Monday, December 05, 2005

Dr. Rick Shenkman, a historian of the presidency and the Editor of HNN has an article hypothesizing that President George W. Bush will turn to the role of historic peacemaker in his second term:

"President Bush until now has been able expertly to capitalize on his status as a war president. In a crisis Americans naturally rally around their president. By playing on our continuing fears of another 9-11 he secured his re-election last November. But fear works as a political strategy only so long. The more a president becomes identified with our fears the more likely it becomes that an ever-growing number of Americans will turn to someone else who offers hope. (It was the Democrats’ misfortune that John Kerry last year neither seemed able to exploit peoples’ fears nor appeal to their hopes.)

...Immediate victory now in Iraq is no longer an option. But President Bush does not face the choice of either pulling out all of our forces as the war’s most determined critics demand or grimly “staying the course,” as he has been advocating. There is fortunately for his poll ratings a third option.

Perhaps we should call this the “Richard Nixon Option.” It was the option Nixon astutely chose in 1968 when the country was divided over another seemingly intractable war it didn’t know how to get out of.

Nixon knew Americans did not want to admit defeat. He also knew that they were tired of war. His solution? To offer himself up as the peace candidate who could deliver a compromise settlement that would redeem the great sacrifices made in the war.

His ingenious remedy involved withdrawing from Vietnam on the installment plan. The war continued for years, of course. But the public was willing to go along because Nixon convincingly could claim to be winding down American involvement

Shenkman has articulated essentially a political strategy revolving around the reality of diminishing returns - Bush could maximize the return his investment of political capital only by switching gears. I would note that Nixon did so not just by switching gears but by jumping tracks in his China Opening - he added " peacemaker" to his repetoire of Commander-in-Chief, the latter role being reinforced by other issues than just Vietnam. Bush could attempt something similar in terms of complementing Iraq with another diplomatic issue rather than implementing a "peace" policy in Iraq itself.

"Perhaps we should call this the “Richard Nixon Option.” It was the option Nixon astutely chose in 1968 when the country was divided over another seemingly intractable war it didn’t know how to get out of."

Serenity now!-Yet another Vietnam reference, haven't seen that before. Just goes to show you that having a PhD doesn't endow you with the ability for original thought. Why is it that so many smart, educated people are incapable of seeing our current war on its own terms? Why does it all have to be channeled through the ghost of Vietnam?

Let's think about it like this. Let's say you're a college professor and you have assigned your students a paper. So you are having a conference with one of your students about his topic, his research, where he planning on going with the project and as you listen to him describe what he is doing you realize that all he is doing is recycling the same standard ideas that you have read in student papers again and again, that there really is no original thinking going on. And so as a professor who wants to guide the intellectual development of your students you engage the student with questions designed to get the student to think differently, you suggest other interpretations for your student to consider, you recommend books and articles to open your student to new ideas. Then later at the next meeting you see the student is excited about where he is going, there is a new passion for learning as the student develops intellectual abilities he didn't know he had and encountered ideas he didn't know existed. And right there is your payoff as a professor. I imagine that is probably one of the greatest highs a professor could have.

What do we have to do to encourage people to actualize their intellectual potential and start thinking in terms of something other than Vietnam?
But what options along this line are open to Bush? It's got to be a big one.

We might also consider Reagan's move toward nuclear disarmament in this category. Bill Clinton tried to broker peace between Israel and Palestine.

Just a couple of suggestions, partly reflecting my own prejudices.

1. Convene a regional conference on the future of Iraq. Include all the parties, not just the ones George Bush likes.

2. Put forth a serious initiative to bolster and update the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including actually dismantling surplus US warheads, with some small (several hundreds) number as a goal. More transparency of the US processes would be part of this. Extra credit if he gets Russia on board with similar initiatives before announcing. Maybe stand shoulder to shoulder with his friend Vladimir (Vladimirovich) at the announcement.

I'll bet there are others, too.

One choice of a grand diplomatic front to open up for Bush would seem to be ... China, which was Nixon's choice also. To complete the transformation of Asia begun in 1945. To turn China into another Japan after seeing what happened to Russia. Diplomaacy as Bush Democracy by other means? Forget Vietnam. That was a police action. This is the uncompleted project of the 20th century. And it really can't wait much longer without going off in the wrong direction as China gains economic and geopolitical muscle. It'll take another century to do the MIddle East anyway. The Chinese people already like MacDonalds and MTV and the Web. But there's a lot bout human rights the Chinese government needs to change. US-China relations are "good" right now. Best time to employ diplomacy to encourage a good thing...to finish off the illusions of the Second World so the Third World will be less likely to make bad choices.. and we can have a chance at One World in the 22nd Century.
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