January 20, 2006

Commander in Geena – II

Several months ago I wrote an article about President MacKenzie Allen (Geena Davis) on the ABC show “Commander In Chief”. I was enthralled by this president’s leadership in a tense situation, and compared her actions, behavior and thought processes to that of our current president’s. Needless to say, it was no comparison. This week’s episode was another thriller, and worthy of discussion. It was a continuation from last week, so let me set the stage…

One of the United States’ secret submarines was stranded within 20 miles of the North Korean border. What were they doing there? Spying, of course. They were on a mission originally ordered by the previous president (the Republican who died in order for MacKenzie Allen to ascend from the Vice Presidency) and unbeknownst to President Allen. The sub was immobile, their crew running out of air, and any mission to rescue them risked a confrontation with North Korea - a country known to possess nuclear weaponry.

In simplistic terms it came down to a decision between rescuing the crew and risk going to war with North Korea, OR letting the crew die and avoiding a confrontation. But unlike our current president, MacKenzie Allen didn’t see the problem as black-and-white. She used all the tools at her disposal and searched for creative solutions. Eventually she did reach a solution that saved the crew AND avoided war with North Korea, by summoning the North Korean Ambassador and negotiating. She explained to him that she did not want a war with North Korea, and would pull the fleet back as a measure of good faith. However, she was sending in one unarmed ship to rescue the crew of the disabled sub, and if that sub was attacked, she would consider that an act of war and retaliate with the full force of the United States military.

In the process President Allen came across as a confident and poised leader, worthy of commanding the most powerful military in the world. But… that’s not what I wanted to highlight.

The Republican Posture

Throughout the crisis President Allen was engaging the assistance of her colleague, Nathan Templeton, the Republican Speaker of the House (Donald Sutherland). Nathan Templeton is essentially President Allen’s nemesis and potentially her opponent in the next election. He was friendly with the ambassador from China, and China was instrumental in facilitating the rescue mission. As the crisis unfolded and options were examined, Templeton was being his usual Republican self by stressing the criticality of the United States showing strength. To him, the biggest sin would be for the US to show any sign of weakness. The lives of submarine’s crew were secondary to the United States keeping an upper hand.

While the Republican was hell bent on showing strength and practically itching for a confrontation to go to war, the level-headed President (don’t forget she’s an Independent) searched for every opportunity to avoid war and resolve the incident with all sides saving face. In the end of the episode, she made a chilling observation - “If Nathan Templeton had been president, we’d be at war now.”

The Crux of the Crisis

At the height of the crisis, as the lone rescue ship was about to breach the North Korean territorial waters, the North Korean ambassador called President Allen (in the Situation Room over the speakerphone) with a final demand - a public apology. It was the only way to resolve the incident without conflict, and it was the right thing to do, so she agreed. In the halls of the White House immediately after the crisis, Nathan Templeton congratulated President Allen. I thought this little exchange said it all:

Templeton: Congratulations.

Allen: Thank you. I really appreciate all your help.

Templeton: It was a brilliant ploy… telling them you’ll apologize.

Allen: It wasn’t a ploy.

Templeton: You’re not actually going to apologize to the North Koreans?

Allen: I promised I would.

Templeton: With all due respect… as a strategy it was brilliant, but a public apology would do nothing but make you look weak.

Allen: I want them to know they can trust us.

Templeton: Better they should fear us.

Allen: They already fear us. A little trust won’t hurt.

And that’s the difference between Republicans the rest of us. Integrity. Trust. Humility. Caring. Governing with heart instead of fear. Diplomacy by negotiation instead of might.


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