One of the most welcome things about last night’s State of the Union was its treatment of history: how it unfolds and, specifically, what propels it forward. Obama began his speech with an admonishment that nothing in history is inevitable: “It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable--that America was always destined to succeed.
I basically liked Obama's speech. I'm skeptical about the timeline for withdrawal, but on the question that matters most--whether to send more troops--Obama has, I think, made the right decision, and done so over considerable opposition from within his own party and his own administration. That said, as much as I agreed with Obama's essential argument, something bothered me about the speech. It had less to do with Afghanistan than with the larger principles involved. The speech may have been, as Mike pointed out, remarkably consistent with an earlier Obama address.
Here's one silver lining on an otherwise disappointing night: When taken together, the results from New Jersey and New York City can be read as a repudiation of the rich man’s politics practiced by Jon Corzine and Michael Bloomberg--both of whom used personal fortunes to launch themselves into the political arena, and both of whom were trying to buy an election for the third time in the past decade. I will admit that I was holding my nose and hoping that Corzine would win tonight, just as I have held my nose and hoped for him to win past general elections.
Today was arguably the United Nations at its best. I know that sounds odd, since the day was dominated by the insane musings of Muammar Qaddafi.
Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror By Mahmood Mamdani (Pantheon, 398 pp., $26.95) The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All By Gareth Evans (Brookings, 349 pp., $24.95) I. IN THE SUMMER OF 2007, Mahmood Mamdani found himself at a meeting of activists and politicians, listening to sentiments that had by then become quite common among a certain class of politically active Americans. The speakers were calling on the United Nations to send peacekeepers to Darfur.
For the past few weeks, we've heard a lot of debate about whether constitutional law can possibly survive close contact with the concept of empathy. But after spending the afternoon at the Sotomayor hearings, listening to senators left and right prattle about empathy and its relationship to justice, I have another question: Can the concept of empathy survive close contact with constitutional law?
I spent some time yesterday and today trying to figure out Foreign Policy magazine's ranking of failed states. Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Sudan got first, second, and third place--no surprises there. But what initially piqued my interest was the high ranking given to Kenya, a country where I just spent two weeks (on a trip sponsored by the International Reporting Project, based at Johns Hopkins).
The past few years haven't been kind to foreign policy idealism--the belief that when authoritarian states mistreat their own people, it is a matter of concern for all of us. We idealists can largely blame ourselves for this. The biggest reason idealism fell out of favor was Iraq--a disastrous war that many of us foolishly supported in the naive belief that substituting liberalism for totalitarianism in the heart of the Middle East would be a relatively simple thing. We made mistakes beyond Iraq, too.
I am late to this, but Maine Governor John Baldacci's explanation of why he changed his mind on gay marriage was fascinating--and shed some light on a question that has been hotly debated in liberal circles over the past few years: When it comes to gay marriage, does judicial activism help or hurt? From The New York Times: Gov.