The innocence of the academic

VDH offers an allegorical explanation for why Obama’s Chamberlainesque chatterbox approach is likely to cause more international problems than Bush’s bomb-and-occupy method:

One small example of my late coming of age. A rather brutal neighbor (now dead and not to be mentioned by name (de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est)), an immigrant from an impoverished country, a self-made man, veteran of infamous fights and various bullying, shared a communal ditch. We talked and exchanged pleasantries–at first–at the standpipe gate. He lamented how rude my late grandfather had been to him, and even had made unfounded accusations that he was less than honest (he was also sort of playing the race card, remarking about the prejudicial nature of California agrarian culture).

I was shocked to hear that, and assured him that there would be no such incitements on my part on the new age of the Davis farm. No more ‘me first’, no more disdain for newcomers and upstarts. And then after about 3 months of sizing me up (at 26, I confess looking back I was not 1/8th the man my grandfather was at 86) he began stealing water in insidious ways: taking an extra day on his turn, cutting in a day early on mine, siphoning off water at night, destroying my pressure settings, watering his vineyards on days that were on my allotment. Stealing no less! And in 1980!

Here’s how I rushed into action. First, I gave a great Obama speech on communal sharing and why the ditch would not work if everyone did what he did. Farmers simply would perish if they did not come together, and see their common shared interests. He nodded and smiled-and stole more the next week.

I don’t know why, but over the years I have seen how it is extremely hard for normal people to understand how blatantly some individuals can lie to your face. I suspect that only those who have had the benefit of long-term proximity to one of these shameless and habitual liars can understand how completely meaningless words can be in the mouths of some individuals. I’m not afraid to rely upon vverbal assurances, but once it’s become clear that there is a reliable gap between what an individual says and what he does, I simply apply that gap to future pronouncements. But, in the rare case of the sociopaths, whose statements bear no recognizable similarity to their actions, I pay no attention whatsoever to their words.

As for the international policy implications, I believe the best strategy for dealing with Afghanistan would have been John Derbyshire’s shock-and-exit idea. The biggest problem with the Bush approach was that it revealed the practical limits of America’s ability to project force, which has probably encouraged the country’s enemies every bit as much as Obama’s feckless chattercentric strategy will.