere (unlike the peacetime economic sphere), providing leadership in setting grand strategy, e.g., concentrating on defeating Nazi Germany before Japan, allocating enormous resources to the (then technologically speculative) building of an atomic bomb, declining to open a second front in northwestern Europe until its chances of success were high, etc. Much to his credit, he left the details below this level of leadership to his military commanders . . . no doubt one of the reasons we actually won the War.

in summation, democratic--or even quasi-democratic--polities cannot but "politicize" going to war. And their civilian political leadership is well-advised to stick precisely to the "political" sphere of war-making.