Stupidos and Smarts
Super tough conservative Dick Cheney assured us we would win the Iraq war in “weeks, not months.” That was 675 weeks ago. The Iraq war goes on, as does the even longer one in Afghanistan. Our enemies are stronger than ever, and, if you believe the Republican candidates for president, our military is weaker than ever.
Cheney and tough guy George Bush II chose to absent themselves from the Vietnam war. So did tough guy realtor Donnie Trump, who lucked out with four Vietnam-era draft deferments. Tough guy conservative action movie stars Ronald Reagan and John Wayne spent World War II poolside in Hollywood while wimpy peacenik George McGovern was flying combat missions.
Millions of Americans admire those guys. They believe that having tough leaders, even if they’re only play acting at being tough, is the way to go. What's the alternative? The most obvious one is having smart leaders.
But there are problems with smart. You can pretend to be tough, but you can’t pretend to be smart. Either you are or you aren’t.
Smart people predicted that the Bush-Cheney wars on Iraq and Afghanistan would not be short and glorious but endless and disastrous for the U.S., the region and the world. Smart people warned that the housing bubble would burst, creating the great recession of 2008. Smart people said the austerity policies favored by conservatives here and in Europe would produce not prosperity but greater misery.
Sadly, our political arrangements don’t allow for much in the way of leadership by smart people who make sensible analyses and reasonable decisions. Even when smart people do get into positions of power, they have to play down their brain power. When Secretary of State John Kerry, who’s no genius, was running for president he had to hide his fluency in French. Too hoity toity for the voters.
The big issue now between the (relatively) smart set and the tough guys revolves around what some call the war on terror and others an ongoing war for control of the Middle East and its vast energy resources. The smart side believes in a war of divide and conquer against ISIS, meaning making alliances with Muslims who also oppose ISIS. The tough guys, out of a mix of ignorance, arrogance and racism, sound like they want to take on all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. These same jingos indicate they wouldn't mind going nuclear toe-to-toe with the Russians and Chinese as well. Or so their habitual ukases threaten.
Do they actually want a replay of the century-long Crusades with World War III thrown in to boot? Is that mere campaign season chest thumping, or are they really that stupid and reckless? Probably a bit of both.
The danger is not just that we have stupidos, chicken hawks and swindlers vying for leadership of the country, but that so much of our polity bray in wrathful eagerness whenever one of these yahoos proposes war, torture and/or plunder.
Conventional wisdom has it that Americans are fed up with war in the Middle East after only a quarter of a century of it since Desert Storm back in 1991. That may be so. But what also may be so is that ennui could shift to aggression on a dime with even a small but spectacular terrorist incident.