Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"The world as it is and the world as it should be"

Once again today President Obama summoned the paradox that undergirds the work of his favorite philosopher - Reinhold Niebuhr.
Now, ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency, but American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be -- a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters, where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice.
As I read various pundits react to the President's speech on foreign policy at West Point's commencement, I am struck by how difficult it is for many Americans to deal with the reality of "the world as it is." There persists in our imagination a myth that if we simply summoned the right formula for our foreign policy approach, we could control the outcome and create "the world as it should be." And so, when President Obama fails to make grand sweeping promises about how his approach will get us there, he is seen as somehow equivocating.

That kind of thinking seems to me to go right to the heart of our problems with exceptionalism. Since I find tremendous overlap between American exceptionalism and white privilege, I thought immediately of something Tim Wise wrote years about about the difference between an emphasis on efficacy vs the struggle.
Invariably, it seems it is we in the white community who obsess over our own efficacy, and fail to recognize the value of commitment, irrespective of outcome. People of color, on the other hand, never having been burdened with the illusion that the world was their oyster, and thus, anything they touched could and should turn to gold, usually take a more reserved, and I would say healthier view of the world and the prospects for change. They know (as indeed they must) that the thing being fought for, at least if it's worth having, will require more than a part-time effort, and will not likely come in the lifetimes of those presently fighting for it. And it is that knowledge which allows a strength and resolve few members of the dominant majority will ever, can ever, know.
And so perhaps its no great coincidence that our first African American President is the one who suggests that we must live with the tension of the world as it is while continuing to struggle for the world as it should be. Apparently that is big news to some pundits.
It's relatively easy to not order a cruise-missile strike or troop redeployment. Replacing that hard military power with soft power, and making it work, is a lot harder. Obama's got two years to prove to the world that he can do it. If he wants to see his superdove foreign policy doctrine survive beyond his time in office, he'll have to do a lot more with this doctrine than make speeches about it.
On whether or not this "superdove foreign policy doctrine" survives, I can't help but ask, "Or what?" We go back to our "success" in military adventurism in countries like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan? Ordering cruise-missile strikes and/or troop redeployment might be easy. But please, can we dispense with the notion that they have been proven effective? The fact that so many people haven't learned that lesson in over 60 years of failure speaks to enduring myth of exceptionalism. Or as Nezua put it... privilege.
The voice of privilege thinks no seat is unavailable, no land unconquerable, no food untasteable, no right deniable, no experience out of reach. 

No comments:

Post a Comment