Last week, on my radio talk show, I received a call from Jeff, a 21-year-old in North Carolina. I have abridged it and edited it stylistically.
JEFF: I wanted to respond to your question about America being feared in the world. You brought up Syria. I think it's a little naive, and maybe that's not even the right word, to boil down such complex international issues into just good and bad. Like to say that America, for you, represents good. And to just boil down the Syria situation into good and bad is to underestimate the complexity of the situation. Because if the United States were to get involved there, you know, there might be consequences for us in that region that I think would be definitely more bad than good.
DP: Like what?
JEFF: If we were to depose Assad, there could be a power vacuum and that could create more problems than we intended.
DP: There are two separate questions here. One is: Should the United States be feared by bad regimes? The other is: What should the United States do? They're not identical. So let's deal with the first: Would you acknowledge that it would be good if countries like Putin's Russia, Iran or North Korea -- though I don't compare Putin to North Korea -- feared us? And do you think they do?
JEFF: I think that's a really good question. If I had the answer to that I think I'd be secretary of state.
DP: It's not that tough a question. What we should do is a tough question. But whether America should be feared by bad regimes is not a tough question.
Let me just throw in a tangential comment that I think is important: I presume you went to college.
JEFF: Oh, yeah.
DP: The reason I presume that you went to college is that you were taught -- and this is no knock on you whatsoever since anyone who takes liberal arts courses, in political science in particular, is taught -- what you just told me: You can't divide between good and bad, because it's too complex.
But that's not accurate. There is a good and bad. Yes, sometimes there is bad and worse -- in Syria today, for example. But between Syria and the United States the difference is between bad and good. Would you agree that it's between bad and good between Syria and the United States?
JEFF: As an American, absolutely.
DP: Wait a minute. That's a terrible answer. I don't want you to answer me as an American. I want you to answer me as a moral human.
JEFF: I can only answer you as an American. I can't answer you as anyone else.
DP: That's not true. If I asked you how much two and two is, you wouldn't answer me as an American.
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