It seems to me that the most uncommon attribute in American life is common sense. While everybody thinks they have it, not too many people actually do.
Talk show hosts like to suggest that they are all about common sense, but they really are in the business of populism, which is all about directing public prejudices against convenient scapegoats. While this is common, it isn’t sense.
The perfect illustration of the uncommonness of common sense is the war in Iraq. Everything about it is ridiculous except the bravery of our troops.
The very fact that we are at war in Iraq has confounded common sense from the beginning. No Iraqi attacked us on 9/11; the terrorists were mostly Saudis, taking their lead from a Saudi monster named Osama bin Laden, who was living in Afghanistan.
So what did we do? Well, we attacked Afghanistan, as common sense demanded. But then we attacked Iraq. Huh?
I know, I know, Saddam Hussein was a very bad man and we knew that he had weapons of mass destruction. Too bad it turned out he didn’t. Also, while it was true that he was a very bad man, he was a very bad man who didn’t have anything to do with attacking us, as the 9/11 commission report pointed out.
Common sense suggests that, if being very bad was the criteria, we might as well have attacked Kim Jong Il of North Korea, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or perhaps Simon Cowell of “American Idol,” who admittedly has not murdered or starved anyone but is very irritating and one can never be too careful with those sort of people. (Besides, he’s a foreigner.)
But, no, cowboys that we were, we were attacked by one outfit and so we jumped on our horses to attack another outfit that seemed to us to have the same black hats as the varmints.
Now that we have reaped what anyone with common sense would have expected, the debate is about what we are going to do now. Unfortunately, common sense suggests that it will be very bad if we stay and very bad if we leave _ for which pickle, common sense further suggests, you can blame the cowboy-in-chief and all those who blindly supported him.
We have made Iraq the center of our range war and the bad guys have obliged by flocking there. Hurrah for us!
And are we now discussing what to do in wise and sensible terms? Heck no, not while ridiculous catchphrases are available. “We must fight them there so they won’t come over here” is one of them.
But a skeptical person might ask the commonsensical question: How are they going to get over here? Use their frequent flyer miles? Come on boats? If memory serves, we have a great Navy.
Common sense would acknowledge that we have long and vulnerable borders. But it also would suggest that if terrorists coming here could be a problem, we might be better off sealing the borders by diverting the billions of dollars currently going down the sump hole in Iraq.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, who clearly is an able and sensible soldier who wears enough decorations on his chest to shame a fruit salad, came back from Iraq only to find himself playing a role in an old nursery rhyme:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall/ Humpty Dumpty had a great fall/ All the king’s horses/ And all the king’s men/ Couldn’t put Humpty together again!”
In this scenario, Petraeus is the king’s man _ he thinks he can put Humpty together again. But then so did all the king’s horses and all the king’s men before him _ and the yolk was on them.
Petraeus also suggests something that doesn’t add up. He thinks that the surge is working _ fair enough, some evidence suggests so _ but he also says that the number of troops should be drawn down by next summer to what they were before the surge.
Commonsensical questions abound: Why did the Democrats take over Congress if nothing changes? If the surge is succeeding so well, why are we quitting it next summer?
The common-sense answer to the last one is that, for all the talk against cutting and running, what is being talked about now is merely hanging on until the current king can hand the mess over to his successor _ at which time it will be concluded, because it has long been obvious, that only Humpty can get his shell together again.
Unfortunately, common sense remains uncommon and so the war goes on as if there were no rhyme or reason.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)