Saturday, November 14, 2009

An old argument, well put

Understatement alert: Garry Wills is a smart, interesting guy. A long-time and frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, he also has written nearly 40 books and currently is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern. What interests me is his wide-ranging mind. A conservative early protege of William F. Buckley, a young scholar who entered and then left the Jesuit order, his thought took a more liberal turn after his coverage of civil rights and the debacle in Vietnam. Fiercely intellectual, he has remained a devout Catholic, to me a dichotomy of Grand Canyon-like dimensions for any and all religions. But he has remained an open-eyed Catholic who has been a tough critic of Vatican policies and theology. He is one of those Americans with whom it is easy to disagree but hard to ignore.

In the current New York Review, Wills' brief (half-page) essay is headlined: "A One-Term President?: The Choice." Wills begins by pretty much agreeing that if Obama pulls out of Afghanistan he would become a one-term president because the same arguments used to keep America in Vietnam for so long would be "toxic" enough to oust him. But, although Wills yearns for Obama to have two terms in which to "realize the exciting new things he aspires to do," Wills still "would rather see him a one-term president than have him pass on another unwinnable war to the person who will follow him in office" - as, of course, so many recent presidents have done in hopes of winning that second term.

"It is unlikely," Wills wrote, "that we will soon have another president with the moral and rhetorical force to talk us out of a foolish commitment that cannot be sustained without shame and defeat. If it costs him his presidency, what other achievement can match it?"

Obviously the Vietnam experience colors Wills' views. But unlike the thinking of those who suggest that the lesson of that war teaches us to just fight harder, he raises questions more difficult to refute. After all, he wrote, "Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not."

No comments:

Post a Comment