Conventional wisdom is not always wise

August 26, 2014

It’s unrealistic, perhaps, to expect politicians and pundits to learn from history, but it would be nice if they could learn from current events.

Recently, I was listening to the Friday afternoon “All Things Considered” show on WSCL, which includes a segment where pundits from the right and the left discuss the week’s political events.

Often, of course, they disagree, but on this day there was complete bipartisan accord on one issue: We should have armed the so-called moderate forces in Syria. This, they agreed, would have prevented the rise of ISIS, the Islamic army that has swept through parts of Iraq.

What has become the Conventional Washington Wisdom was put forth, slyly and brilliantly, by Hillary Clinton. In a recent interview, Clinton said that while she was secretary of state she argued in favor of arming the “moderates.” The president disagreed. Now, she suggested, you can see what’s happened because Obama didn’t listen to her. Pundit after pundit has followed Clinton’s lead.

But here’s what this version ignores: everything that has happened the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what happened a few short weeks ago in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, let’s say things haven’t proceeded as smoothly as planned. In Iraq, the situation has turned worse than the worst-case scenario. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “Stuff happens.” And it did.

But now we’re supposed to believe that had we become more involved in a yet another country, Syria, things would have turned out better. These “moderates” would have defeated ISIS. Why are we supposed to believe that?

For years, the Iraqi army was trained by the best soldiers in the world, courtesy of the U.S. Army. This same army was equipped with the best military hardware in the world, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

Here’s what happened. ISIS, greatly outmanned and outgunned, showed up, and the Iraqi army broke and ran, forsaking their training and much of their first-class military gear, which ISIS then used against the Kurds.

Would the Syrian “moderates” have performed better than the well-trained Iraqi army? We have no idea. We have only the situation as it is.

And yes, now I’ll get off my soapbox.

Last week I said that expanding the powers of the sheriff’s office - turning it into a county police force - would require the building of an expensive headquarters.

A reader noted that, because of Sussex County’s size, more than one such building would be required. I have to agree. And each building, of course, would require more support staff and all the expense that entails.

He mentioned something else I hadn’t thought about for awhile - what a plum the office of sheriff used to be in New Castle County. A few decades back the sheriff was allowed to personally keep many of the fees he collected as part of his job delivering court papers.

The same was true in Kent County. It was a ridiculous arrangement - and a reminder that, while we sometimes think things are always getting worse, in some ways they’re getting better.

That’s true even in Washington, according to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons. When Coons spoke recently at The Circle in Georgetown, his comments may have surprised people.

“One of the things I have taken real joy from in the last four years,” Coons said, “is reaching across the aisle and finding Republicans I can partner with and getting actual laws passed together.”

Real joy in Washington?

Judging from what you hear, you wouldn’t think legislators could reach across the aisle to support Mother’s Day.

He offered two examples of bipartisan legislation. Recently, Coons said, he and Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, worked together on a bill that “strengthens and funds and reauthorizes child advocacy centers.”

Children’s Advocacy Centers, according to the Mission Kids website, have professionals to “conduct forensic interviews of children who have been victims of abuse. These interviews are designed to be admissible in court, preventing children from being re-traumatized by having to tell their stories multiple times.”

As a Republican from the conservative South, Sessions might not be expected to support a federal program, but he’s also a former prosecutor and he understood the value of the centers.

The bill passed and was signed by the president.

Another bipartisan measure was the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The bill, which addresses the need America will have for more workers with postsecondary education, passed the Senate and has also been signed into law.

“It’s a big deal,” Coons said, “but because we didn’t fight about it, it didn’t get much attention.”

Which is true. People blame the media for being too liberal, but the real problem is the focus on conflict.

Now if they could only work together to come up with a plan to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, an issue for which U.S. Sen. Tom Carper has been a leading voice.

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