Borrowing from the title of Al Gore’s new book, and perhaps continuing yesterday’s rant on the decline of critical thinking skills in this country, I am focusing today on the decline of gray in this country. No, no… I know we’re all getting older and there is no shortage of gray hair. I won’t even argue the shortage of gray matter, since I think there’s plenty of it about – albeit often overly focused on Gamecube strategies and the fate of Anna Nicole’s baby.
Rather, I think we we need to regain the ability to see issues and arguments in shades of gray. The world is far too complex a place to see in black and white. Yet this is what we seem to demand, especially of public figures. Pick a side of the fence and stand firmly there. You’re either with or against us; so choose. Further, we seem intent on trying to interpret gray area positions as polar so that we can stand against them. The latest evidence comes courtesy of Mitt Romney.
John Edwards, who supports a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq, said he would keep the country safe by going “after terrorists where they are.”
Mitt Romney retorted,
“Remember that old Edmund Burke quote, it’s a famous quote, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ And that, I am afraid is the boiled down version of what John Edwards said, is that good men should do nothing. Put their head in the sand and hope it all goes away,”
This is clearly not what Edwards said. Edwards is taking a pretty rational middle of the road position. Yes, terrorists are a threat. Yes, we need to be vigilant against them. We need to continue and even increase efforts to take out terror cells at their roots. But he’s acknowledging the reality that the Iraq war has nothing to do with the war on terror and is in fact, defocussing what should be highly specific and direct action against actual terrorists.
Is Al Qaeda in Iraq? Yes, they are now. And they still will be once we pull back and stop trying to mitigate what is largely a civil war. Which is part of way we can’t just pull out entirely and go home. Al Qaeda is also in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and probably many other places. We can’t reasonably take on the government of every country in which they set up operations. Al Qaeda is opportunistic, and will exist where ever it’s easy and fruitful for them to be. Is our presence in Iraq focusing the Al Qaeda operations? Probably. But is it rational to hold a war in what was arguably a neutral 3rd party country just so we have a battlefield of operations with Al Qaeda? That’s more than a bit nuts. We could do them much more damage through covert activity, intelligence work, black ops, and surgical military strikes then we are doing with our massive and expensive efforts in Iraq. This is what Edwards is proposing.
However, Romney polarizes the issue. He wants to stay the course in Iraq. He positions the opposite as running home and sticking your head in the sand and doing nothing. Then asserts that if you are not with him, then you are obviously the polar opposite. This is like saying that I like to play Volleyball. If you don’t like to play volleyball, then you sit on the sofa all day and pick your nose. Then when I meet you, I can ask if you like to play volleyball. If you say no, I feel justified in my assertion that you are a nose-picking couch potato.
We’ve had enough of this sort of demonizing polar logic over the last 6 years. It’s time to recognize that the world is a pretty complicated place – way more complicated than can be conveyed in a 30 second TV spot. It’s high time we start acknowledging the people who do think deeply through the complexities. And it’s time we start showing the ones who pander to the sound bite to the door.