The Syrian Civil War: What Is to Be Done?

The government shutdown and debt ceiling mess deflected attention from the Syria crisis. But Eugene Goodheart’s careful analysis of that situation is still on time. We begin his latest dispatch on Obama’s “trimming” with a forward-looking “postscript” the author added to his original piece.

As for Obama’s ambivalence about going to war and his openness about it (unusual in a president), I find it admirable in its authenticity. In acting in a crisis, however, one has to overcome ambivalence. Obama has already shown himself on other occasions capable of acting decisively. Our role in the Syrian civil war has not yet played itself out. Final judgments are premature…

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To Intervene or Not to Intervene

Eugene Goodheart’s analysis of the Syrian quandary doesn’t take in the story’s latest twists, but it comprehends the president’s humane, cautious approach to the issue. Goodheart’s piece amounts to an addendum to the case he makes in his new book, Holding the Center: In Defense of Political Trimming, which places Obama’s default stance within a specific Euro-American tradition of liberal thinkers and politicians. A short review of Goodheart’s deeply informed text follows this piece.

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On Present-Mindedness in the Writing of History

In The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History (2008), the distinguished American historian Gordon Wood warns against the distortions of reading the present into the past or seeing the present as an inevitable outcome of events in the past. At the same time, he knows that present-mindedness is not entirely avoidable. Its complete absence from a historical perspective turns into antiquarianism.

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