The Improbable 'God in the Machine'; Putin's Just-in-Time Rescue Spares Obama Defeat, but at What Cost?

Article excerpt


The latest Syrian crisis broke just as the children, like Congress, were returning from the long summer vacation. Our brightest (if not always the best) are redeeming all that money their parents spent on tutors to read their application essays, having been coached about how to impress college interviewers with tales of adventure walking the Great Wall of China, writing avant-garde plays in Urdu, or explaining the importance of a gluten-free diet.

The Class of '17 is settling in seriously, many on posh campuses with luxurious gyms, huge playing fields and Olympic-size swimming pools. Their dorms provide places to recycle the abundant student beer bottles, to save the planet if not themselves. The college commons offers organic, vegetarian, reduced-fat fare to ensure the lean and hungry look. Congress is its usual satisfied self, relieved that Russian President Vladimir Putin has relieved them of the responsibility of putting themselves on the line.

But what do our future leaders learn? Will they soak up the important clues of history and literature the current governing generation often miss? The liberal arts have been eviscerated to temper them as required courses, dumbed down not to disturb the fashionably correct. Few will be trained to analyze and criticize an argument because the stuff of poetics and rhetoric has been dropped from the curriculum. Such learning does not pave the path to Wall Street or Silicon Valley - or to the ruling precincts of Washington.

I suggested to a young graduate of an elite school that if the latest turn of events behind the president's speech over what to do about Syria was a theater with a stage if not a theater of war, audiences would recognize Secretary of State John F. Kerry's gaffe, inviting an improbable rescue by the deus ex machina. He looked at me, puzzled. Say what? was written in his eyes.

Aristotle warned budding playwrights against using the deus ex machina, god out of the machine, because it lacked credibility. Presidents, like playwrights, shouldn't count on such gods, either, but find a better way out of a painted corner. Such a miraculous rescue, aboard a chariot like the one dispatched by the Sun God to rescue Medea from the punishment of death for killing her children, is more than a playwright can manage or a president can expect.

Vladimir Putin is no sun god, but he's Barack Obama's hero, having dispatched the chariot to rescue him from the shrinking Syrian corner into which he's painted himself. …