Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ignorance AIN'T Bliss

I read today that Hillary Clinton referred to Barack Obama as "naïve" on foreign policy because he answered in the affirmative when asked whether he would meet leader-to-leader with so-called unfriendly states. Apparently, this was supposed to be some sort of trump card, a political come-uppance intended to blatantly expose Obama as an ineffectual choice to be the next U.S. president.

But...why? I hate it when I'm ignorant about things, and then can't seem to SOLVE that ignorance. I really detest ignorance, mostly because it seems to be a willful head-in-the-sand way to avoid unpleasant truths about the lives we lead and the world in which we lead them. But unintended ignorance...ignorance that seems impossible to correct...well, that bugs me even MORE, because I'm really trying to become NOT ignorant, but there is seemingly nowhere to turn for the answer.

Take spelling. As a teacher, I'm really fond of instructing a student to "go look it up" when presented with a fairly basic question. "How do you spell climax?" Well, probably it starts with either a "cl-" or a "kl-", and then you might guess an "i" or a "y" after that (but probably not an "a"), and pretty soon you've got the word. But, what if someone asks how to spell "pneumonia?" Hey, there's gotta be a first time a person sees that word; before that first time, what are you to do if you're told to look it up? I'd start with "n" and go downhill quickly from there. It's unintended ignorance: you WANT to know the answer, but literally have no idea where to start looking for it.

So, back to the comment by Sen. Clinton. I simply don't understand what it is about Sen. Obama's postion that is (by her view) naïve. What's wrong with the sitting president of the United States entering into direct talks with the sitting president of Iran? Or, hell, even North Korea? I don't get it, and I can't seem to find the answer anywhere.

I suppose some folks would refer to ME as naïve for that lack of understanding...or at least disingenuous. And, truthfully, I guess such a charge wouldn't be totally out of line. I am being rather calculating with this post, inasmuch as I have a lot of suspicions as to why Clinton said what she did. For instance, I suspect that part of the reason the U.S. president doesn't sit down with the Iranian president is that it will somehow weaken the U.S. "position" (whatever that is) and give the impression that the two countries - or at least their leaders - are equals. Well...DUH! Since when does the U.S. get to flaunt its opinion on the rest of the world? (Oh, right, since we forced it down everyone's throat following WWII...) But, seriously: how is it that the U.S. is suddenly so much "better" than Iran? Let's not forget, Iran is freakin' PERSIA. As in, home to some of the oldest human settlements on the planet. Iran was the center of the damn CIVLIZED WORLD when the U.S. was nothing but forests, mountains and plains. (Hey, throw in some swamps and we could play Magic!) So, in what way is our upstart little country of less than 250 years of age in any way "better than" Iran?

I really think this kind of thinking is a bunch of political chest-thumping by a people who desperately still want to MATTER. I honestly believe that the average American, absent the narcissistic propaganda of modern press and politics, could really give a shit where we are in the cultural pecking order of the world...or even that there IS a cultural pecking order, come to think of it. And if WE quit trying to make ourselves out to be the BMOC, maybe all these people who supposedly hate us would quit trying to show it. I mean, it's small WONDER that Kim Jong-Il is presented as more or less batshit by the press: wouldn't YOU be a little overly-defensive and hyper if the biggest bully you ever saw basically said he was out to eradicate you? That's kind of how I see the countries of the world: as individual kids on a playground, getting along most of the time, perhaps a little scuffle here or there, but essentially forming little cliques that pool their friendship and resources for the greater good. And then here comes the U.S., some outsized bully intent on telling EVERYONE on the playground that there are new rules, and everyone had better play along OR ELSE! (*Scuffs dirt with toe*) The bully actually has the might to enforce those rules too, but the problem with bullies is that eventually the little guys get pissed off and realize that they can either ostracize or outgun the bully, and then all hell breaks loose.

Okay. End of rant. I still can't precisely learn why Obama's answer was supposed to paint him as naïve, so I guess I'll have to learn to live with disappointment, ignorance...and suspicions. And I'll be a lone voice in the wilderness, calling for a stepping-down of international political rhetoric and an expansion of the very kind of even-handed diplomacy that Obama seems to desire.


Blogger Strangeite said...

Let me begin by stating that I do NOT believe the following argument and recognize the inherent flaws in its logic; however, I want to try explain the rationale for why Obama's position is painted as naive and why they can't simply spell out clearly the rationale behind it.

Diplomacy or state-craft is far more than simply speaking with others. It involves the careful balancing of carrots and sticks while recognizing the strengths and weakness of the other party, not only at the bargaining table but within their own arena.

Bill Kristol and others at the Weekly Standard have argued strongly that Diplomacy with Iran will not work in dismantling Iran's nuclear program and therefore should not be attempted because of the harm that the talks would do.

What you don't hear is what that harm would be. It it is their belief that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has only very weak support with the Iranian populace but popular support with the clerics. Remember that the Iranian Presidency as very little actual power. He only controls the economy. All other power rests with the clerics and the President really is not much more than the Press Secretary for the clerical establishment.

So the theory goes that since Iran's populace is very pro-democracy and pro-west, especially among those under 30, which makes up over 65% of the population, the clerical establishment has lost a lot of control since the 1979 Revolution. And that direct talks with the Iranian establishment will undermine this mounting resistance among the Iranian people. They believe that the longer Iran is isolated and a policy of containment is enacted, it is only a matter of time before the students rise up against the clerics.

And there is something strength of history behind this belief. Ironically, Iraq was one of the best examples of how well a policy of containment works. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and very little real infrastructure to be a danger because of the success of containment.

Where I think they are wrong with Iran is the belief that the clerics have forgotten how to handle the students. Remember, both the 1979 Revolution and the rise of the Taliban were both conducted by students under 30.

Sooooo, Obama is painted as naive because by stating that he will talk to anyone and anytime, he is demonstrating his ignorance of how the very act of talking will strengthen the clerics in Iran by appeasing the students in Iran. However they can't directly say this because America foreign policy can no longer directly advocate the overthrow of a soverign nation. We do it all the time, but we don't publicly state it.

In addition, by saying he is naive, it gives the impression that he is weak to those too stupid to know better.

As I said earlier, I disagree with this logic, but there it is all the same.

12:19 PM  

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