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For years the Neighborhood Works, the newsletter of Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology, ran on its masthead the maxim, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail," signaling the organization's ongoing suspicion of one-size-fits-all approaches to urban problems.
Now Jim Wallis, writing in Sojourners, uses the phrase in a parallel way (registration req'd) to critique what passes these days for American foreign policy:
"If we don't know how to solve a problem, we just fight," Wallis writes. "Diplomacy has become a weak word to those who run our foreign policy and, in the House debate on Iraq in June, Republicans made numerous references to those who are 'afraid to fight.' Right on cue, Fox News Sunday's Brit Hume accused Democrats of being a party that just doesn't like to fight. And according to the neoconservatives masquerading as journalists, such as Hume and William Kristol, continuous fighting is the only foreign policy that makes any sense.
". . . Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have the same strong preference for fighting over talking. If they had their way, we would have fought or would still be fighting several wars by now--all at the same time--in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran at least, and probably against North Korea, too, if they thought we could win the war. They act as if talking and negotiating with potential adversaries is just a waste of time."
Andrew Sullivan, who comes at these issues from a very different place than Wallis, reflects on George Washington's renunciation of power at the end of the Revolution and again after eight years as president, and makes a similar point: "This capacity for restraint, for embracing the limits of power rather than its ends, is at the core of constitutional democracy (and, I would argue, conservatism, properly understood). I wish our current leaders grasped it better. Sharing power is often more powerful . . ."
Where are the presidential and congressional candidates, of either party, who can make this non-obvious message seem just as American as pulling a hammer from your holster and banging away?