The nation is staring down the obscenely expensive, manufactured with contracts in thirty states barrel of major defense cuts of eight to thirteen percent. Eight to thirteen percent. That’s a lot. In the decade ahead, we could find ourselves eight to thirteen percent less able to bring two wars to an inconclusive end. Worse, the 730 professional musicians the Marine Corps deploys for tactical Sousa advantages might find their bass drum logo screen-printing budget cut to the bone.
But of course, like most Americans, I unquestioningly support a giant military. In this time of political divisiveness, what else do we have that binds us together – I mean aside from Tom Hanks and Funyons? Sadly, try as he might, even armed with an unlimited supply of those delicious onion-like snacks, I don’t think the delightful Mr. Hanks could induce traumatic brain injuries in 250,000 people in just 12 years. For that, you would need Cool Ranch Doritos, or a giant fusterclucking effort of the kind only the Pentagon could provide.
What do to with this gleaming giant military machine parked in our garage? Why, sustain global leadership of course. But aside from war not-winning, band marching, and head injuring what does this leadership actually mean? Could we possibly take this thing out for a spin and do something when more than 60,000 people are killed and 800,000 refugees are created in Syria?
President Obama says no.
The deadwood from Kenwood figures it might be messy. It might not work. How could be sure we wouldn’t arm or empower jihadists, trigger a crisis with the Russians or Iranians, or just completely fail to unseat Bashar al-Assad at all? I’ve never slept with Paula Broadwell or been a losing Democratic Presidential contender, so maybe I’m not qualified to comment on this. But jihadists to some degree rely on popular support, and I assume that letting a million people die or be displaced isn’t going to raise the average Syrians’ opinion of us. Don’t we already have a crisis in relations with Iran and Russia anyway? And are we really banking on Assad just dying of autoerotic asphyxiation someday soon? I mean, that long lovely neck is practically begging to have nylons tied around it…
The argument from the White House is that because we’re unsure of what might happen, we shouldn’t do anything. If taking action doesn’t have guaranteed results, then we should take no action.
Oddly enough, our same handsome pregnant pausing President has decided that we can do something about violent deaths at home. Gun maximalists and other people who ignore the first two clauses of a sentence argue that gun control won’t work. Criminals (because there are no such things as crimes of opportunity or passion), won’t get background checks. We’ll have neighbors who sell their neighbors assault weapons (this happens?) facing criminal charges. Instead of shooting themselves, suicidal people will go back to writing crap music and turgid poetry. Strictly speaking, I’m the only one making that last argument.
So what gun maximalists are saying is that because any action on gun control isn’t guaranteed to work, we should take no action.
My son is playing basketball this winter. He’s not really very good. I find myself deploying all the usual parental cliches: work hard, do your best, try letting go of your penis for a couple of minutes. As it happens, at least one Nobel Prize winning economist believes that skills we teach young kids – attentiveness, persistence, and impulse control have important add-on effects later in life. Evidently, no one in public office went to a very good pre-school.
We spend an awful lot of time encouraging our kids to try new things, and to try their best even if they know they’re not going to win. We say it builds character, learning how to stand up, dust yourself off and get back in the game. My son’s basketball team hasn’t won a game yet – they lost the first one 19-2. There’s one kid on the opposing team who’s a whole lot bigger than all of the other kids. In a game last week, this giant kid tried to take the ball from a kid on my son’s team. But the boy wouldn’t let go of the ball. The giant kid yanked and tugged on the ball, and the smaller boy was lifted off the ground, his legs waving in the air like the rope on the end of a dog’s chew toy until the ref blew the whistle. In a game with positively no stakes, a seven year old boy held on – knowing he couldn’t win but not willing to go down without a fight.
Why the hell do we try to teach our kids the virtue of doing their best? Why tell them that it doesn’t matter if you win, it’s how you play? We are doing a terrible job as a nation of preparing children for a job in politics.
Ok, it’s not really a fair point. You can’t teach kids how to be venal, mock outraged, scheming, sound-bite issuing publicity hounds. What a disaster that kindergarten would be. Six year olds calling press conferences all day and taking calls from casino moguls trying to avoid prosecution. Better they learn these skills in college, where they can attend a multi-million dollar Institute of Politics and study at the knee of the guy who probably convinced Obama that intervention in Syria was a political loser in the first place.
So rather than arm the rebels (or allow others to), create no-fly zones, attack command and control facilities, require background checks, limit the size and type of magazines, ban assault rifles, etc. my guess is that we’re going to do nothing. Or the practical equivalent of nothing (I should copyright the acronym PEN, as I bet it’s going to come in handy).
Maybe the reason that Congress funds defense so much more loosely than it does education is that all that shiny hardware and whiz-bang technology makes them feel tough, while any first grader knows exactly what to call the kid who won’t play the game because he might not win.