Good for Peggy Noonan (on GOP Get-Tough Talk)

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See UPDATE below.

I don't always, or often, see the world just the way Peggy Noonan does, so I was struck by her latest WSJ column. It was about this week's GOP debate, and it expressed a concern that I had also felt but not taken the time to think through or write down. She mentioned the series of hypothetical questions about what the candidates would do in Iran, Pakistan, or other trouble spots:

I also wondered if it actually serves U.S. interests to have possible presidents in a formal venue pressed on whether they will topple this regime or bomb that sovereign nation. At one point Wolf Blitzer asked Newt Gingrich: "Would you, if you were president of the United States, bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power?"...

Should we be discussing those things so blithely and explicitly in such a public way? You have to wonder what the world thinks when it hears such talk--and the world is watching.

It would have been nice to hear one of the candidates say, "You know, Wolf, I'm not sure it's a good idea to talk the way we're talking at a time like this, with the world so hot and our problems so big. Discretion isn't cowardice, so let me give you the general and overarching philosophy with which I'd approach these challenges, and you can infer from it what you like. I prefer peaceable solutions when they are possible. I think war is always a tragedy, sometimes necessary, sometimes even inevitable, but always tragic, and so I don't speak lightly or blithely of taking up arms . . ."

By the end, some of what was said sounded so dramatic that Ron Paul seemed like the normal one. He very much doesn't want new wars or new military actions. This is not an unreasonable desire! Jon Huntsman was normal too. They both seemed to think our biggest foreign-policy challenge is the American economy, which pays for our arms and diplomacy but has grown weak. It has to be made stronger, because without it we can afford nothing.

Emphasis added, to what is a truly excellent suggested-answer paragraph, for this reason: Over the years I have interviewed a lot of people about military action, and they have come from two broad categories. Some are actual military people, especially those who have led troops in combat. The others are "policy" people, from think tanks, the media, academia, and so on. The most striking difference between the two is that the real military figures virtually never "speak lightly or blithely of taking up arms." That difference was notable before the Iraq war, and it is notable again in discussions about how to handle Iran.
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UPDATE. A reader begs to differ:

I totally disagree with you and Ms. Noonan. I think we really need to know what the candidates are thinking about their foreign policy with respect to taking up arms. We really do need to know if these people are irrational warmongers BEFORE they get into office. So the more that the Wolf Blitzers press these people on foreign policy and national security, the better I like it. Would that we (or the press, more specifically) had discerned an irrational neoconservative policy thinking on Iraq back in 2000.

If I were a very, very cynical person, I might be thinking that Ms. Noonan is concerned at how completely frightening the GOP candidates are with respect to foreign policy and national security. If I were that cynical, I'd think she was sending a message for them to clam up with respect to foreign policy and national security, lest they scare the children, and the adults in America.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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