Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The "sticking it to Goldwater" doctrine

So it's a week old, meaning I'm way behind the times, but I really want to emphasize this poll (PDF) from Public Agenda (via) showing that 80% of Americans want something other than military action or threats thereof against Iran.

I mean, it's great news on its own, and many have rightly pointed out that it shows the American people aren't really willing to wage unending war against phantoms for zero gain, so hurrah. But it also reminded me of something I read last summer, something that it took me a while to find: From The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam:

In the fall [of 1963] the President had been scheduled to go on a tour of Western states that Mike Mansfield had promoted, a conservation tour in essence, where he would praise wide open spaces and high mountains and clean rivers. It was not a subject which particularly interested him... but Kennedy was glad to be leaving Washington. The trip did not start well. He made two poor appearances, and then in Billings, Montana, he was scheduled to give another boring speech, boring himself and the audience, and in the middle of it he mentioned the test-ban treaty, and as he did, the crowd responded with force and immediacy....

Kennedy, who was above all a good politician, whose ear was fine and always tuned, and who sensed his audience well, adjusted immediately and continued on the peace theme, accelerating the tempo and intensity, and the crowd responded....

From then on through the Far West, the trip was the same; he strayed more and more from conservation and into the test-ban treaty, and everywhere the crowds were very good, and very responsive. The last night he went to Salt Lake City, and the crowds along the route were the best yet, and when he entered the Mormon Tabernacle, allegedly the enemy camp, he received a five-minute standing ovation as he walked in. Here again, in what was alleged to be Birch country, Goldwater territory, he challenged the theses of the far right and talked of the problems of living in a complicated world. He had long suspected that the right in America was overrated as a political force, that there was an element of blackmail to its power, and now he was convinced that the country was going past old and rigid fears of the Communists, that it was probably ahead of Washington in its comprehension of the world and its willingness to accept it... He sensed that there was a deep longing for a sane peace and sane world....

The following evening both Tom Wicker and Sander Vanocur, the New York Times and NBC White House correspondents, respectively, sought out Press Secretary Pierre Salinger and suggested that the Western trip had uncovered a new and powerful issue. "Yes," said Salinger, "you're right. We've found that peace is an issue."

--Halberstam, p. 361 (Chapter

Just as Barack Obama's pledge to negotiate with rogue regimes seems to have come about by accident, Kennedy's revelation was totally unanticipated. But there was, and there remains a constituency in America for peace, or at the very least not shooting first. The Ledeen Doctrine's constituency consists of the comment threads at the Corner and LGF (but I repeat myself.)

If Americans were enthusiastic about trying to negotiate an end to the Cold War -- only a year after the Soviets had put missiles in Cuba! -- why shouldn't they be willing to negotiate from a position of much greater strength with Iran, North Korea, or any other country on Earth?

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