Wednesday, October 14, 2009

But What Does The Poll Result Mean?

Michael Gerson whines that Europeans aren't sufficiently war-like:
A recent transatlantic poll asked whether the use of force can ever be "necessary to obtain justice." Seventy-one percent of Europeans said "no," while 71 percent of American said "yes." In general, Europeans believe that nothing -- not peace, or freedom, or security, or the rights of the weak -- is worth fighting for.
The poll says "inch", and Gerson extrapolates to "mile".

One of the funny things about polls like that is how, when you start describing specific circumstances, the result can change dramatically. "You oppose the death penalty?" "Oh yes, 100%, absolutely." "What about Ted Bundy and Jeff Dahmer." "Well, except for them." The same sort of thing goes on with nebulous questions about war. While 71% of Europeans may well have disagreed with the abstract statement, "Is war sometimes necessary to obtain justice", that does not mean that the same 71% wouldn't endorse a specific war (e.g., WWII) as having done so. Further, there's a matter of interpretation. Europeans from non-English speaking countries (the U.K.'s figures being much closer to those of the U.S.) may have been interpreting that question as "Are there always steps that you can take to achieve justice without going to war?" It's an answer that sees war as one tool in the box, but that recognizes that other tools are available that may be able to achieve the same end, perhaps even with a better outcome.

By way of example, Gerson whinges about Obama's wise decision to abandon an expensive, provocative plan G.W. had to install missile defense technology in Poland and the Czech Republic. Does Gerson think those nations are particularly wise in the necessity of war? If so, then why did 75% of Poles reject the concept of war as necessary to obtain justice, making them significantly more "pacifistic" than "Old Europe"? Also, what happened to Gerson's brand of "compassionate Christianity"? Where in the teachings of his faith can I find similar scorn for pacifism?

Meanwhile, you gotta love Gerson's new anti-popularity test:
It is the combination of American power and credibility that causes other nations to change their behavior in ways favorable to our interests. But power and credibility often attract resentment, not love. President Ronald Reagan was unpopular in Europe while pursuing policies, such as the deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles, that weakened the Soviet Union.
And G.W. was unpopular in Europe while getting the U.S. bogged down in two wars, still no end in sight, and undermining our ability to militarily or diplomatically pressure nations such as Iran and North Korea. Funny, how quickly Gerson forgets the legacy of his lord and master.1
1. Gerson does try to slip in a plug for G.W.,
Over the past several decades, certain images of America - the Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief - have demonstrated that America's conception of its global interests is neither narrow nor selfish.
And the Nobel committee, as much as Gerson tries to pretend otherwise, has recognized American contributions to world peace. In case he missed it, in 1953 they awarded the price to George Cartlett Marshall. Leaving aside his poor diplomatic and military record for the moment, G.W. might have made himself a better candidate had he not coupled U.S. AIDS relief programs with "abstinence only" programs and fought against contraception and family planning.

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