(This piece first appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on September 8, 2006.)
The America I grew up in was a superpower, not because of her military might, but because of her ideals. People everywhere thirsting for freedom looked to us. That felt good.
I’d like that feeling again. I want back the America that led by example. She condemned countries that locked people away without charge and that attacked other nations without just cause. America was slow to anger, fierce in battle, humble in victory, generous in peace, a defender of the weak who didn’t despise the poor. She strove, however imperfectly, to better herself and to achieve her highest ideals.
That birthright is threatened, not by Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but by our own “leaders.”
In damage done to America’s reputation, Abu Ghraib was the worst foreign policy disaster of my lifetime, save for the Iraq occupation.
Add to those the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, secret prisons in Europe and warrantless domestic surveillance. To typically moderate Americans our present course looks disturbingly immoderate.
“Leaders” flush with moral clarity saw an opportunity to remake the Middle East, starting by replacing the Iraqi dictatorship with democracy.
A noble-sounding goal, but having nothing to do with Sept. 11, President Bush admitted recently. Instead of inviting debate before testing this democratic domino theory, they sold a war of choice as a war to eliminate an urgent WMD “threat.” The Washington Post’s George Will ridicules the policy as “unrealism.”
“Foreign policy ‘realists’ considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists’ critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem.” With the widespread escalation in Middle East violence, Will scoffs, “That problem has been solved.”
American troops face a strengthening Iraqi insurgency amidst civil war. In Afghanistan the Taliban is resurgent and their Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice is back. In Pakistan, Osama makes videos.
The Iraq occupation has weakened our military, destabilized the Middle East, strengthened Iran politically, allowed North Korea to build its nuclear arsenal, undermined our credibility and we have lost the moral high ground we held on September 11. On ABC’s “This Week,” (Aug. 13) Fareed Zakaria observed, “We have united our enemies and divided our friends.”
The majority party’s plan of action? “Victory.”
They invaded Iraq for the same reason they impeached the last president: not because circumstances warranted, but because they could.
They justified their actions in 1998 with impassioned rhetoric: no man, not even a president, is above the law; America sets the example; the world is watching.
Today they call the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and fight to preserve the option to torture detainees held indefinitely without charge. Even administration apologists struggle, as one editorial suggested, “to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him.” The world is still watching.
“Leaders” flew tons of cash into Iraq on pallets, disbursing some from pickup trucks. The Coalition Provisional Authority played football with “bricks” of $100 bills. $9 billion has gone missing.
Louisiana homeowners displaced by Hurricane Katrina are just now seeing $9 billion in rebuilding funds.
“Leaders” rewarded corporations for moving jobs and hiding profits offshore with a tax holiday, the American Jobs Creation Act.
Goldman Sachs dubbed it “no lobbyist left behind.” Bush’s former chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers observed, “you might as well have taken a helicopter over 90210 (Beverly Hills) and pushed the money out the door.”
Preaching “free trade” in one breath, with the next they insist that Americans pay the world’s highest prescription drug prices and fight to keep out lower-priced medications from Canada. They cite “safety” concerns.
Congressional earmarks have exploded in number.
Our “leaders” hope to privatize Social Security, putting the retirement safety net into the hands of Wall Street. They pay for tax cuts for wealthy contributors with record debt for our children.
They smear their critics as out of touch.
For working families each year the treadmill gets faster … and steeper. The treadmill is winning.
These “leaders” have forgotten for whom they work. Too many have forgotten how to lead, if they ever knew. And if they won’t, it’s up to non-politicians with passions larger than their ambitions.
It’s time to reclaim our birthright. It’s time to hold our “leaders” accountable to a higher power: the American voter.