Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Presidential qualifications, take two

New York City artists, Fall 2001

Back in January, I posted the question that is most important in determining my attitude toward the entrants in the 2008 Presidential horse race: If (when) the U.S. is hit by another terrorist attack, which candidate will be most able to keep retaliation/revenge within somewhat proportional limits?

This morning I was thrilled to see that a trio of Democratic senior "wise men" had raised the issue of intelligent response to a terrorist nuclear attack on the U.S. in a New York Times oped. "William J. Perry, a professor at Stanford, and Ashton B. Carter, a professor at Harvard, were, respectively, the secretary and an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. Michael M. May, also a professor at Stanford, is a former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory." It was nice to see they don't think the smart response would be to start shooting from the hip.

After cataloguing some communications and relief measures a government that could get anything done would perform, they suggest:

The United States government, probably convened somewhere outside Washington by the day after, would be urgently trying to trace the source of the bombs. No doubt, the trail would lead back to some government -- Russia, Pakistan, North Korea or other countries with nuclear arsenals or advanced nuclear power programs -- because even the most sophisticated terrorist groups cannot make plutonium or enrich their own uranium; they would need to get their weapons or fissile materials from a government.

The temptation would be to retaliate against that government. But that state might not even be aware that its bombs were stolen or sold, let alone have deliberately provided them to terrorists. Retaliating against Russia or Pakistan would therefore be counterproductive. Their cooperation would be needed to find out who got the bombs and how many there were, and to put an end to the campaign of nuclear terrorism. It is important to continue to develop the ability to trace any bomb by analyzing its residues. Any government that did not cooperate in the search should, of course, face possible retaliation.

... Contingency plans for the day after a nuclear blast should demonstrate to Americans that all three branches of government can work in unison and under the Constitution to respond to the crisis and prevent further destruction.

Sage advice -- would any of the Presidential hopefuls dare heed it?

The Republicans are currently competing at thumping their chests, so they aren't even worth considering.

Among the Democrats, after six months of looking them over, my top bet for exercising restraint would be Richardson. As far as foreign affairs go, he seems to live in the real world (though of course aiming to perpetuate U.S. dominance.) On domestic matters he is not attractive, but I think he knows he doesn't want to blow the planet to kingdom come.

If Gore were a candidate, I think he might pass my test -- he's accustomed to think beyond costs, benefits, and immediate gratification.

As for Obama, he emanates caution to the point of timidity -- a reason I don't much like him in most respects, but a character trait that might prevent massive human misery in this situation.

Edwards still seems hung up on making up for lack of experience by proving he's committed to a strong military. There are some good ideas in the speech linked there. But they don't speak to my concerns.

And Clinton doesn't seem trustworthy in this regard -- she's awfully smart and tough -- but doesn't come across as wise or thoughtful. She might grow in the job. Others have.

What do readers think? Who among the field seems most able not to go to war when under intense pressure to start throwing bombs?
See also Terrance's thoughts about why this is a country so prone to warlike impulses in "The Myth of a Bush Recovery," part 1, part 2, and very especially, part 3. These essays also appeared at Booman Tribune.


johnieb said...

Thanks, Jan, for a most intriguing canon from a most interesting source. Alas, I have a developed allergy to media releases from "serious" candidates, so I have nothing productive to add to your assessments, which seem sound from such a perspective.

And thanks to Sister Jane R for the suggestion. I've noted some very good things here in the past; I think I may even have said so then.

I think I must "sit down, read, and educate myself," as the saying goes, but if I don't get off dis dayum 'net, it won't get done.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Jan, I was so angry at Al Gore for listening to his handlers and strategists in the last presidential election, that I have not yet recovered.

Gore is smart, very smart, but he made the judgment to listen to those folks and he came across like a pod during his campaign. He was also most ungracious to Bill Clinton, who is, as yet, quite popular and who, warts and all, had given us 8 years of relative peace and prosperity. Gore could have invited him to be a presence in in his campaign in carefully chosen venues. He was the ghost on the stage anyway.

Had Gore been elected, we would be at a different and better place today, I have no doubt of that. But I was seriously disappointed in his campaign. He could have said "no" to some of the bullshit that his strategists handed out in the form of advice.

He is an attractive and articulate man, but that man was mostly missing in his last campaign.

janinsanfran said...

Grandmere Mimi -- far be it from me to disagree with you -- I too loathed Gore's subservience to some pretty slimy handlers in 2000.

I partially revised my opinion after seeing him last fall in person touting an environmental initiative.

Trouble is, the best I can imagine in a candidate is passable. I'd love to think one was good, but I guess I'm too old to believe in human leaders.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Of course, Gore was not in the last presidential election, as I said. It was Kerry who broke my heart in that one. I'm tired of having Democrats break my heart.

I haven't see Gore in person, but I have seen him look good on TV. Very good.

If only the real person could come out from behind the persona of the candidate.

Kathryn said...

First Gore, then Kerry, now Hillary seem to be taking the DNC's gospel to heart: "to run for president you have to cut out your tongue"

I'm sick of presumptive nominees and Democrats who share the contempt for the people that we expect from Republicans. I'll stay home this time before I vote for another canned-idate.

And in case you haven't notice we are getting pulled like taffy by the spinmasters early on, with the best candidates (Kucinich, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel) elaborately omitted from any discussion at all. We may have changed the balance in Congress but we are still stuck with the corporate media's airtight garage. Our majority may be short-lived.

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