Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Michael Gerson on Uganda and the president's conscience

Michael Gerson offers what I think is the best defense of the president's decision to send 100 American soldiers to Africa to aid in the fight against the Lord's Resistance Army, but I think he makes a slight misstep at the end:
Some critics insist that military force should be used only to secure the narrowest definition of national interests. But it is the president, not his critics, who must live with the ethical consequences of inaction. And most presidents conclude, as Obama has done, that a broader national interest is advanced when America aids its friends and shows its decency.
I think most of us want our president to have a conscience. But the presidency isn't about the president's conscience—few men or women who hold the office will leave the White House with their souls unbruised, I suspect. The president, to some extent, is required to get away from the mushiness of his own feelings and make cold, clear-eyed decisions based on A) what is allowed and permitted by the Constitution and B) what best advances and defends the interests of the American people. There's a cost-benefit calculation involved in the latter decision, and Gerson may have convinced me it's worth it in this case, as long as the American footprint remains very small and limited. But I don't really much care about the president's feelings about this. It's the national interest that should matter, no matter how narrowly or broadly defined. The president's gut is not the same thing.

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