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July 23, 2006

Stress Relief for a Disorderly World
Posted by David Shorr

In this bewildering world of strife and struggle, what's a poor policy maker to do? It's stressful, exerting American dominance in a disorderly world. Fortunately, there is a tonic for these woes: moral certainty. Seriously, let's stop and look at all the troubles that can be alleviated by simply showing global renegades the error of their ways and waiting for them to be replaced by good guys. If you settle for anything less than capitulation, you are shrinking from the imperative to end evil. The only good bad regime is an ousted bad regime.

Once you have decided that the bad guys must go, you don't have to worry about what they do in the meantime. They're on the wrong side of history, the ash heap is over there. Weapons programs, support for terrorists, these are mere symptoms. You can't make deals with these people, it just encourages them, lulls you into a false sense of security. The key thing is to hang tough. No matter what happens, you've got your certainty.

Being certain of your rightness also frees you from having to fret about what you can or can't make happen in the world. The point is, everyone else knows what America can do, they'll get the message. As long as you don't waver, the next move is the other guy's. Meanwhile, moral certainty is its own reward (I mean, in addition to the stress relief).

Moral certainty eases a third and final source of stress: unintended consequences. You always do the right thing, you're sure of it. You do what needs to be done. Whatever you've done, it had to be done, to end evil. Go ahead and let people second-guess; they're cowardly and jealous. You're one of history's actors; the pointy-heads can judiciously study the consequences.

Now, don't you feel better?


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Laugh all you want, but many liberal hawks -- including quite a few on this site -- exhibit these same fact-free tendencies in their thinking.

Back in November, Suzanne talked about "benchmarks for staying in Iraq," to help us decide "whether we're better off leaving now, or waiting until some unknown future point."

Then just 4 months later, she tells us oops, things have gotten worse, but we can't leave now because that would look cowardly:

The bottom line is that if Iraq does slip further toward sectarian violence,... the Administration and many others may look back on last fall's debate and wish they had followed Murtha's advice while they still could have.

The hawks here want to say we are an "exemplary" nation rather than an exceptional one, but in practice it leads to the same problem: an unwillingness to seriously examine our mistakes and learn from them because it might undermine our optimism.

This wishful thinking -- that you rightfully critizice -- characterizes much of the elite in both parties, perhaps even most of America. The neocons could not have gotten as far as they have if it didn't.

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