Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency

I thought this would be appropriate to discuss today - no matter who wins the presidency, they will be saddled with all the promises they made during the campaign. The bulk of these promises are beyond the ability of presidents to do. So we're going to be disappointed no matter what, but is that because we expect too much of the occupant of the office - and offices hemmed in by checks and balances?

The Green Lantern Theory was developed during the Bush Administration to come to terms with this tendency to think that sheer will on the part of the president to solve all the problems in the middle east, and extended to the Obama Administration to think that similar will was all that was needed to solve social and economic problems.

- Here's the heart of the theory:

Up at Cato Unbound you can find Reuel Marc Gerecht's latest argument for bombing Iran. I think I've covered the policy arguments on this score extensively elsewhere, so let me just note something in particular about Gerecht's essay. Like a lot of conservative writing on foreign affairs it puts a huge amount of weight on things like will, resolve, and perceptions of strength and weakness. It's a view of things that reminds me of nothing so much as the Green Lantern comics, which I enjoy a great deal but regard as a poor guide to national security policy.
As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.
The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities. It used to be the case that the rings wouldn't function against yellow objects, but this is now understood to be a consequence of the "Parallax fear anomaly" which, along with all the ring's other limits, can be overcome with sufficient willpower.
Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.
What's more, this theory can't be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will. Thus we see that problems in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't reasons to avoid new military ventures, but reasons why we must embark upon them: "Add a failure in Iran to a failure in Iraq to a failure in Afghanistan, and we could supercharge Islamic radicalism in a way never before seen.

For more: The Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency, explained.

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