Certainly, the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge is cause for concern. But it is not cause for panic and, in light of past notorious government interventions, definitely not cause for military confrontation.
In both the 1992 Ruby Ridge, Idaho, incident and the 1993 Branch Davidian raid in Waco, Texas, the level of intervention was clearly disproportionate to the danger posed and the resulting bloodshed largely indefensible. This is not to say that the government did not have just cause; rather, it failed to employ that resource that is more endangered than any other: common sense.
3 people died at Ruby Ridge; 76 died at Waco.
It’s heartening, therefore, that authorities are approaching the current crisis near Burns, Oregon, with circumspection. Of course, they can’t ignore the occupation. But with no one in danger, a wait-and-see strategy is the best of all available options.
The broader relevance of the story arises from the inevitable accusations of racism by leaders in the black and Muslim communities. It’s only because the so-called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom are white, they say, that the government has not charged in with guns blazing.
Which is, of course, pure nonsense. Two dozen right-wing trespassers in the middle of nowhere is hardly comparable to Ferguson, Missouri, or San Bernardino, California.
The response is different because the situations are different. And in this case, stuck between the real fears that inaction will embolden extremists to further acts of defiance while over-reaction will provide the opportunity for martyrdom, wait-and-see offers the best possible compromise between unattractive alternatives.
It’s also arguable that the occupiers have legitimate grievances against government overreach, which has grown into a systemic malady, evidenced by a rash of executive orders and a culture of bureaucratic strong-arming. Compared with the nebulous jeremiads of the Occupy Wall Street crowd and, more recently, students at Yale and the University of Missouri, the very real plaints of the Oregon occupiers appear level-headed and downright mainstream.
Competent leadership is characterized by the ability to gauge every situation according to its unique combination of factors, risks, and potential consequences. One-size-fits-all solutions rarely prove effective, and accusations of inconsistency are childish at best, opportunistic at worst. What we need most in these troubled times is cool-headed calculation that looks to strike the sanest balance between principled action and pragmatic compromise.
When we start demanding that level of aptitude and integrity from our leaders, maybe we will find ourselves with leaders worthy of our confidence and trust.