One of my biggest political pet peeves is the certainty with which the average person talks about foreign policy and military operations. The average person simply does not have access to the information that is necessary to make a good decision. Since there are compelling reasons for the government to not broadcast all of that information, sometimes we must simply trust our leaders to do what is best. Our leaders, in turn, ought to assure us that their perspective is circumspect: that they are willing to go to war when it is necessary, not eager to go to war when it isn’t, and open to input from a diverse set of advisors.
But there is also a casualness with which people call for policies that affect us and other countries, including the lives of innocent people. When anti-American violence erupts in the Middle East, we once again hear calls for war–as if there would be no consequences, as if it would be better to lose thousands of lives (“theirs” and “ours”) in a lost cause for revenge than to persist in diplomacy or withdraw or look to other measures, as if only our enemies would be hurt, as if doing so would solve the fundamental problems that fuel the violence, as if we would make no new enemies.
We hear the President denounced for “apologizing” to Muslims for a ridiculous film, as if condemning the irresponsible use of free speech and much more harshly condemning violent reactions to it were mutually exclusive. We hear the President denounced for not openly “taking action” on Iran even as we hear that any operations that would qualify as such should be kept secret: a clear catch-22. We hear that Muslims are all the same, that they hate us because they are jealous that we have freedom but also because they are mindless savages with no reason to resent us.
Perhaps most of this talk is just a way to vent frustration over our inability to resolve our problems. Continued calls for peace can seem weak and ineffective, but we also don’t have the resources, freedom, or skill to simply drop into other countries and eliminate the homogeneous “bad guys” once and for all. It doesn’t feel right to be attacked and be unable to get revenge.
But our diverse and deeply interconnected modern world does not care about our feelings. We are not above it, but a part of it. It is past time to face that reality–and that also means holding back on the irresponsible speech that simply fuels more hatred. We cannot justly condemn others for lacking control if we lack it as well. Sometimes we must put our emotions and principles aside for the greater good. That is not a call for us to imprison the filmmaker to appease extremists, but a call to recognize that every action has consequences and that those consequences do not necessarily conform to our desires. President Obama seems to recognize this; now it’s time for everyone else to recognize it as well.