I received a hearfelt note today from a man writing in response to my recent posting about Bush. This man, who lost a friend in the 9/11 bombings, was bothered by the tendency of many people, me included, to downplay the threat to our lives by the incursions of people who want do damage us and our country. This is more real for him than it is for most of us — he lost a good, kind, apolitical friend in an attack that he fears was just the point of the spear. We make a mistake, he feels, when we think that 9/11 was an isolated incident, and we serve our own and our children’s interests best when we do what is necessary on the foreign front to keep that spear from being thrust closer to our heart at home.
I understand this fear. I share it in a way. I think we all do. But we have buried this concern under a mountain of squalid politics. We need to face the hard fact that the reasons for the attacks on us are complex. For some of those who would attack us, their anger is at our profligate lifestyle, our squandering of the world’s resources, our refusal to address the disastrous effects of environmental degradation, our failure to use our physical and moral force to combat real evil such as genocide in Africa rather than to achieve economic advantage or geopolitical dominance in the Middle East. For others, it is what they see as our libertine morals. For still others it is simple jealousy. And then there are those who hate us because they have twisted their own religious beliefs into a moral justification for vengeance on all who are unbelievers. Then, of course, there are the deranged, the megalomaniacal, the angry ignorant, and those who just want to pick a fight with the biggest kid on the block.
The list goes on. But the truth is that our attackers range from the principled to the thug. Yet, in the outcome, it all looks the same. We are a target and will continue to be one into the distant future.
Those who think we can attack this with ground forces in Iraq are like those who hear noises in the nighttime woods and run out blindly swinging a baseball bat. But those who think we can deny the reality of the the threat to us are like those who hear the noises and choose to deal with them by turning up the volume on the radio.
I don’t have an answer. But that doesn’t mean I have no right to question and criticize when the answer proposed is so manifestly harmful and wrong.
My problem with this current bunch and their policies is in their disingenousness. They lie, they bully, they are both corrupt and inept, and they are arrogant. Their head legal — the man charged with upholding our nation’s laws — is currently lying under oath. They have our young men and women fighting a morally indefensible and militarily unwinnable war with too little equipment and too few soldiers, while outside companies rake in millions of dollars providing ancillary services for monumental profits . They steal from our children by amassing mountains of debt; they terrify people by presenting falsehoods about viable health care reform; they underfund education; they leave a major American city in ruins; and they craft a tax system that allows windfall corporate profits while refusing to protect the benefits of workers.
Then they sell all of this to us — or jam it down our throats — by trafficking in fear. “Al Qaeda is coming.” “Fight them in Baghdad so we don’t have to fight them in New York and Kansas City and Tinytown, Nebraska.” They personalize the fear, but privatize the benefit.
If we are to fight terror, we need to be a moral beacon. It is not just about being a beacon of economic opportunity. (That beacon, my friends, is dimming even for our own citizens.) It is about being a beacon of goodness and hope.
We still have a fragile hold on leadership in the world, and we still are and always will be a country based on a visionary idea rather than on ethnicity or ancient tribal affiliations. We can stand for something. But it cannot be freedom alone. Freedom will eventually devolve to selfishness unless it is leavened by goodness and compassion. I keep harking back to the Marshall Plan in my mind. What a moment of vision for this country, and what a lasting benefit both for us and the countries we helped. We could do that again. I would submit that we MUST do that again in some fashion. We must make other countries want to come to our defense when individuals and groups within their borders plot to damage us.
How we could have taken this moment in time when the cold war ended and so totally squandered our position of leadership is beyond me. We could have reached out and embraced the rest of the world, starting with providing aid and assistance to Russia to help her attain economic viability within the framework of democracy. But we didn’t want to do that. Instead, it was “realpolitik as usual”, using that moment of their weakness to increase our own leverage and strength. And we have proceeded from there, badgering, bullying, demanding, and demeaning — and cloaking it all in high-minded rhetoric about freedom and democracy.
Until we learn that we must help the weak, both within our society and within the family of nations, we will be nothing more than the Godfather nation, dispensing gifts to those who kiss our ring and meting out punishments to those who misbehave or have not done proper fealty.
This administration had a chance. It blew that chance. Now it is trying to justify its actions by lying, cheating, threatening, punishing, and allowing its friends to stuff as much as they can in their kit bags on the way out the door. And it is keeping the rest of us down with fear.
Is there something to be afraid of out there? Yes.
Can it be fought with guns in Baghdad? No.
Can it be defeated by bullying other nations, demanding loyalty to our policies, and building walls along our southern border? No.
Fifteen years ago, in Letters to My Son, I wrote a section on “Strength.” I concluded with the following lines:
“Strength based in force is a strength people fear. Strength based in love is a strength people crave.”
It is as true today as it was then, and as true for nations as it is for individuals.
Unfortunately, too few of each are listening.