Friday, September 3, 2010

Charles Krauthammer, Barack Obama and the Vagaries of History

Toward the end of his column urging President Obama to embrace being a wartime president, Charles Krauthammer makes a really perplexing statement:

Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don’t get to decide. History does.

It's a bizarre statement. History is not a force that moves on its own; it's made by people. And presidents, more than most people, have a say about its direction. We went to war in Iraq because one man, President George W. Bush, decided it was in the national interest. If he hadn't wanted the war there, we wouldn't have had it.

We did learn in Iraq that the president's vision and acts aren't the only one that matter. But that's because other people also made decisions. "History" wasn't acting independently of human agency.

Similarly, we're ramping up our involvement in Afghanistan not because "history" demands we do so, but because President Obama, having examined his options, decided it was in the national interest. I happen to disagree with that decision, but it wasn't inevitable.

I suspect that Krauthammer's formulation was just a bit of lazy columnist shorthand, a means of wrapping up an 800-word column with something pithy. It just doesn't stand up scrutiny. People make choices, presidents make choices, and those choices constitute the stuff of history. The problem isn't that President Obama isn't heeding the call of history. It's that he is making choices Krauthammer doesn't like. That's different.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Leo Strauss, call your office.

This is good stuff, Joel.