I am a fan of D.J. Tice’s writing. In an era when so much/too much conservative commentary is an exercise in grossly irresponsible rabble rousing bordering on outright bigotry, Tice, whom I’ve known for quite some time, at least offers a point of view with which a functioning adult can engage.

For example: His most recent column, “A president with a plan — that he can’t sell” (Dec. 13) presents several facets of the so-called war on terror that deserve to be debated in a far more constructive way than we’re getting out of the current Republican primary campaign and the rest of the conservative media.

I, too, watched Obama’s 13-minute speech the Sunday before last, wedged in between football games, and like everyone appalled by the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., as well as by the daily terror we wreak upon ourselves with our submission to a single-digit percentage of “Second Amendment zealots,” I was curious what Obama would actually promise.

Certainly, he wasn’t going to stand up in front of the world and promise that no act of terror would ever again be committed on American soil. The latest polls prove there’s a bounty of fools out there, but I doubt even they would believe a guy telling them their worries are over, basically because “I’ve got this.”

I had a rueful smile when Obama pivoted from the superb work of our multi-multibillion-dollar security apparatus in breaking up complicated 9/11-type plots to the vastly more difficult task of blunting below-the-radar psychotics who can walk into any gun store in the U.S. and outfit themselves with all of the automatic rifles, handguns and ammo they can dream of.

The missing word in Obama’s transition was “but.” As in: “We have had great success preventing large scale horror … but … no leader can ever promise total immunity from trauma. Life doesn’t come with that kind of a guarantee.”

But, ironic for someone with a taste for history, Tice (like so much of the conservative commentariat) implies that effective leadership offers essentially such a guarantee, or at the very least, stirring martial verbiage to that effect. If anything, my criticism of Obama’s speech was for not taking the “let’s get real” approach and leveling with the country that incidents like that in San Bernardino will always be beyond the pre-emptive abilities of authorities in an open society.

There’s of course a difference between being president and being a candidate cynically pulling every emotional lever of the most reactionary right-wing voter. It’s in the latter’s best interests to suggest that the solution to terror is obvious and simple, while the former, from daily experience, has to accept that fanaticism has always been a staple of human existence and will continue to be so long beyond the current election cycle.

Tice makes an issue of Obama’s call to be “on the right side of history,” as though this were some ivory-tower, liberal, pixie-dust notion with no mooring in military or intelligence strategy. The counter view is that only 12 years have passed since another president — egged on, with his manhood challenged by neoconservatives — took up the “shock and awe” (sort of) full-scale invasion strategy against a threat in the Middle East. That “bold” move set off a multitrillion-dollar catastrophe that not only resulted in more dead Americans than 9/11 but also cast and fired the cauldron that has given us the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Conservatives make a point of never mentioning the George W. Bush administration. No one charged with avoiding that kind of epic miscalculation and derailment again has the luxury of ignoring history. Moreover, it seems to me, there is a constitutional obligation to grasp every lesson that fiasco has to offer.

Finally, as per usual with fulminations over Obama policies, there is no suggestion of an alternate strategy, despite the tacit vibe that one exists.

What I would enjoy hearing from someone as well-read and erudite as Tice is a detailed description of the better path to controlling fanatical terror in the 21st century. “Bombing the hell out of them,” as heard in some quarters, doesn’t quite cut it anywhere other than on a bar stool. And with racial hysteria spiking in reaction to both terror itself and reckless (conservative) demagoguery, what exactly would be the precise choice of words a president should use to provide both a modicum of reassurance and an admonition to resist reckless, ill-informed demonizing?

 

Brian Lambert is a media columnist for MinnPost.com and a blogger at “Wry Wing Politics.”