In science, when you conduct an experiment to test a theory and get a result you didn’t expect, you learn from the experience and re-think your theory. But what do you do in politics, when you implement a policy you were certain would succeed but which fails miserably? We’re about to find out.
For seven years now, President Obama has been conducting what may well be one of history’s greatest political experiments. His revolutionary theory — which this Copernicus-from-Chicago articulates with such supreme confidence that he’s persuaded American voters to elect him twice to the presidency — is that the world would be a safer, less violent place if the United States played a smaller role on the global stage. At the core of this theory lies his hypothesis that American military power is more the problem than the solution; that our over-reliance on guns rather than brains had de-stabilized key parts of the world, such as the Mideast, that would otherwise have been more peaceful and prosperous.
This theory completely overturned the traditional view of how the world works, which had been held by every post-World War II president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush: namely, that the world depends on American leadership, and on the willingness of American presidents to use our military power to keep the globe relatively stable and under control. The first corollary of this traditional theory is that, while of course we make mistakes from time to time, American power is overall a force for good. The second corollary is that shouldering this global responsibility — and absorbing its horrific costs in terms of money and casualties — is part of what it means to be the United States; we are truly an exceptional country because we do all this to make the world a better, safer place and we never ask for anything in return.
The results of President Obama’s experiment now are pouring in. In Afghanistan, the very-nearly-defeated Taliban is surging. Iraq — which was stable, intact, and at peace when George W. Bush left the White House — is engulfed in violence, breaking apart, and now a proud ally of Iran, whose leaders chant “Death to America” without the slightest fear of retribution. Indeed, the mullahs in Teheran are about to receive a $150 billion windfall from the US itself, for signing onto a meaningless nuclear agreement.
The Terrorists are Coming
Meanwhile, Russia has sent its warplanes to bomb American-supported insurgents in Syria, while shipping anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran to defeat or forestall an Israeli attack on that country’s nuclear bomb factories — which are being built with Russian help. Christianity is being obliterated throughout the Mideast. All this turmoil has triggered the greatest flood of refugees since the end of World War II — a flood that now engulfs Europe and threatens the survival of that continent’s political institutions. Since it’s obvious there are terrorists planted among these waves of refugees, deadly attacks in Europe and perhaps even here in the US, are now likely.
Elsewhere in the world, Ukraine is fighting for its life while its Baltic neighbors brace themselves for Moscow-directed mischief. North Korea keeps building nukes, while China builds military bases across the Pacific and wages cyber-warfare against American citizens and companies at absolutely no cost to itself.
From even this brief and incomplete summary of results from President Obama’s great global experiment, it’s obvious that words like “disaster” and “catastrophe” don’t begin to capture the magnitude of its failure. If our president thought like a scientist, right now he would be sitting quietly in his office and re-thinking his theory. But he’s a politician, and every indication from Washington is that the president means to keep going in the same ghastly direction, maybe even double down and find a hapless scapegoat or two to blame. There is no indication whatsoever that he will learn from experience and change his policy. (Reader, were it not for my legendary good manners and respect for the office of the presidency, this is where I’d remind you of the old adage: You can always tell a Harvard man. However, you cannot tell him very much.)
Making the Best of It
In the short term, there isn’t much we can do to stop the forces our president has set into motion. But as citizens and voters, there is one thing we can do to make the best of a bad situation and, perhaps, avoid this sort of thing from happening again: we can start to import the methodology of science into politics. In other words, we can start to focus less on party and personality, and more on results. This means throwing our support to candidates for public office who propose policies that have been proven to work. And it means rejecting candidates who propose policies that have been tried before, and failed each time.
As the world changes and new policies are proposed to deal with these changes — and this will happen from time to time — let’s undertake each new policy as scientists would undertake an experiment. If it gives us the result we hoped for and expected, great; we’ve added one more piece to the puzzle of politics. If the experiment fails — and this too will happen from time to time, even with the best of intentions and brilliant implimentation — let’s learn from experience by reverting to the old policy or by trying another new approach that seems promising. And let’s keep experimenting and learning until we get it right.
Human nature doesn’t change. Politics will always be a rough game, and power will always be an aphrodisiac to those who play it. But so long as politicians need our votes to get elected, the ultimate power lies with us. If we citizens will give our support, and our votes, to only those candidates who will think and act more like scientists, over time we can change the culture of politics itself. That would be a huge leap forward not only for our country, but for humanity.