Saturday, January 22, 2005

Is "open-mindedness" bad?

I am currently reading Jim Baker's memoir of his time as Bush 41's Secretary of State. While world events from 1988 to 1992 were impressive, the diplomatic approach taken has raised my eyebrows on more than a few occasions.

Without criticizing any particular instance, I am wondering what LYMA thinks about the following, broader question: is there a limit to the moral weight we place on standing up for what you believe in? This question reminds me of a NY Times article not so long ago about a group of Christian students that sued UNC-Chapel Hill for including books about the Quran on the required list for incoming freshman.

While so-called open-mindedness and the ability to listen and learn from others is at the root of America's liberal education system, many statesmen claim that such an approach in the "real life" of politics makes a leader weak and ineffective. Such is the argument espoused by Baker in his dealings with the Soviets where he never seems to budge an inch, but is tirelessly critical of the Russians for their unwillingness to move. (In the end, as we know, the Russians almost always give in - much to the pleasure of Baker and Bush).

In current events, we see political issues transformed into moral issues (much the same way "Operation Blue Spoon" - the secret military coup against Manuel Noriega of Panama in the late 80s - had its code name changed to "Operation Just Cause" by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney only hours before the engagement). In the context of a moral battle, "sticking to one's guns" seems like the noble approach.

As an aspiring academic, I acknowledge that I am skeptical of those people who aren't willing to seriously engage the "other side." However, I recognize that statesmen are faced with different challenges and deadlines that may not be friendly to such an approach.

What do you all think?


At 1/24/2005 02:09:00 PM,

I think you have a whole slew of issues here, many of them way to complicated to deal with in a few words. I'd argue that politics is the art of compromise. Whoever "sticks to his guns" too much of the time (in a political setting) won't get anything done. There's a balance that needs to be struck between idealism and pragmatism in politics, and maybe there is a line that someone decides they won't cross, but no successful politician gets everything. But I'm not sure this answers your question.

I'll think about this some more...

Posted by Chris Patton




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