In the Arena

The Hazards of Punditry Cont.

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I thought this column by Charles Krauthammer was a lazy piece of work last Friday, with “Bomber Boy”–as George W. Bush called him–flaying his dead horse of unipolarity:

It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.

Seems sort of…wrong today, doesn’t it? And sloppy, too: Krauthammer says only Britain, among our European allies, has done its part in Afghanistan–tell that to the French, who have lost upwards of 50 soldiers; or to the Dutch, who served bravely in difficult Oruzgan province; or the Poles, who are providing special ops teams–not to mention the non-European Canadians, who also suffered severe losses while holding the fort in Kandahar Province until 2009.

The point is, foreign policy can’t be judged minute to minute, or even month to month, or even by its adherence to a theory or ideology or doctrine (as I learned when I opposed the surge in Iraq, fearing that it didn’t meet the requirements set out in the Army’s counterinsurgency manual for a successful operation). Inconsistency is at the heart of any successful foreign policy, and patience is too. We opinion-mongers, searching for instant analysis, jump the gun more often than not: “It’s too early to tell” doesn’t make for great columnizing. It is especially difficult with a President as patient and precise as Obama, whose hair-splitting in cases like Libya can seem half-baked when viewed in the short-term. (I still disagree with the policy to use military force in Libya, though I’m preparing to eat crow when Gaddafi–chastened by the bin Laden hit–finds himself a nice ranch in Zimbabwe and the Bengazi rebels produce the next Mandela as their leader.)

It is a point that I’ve come to respect, and be humbled by, after 40 years of doing this: Policy moves at a much slower and deeper pace than punditry. I’ll have more on this in my print column in TIME’s special bin Laden edition.