Festival of links, part 2: Coates, Kaplan, Green
Following this earlier dispatch, a few more.
- Like my Atlantic colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates, I've been in a no-TV mode for a while -- in my case, most of the time since returning from China. We finally got TV coverage re-connected last month for the US Open tennis matches and the start of the NFL season. But I realize that I'm turning on the TV only for live sports and the occasional real-time spectacle that's easier to watch on the big screen than find on line. David Letterman's first post-scandal show; the new (and just so-so) season-opener of The Simpsons this weekend; the PBS "Obama's War" tonight. Not Mad Men, because we have to catch up with the first two seasons on DVDs.* For old times' sake and for language practice, my wife sometimes has the Chinese-language station on in the background. But in general, it's not a factor -- compared either with radio or, of course, the internet. Certainly less a presence in our life than it used to be.
I'm not making any big cultural point about TV or our haughtiness in rising above it. I am convinced that our children's four elementary-school years when we were living in Japan and Malaysia and rarely saw TV at all, were good for them (and us) in various ways. My only point at the moment is that the same technological shifts that have caused problems for the print media have, in our household's case, made even more of a difference when it comes to TV.
- My Atlantic colleague Robert Kaplan has argued on our site very strongly that it is "Time for Decisiveness on Afghanistan," by which he means that it's time to send more troops to wage a thorough counter-insurgent action. Here is why I disagree.
Bob Kaplan knows more about Afghanistan and its environs than I ever will. I like and respect him, even though we usually disagree about foreign policy, notably about Iraq. But his essay is only in part about the right strategy for Afghanistan. It is also about the way presidents make decisions about war and peace. That's something I know about, and I think his basic assumptions are wrong.
He says that Obama is causing great damage by taking so long to decide on the right course for Afghanistan. I think that presidents have caused damage by making decisions too quickly much more often than by taking too long. And he says that Obama runs the risk of seeming inconsistent -- and therefore of becoming ineffective. To me, presidents have hurt themselves and the country through rigidity born of a fear of looking inconsistent, much more often than they have by being too flexible.
A sample passage from his essay:
"It's perfectly legitimate for Obama to review Afghanistan strategy and troop numbers. But by calling into question the very strategy that he put into place earlier in the year, when he called Afghanistan the "necessary war," and promised to properly resource it, Obama is courting charges from the right that he is another ineffectual Jimmy Carter--that other Nobel Peace Prize winner....
"The Administration had many months, beginning the moment Obama was elected, to recalibrate Afghan strategy. Yet it's now in the position of publicly questioning the fundamental wisdom of the general it has chosen.... Even if Obama does end up making the correct decision on Afghanistan strategy (by which I mean adding troops, since counterinsurgency is manpower-intensive), the public agony over his deliberations may already have done incalculable damage."
You should read his whole argument. If he or others can really establish that a decision right this minute about Afghanistan is indispensable -- that this is a moment comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis etc -- then, OK. (For a contrary argument, see this.) Otherwise, everything I've learned about politics indicates that impatience is almost always destructive, that especially when it comes to military commitments it's crucial to think and think again, and that a president should be less afraid of being "inconsistent" than of making a big mistake.
- My Atlantic colleague Josh Green, co-author with Henry Waxman of The Waxman Report, adds this about the disagreement over calorie labeling I mentioned earlier today.
"To chime in with a congressional/historical angle on the Corby/Megan labeling imbroglio: Congress considered the lack of information on most products serious enough from a public health standpoint that (led by Henry Waxman!), it passed the dull-sounding-but-important Nutrition Labeling and Dietary Supplement Act in 1996. Waxman devotes a full chapter to it in his book. Example of typically misleading industry behavior: Sara Lee Lite Cheesecake actually contained more calories per serving than Sara Lee's regular cheesecake. The "lite" was a marketing ploy. Confronted by an FDA task force, Sara Lee claimed that the "lite" referred to the color, not the caloric content, of the cheesecake. Similar examples abound. A perhaps more resonant point for the general public: without the Nutritional Labeling Act there would be no South Beach Diet!"
* Why we're behind on Mad Men: Tried three times to get Seasons 1 and 2 from pirate video stores in Beijing. First time, the version we got was in Russian. Second time, Spanish and Portuguese. Third time, it was some other show altogether. Actually relieved to have a chance to rent legit versions at full price in DC!