One of the things that doesn’t get discussed enough in politics is the fact that we don’t know what the future will hold. I think we all know this in the general sense, but we tend to discount it when discussing policy making.
It struck me recently after the debt crisis. We were told the debt ceiling would have to be raised to avoid downgrading US debt and keep the stock market from going crazy. Well, the debt ceiling was raised and the debt was downgraded (by one agency) and the market went crazy. There were also all sorts of possibilities before the vote about what might happen if we had defaulted from it wouldn’t be so bad to it would have been horrible.
So who was right and who was wrong? Well, we know what happened after we passed the debt ceiling, obviously. But we don’t know what would have happened if a better deal had been reached or if we’d defaulted. We can make educated guesses, but in an unprecedented situation like a default, it’s only a guess.
And the same holds true in international affairs. At the start of the Libya conflict, Lee wrote about the potential humanitarian catastrophe there, and “the possibility of a massacre that could’ve taken 100,000 lives” had we done nothing. Not to put any faith in Gaddafi, and certainly not to dismiss the possibility, but we don’t know if it would have been 100,000 or far fewer people. And while the war is hopefully reaching its end now, it was tough to know how it would end a few months ago. We also won’t know for some time how the administration’s arguments about the War Powers Act will be used by the next president.
The point here isn’t that we can’t make decisions or move forward. Of course we can. I just wish we’d acknowledge some uncertainty at the start.