Ethics Quote of the Week: Eliot Cohen


“Above all, a president has no business confessing to war-weariness. Sending soldiers to war is a hard business. But President Obama knew he was going to be a war president; if that duty was too trying for him, he should not have run for reelection, because, as he has discovered, he might have to fight new wars and not merely end old ones.

“For a president to confess to war-weariness is to confess weakness.

“It is the business of the commander in chief to inspire, either with tempered optimism or grim determination. He fails in his duty if he tells his subordinates, his people and the world that he is weary of the burden that he assiduously sought. In their dark moments, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over infinitely more consequential and bloodier wars than Barack Obama, were undoubtedly war-weary. Can anyone imagine them proclaiming it to the world? “

—–Eliot Cohen, a teacher at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, concluding a Washington Post op-ed titled (in the paper’s print version), “We have not earned war-weariness.”

If there is a silver lining to the President’s Syrian Ethics Train Wreck, other than convincing those still capable of independent thought that we who saw the weakness of President Obama’s leadership skills were the ones whose eyes were open all along, it is that it has provoked some perceptive writing and debate on the topics of leadership, character, and America’s role in the world.

Another interesting op-ed on the these related topics was delivered today by Richard Cohen, who has been arguing for U.S. intervention in Syria for months. His column, as his columns often are, is a bit incoherent and emotional: Cohen criticizes the liberal establishment for opposing President Obama’s proposed “unbelievably small” missile attack, ignoring the fact that this wouldn’t accomplish any of Cohen’s goals, which includes stopping more Syrian deaths from conventional weapons. The veteran liberal columnist does make a strong moral and ethical argument for the U.S. continuing its special role in the world, a role this President obviously detests and rejects. I endorse Cohen’s sentiment; I am not at all sure that Syria is the place to apply it.

He concludes his op-ed with this:

“The inescapable truth is that the world needs a policeman. The inescapable truth is that only the United States can play cop. We have the wherewithal. A further inescapable truth is that evil exists and needs to be fought. We should always proceed cautiously and prudently, aware of mission creep, complexity and our own limitations. I have always thought, maybe naively, that these were values embedded in the very soul of American liberalism. It seems I am wrong.

“Who will warn the children?”


Graphic: Niqnaq



12 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Week: Eliot Cohen

  1. Have to wonder what signals Iran is taking for all of this.. The other red line President Obama spoke of was Iran’s nuclear capability.. In that case Israel would probably act before we do… However, Iran N Korea all may start testing our willingness to engage.

    A follow through if Syrian negotiations fail will erase any discussion on weariness however.

  2. Of course not. Syria’s not “saved” and won’t be for quite some time. But the silver lining of Obama’s actions isn’t some pencil-pushy conversation on leadership; it’s that we’re not indulging in a useless military action.

    As for Obama’s intent, there’s no reason to take him at his word, is there?

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