Reporter's Note: President Obama has been trying to pressure some world leaders who are leading their portions of the world in dangerous directions. As I note in today’s letter, that leads inevitably to a very difficult question.
Dear Mr. President,
Around my neighborhood over the past several years I have seen signs posted in yards, which say “War is not the answer.” And every time I find myself muttering, “That depends on the question.”
Yes, I’m being snarky, and I’m sure that many folks would be hugely insulted, but it is on my mind lately as I’ve watched you wrestle week after week with events in the Middle East. In a practical sense, each time that you decide whether we should take diplomatic, economic, or military action against some reprehensible regime, you are considering whether war might, in fact, be the answer.
And in my experience, there are times when common sense tells you that sometimes it is. Tragic? Certainly. Avoidable to a point and to be avoided as long as possible? Yes. A measure of our failure to settle disputes by more reasonable means? Absolutely.
And yet, in the end, at times war is the answer nonetheless.
When the Southern part of the United States decided not to be “united” anymore, the Union could have just let them go. But with the future of a young nation at stake, many on both sides decided that war was the answer. It was devastating. It was costly. And yet it ended slavery and preserved the country as we know it.
When the Nazis rolled across Europe, they showed precious little interest in talks, bribery, or anything else aimed at slowing their rampage. So war, once again, became the answer, and the Nazis were driven back.
And now, as you lean on Syria, pressure Libya, and tangle time and again with events in Afghanistan and Iraq, I remind myself that you are looking for answers in difficult places, and one potential answer is once again…war. I don’t envy the job.
Here is a sad truth, which I am sure has occurred to you: Before you became president, you made plenty of decisions; but as president you rose into the unique position of being truly responsible for lives in a direct way. Some of our troops have died because you made decisions that sent them to battle or kept them there. Other people in the world have been killed because you told our troops to kill them. You chose war. Some of our fellow citizens believe you did the right thing. Some do not.
Either way, there may be no more grave question for a president than this one: Do we go to war? And yet, as much as we might wish otherwise, history tells us that from time to time the answer must be yes. Figuring out which times….well, that is the unending challenge, isn’t it?
Good luck with your continuing decisions about what to do in these conflicts. And I hope your week is off to a good start.
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