We could use some serious self-reflection
Mr. Liberal here. Hates the Iraq war. Blames Bush for starting a bad one and managing it in a bad manner. Hates every billion of the $12 billion a month it costs us. Don't want another death or injury or mutilation.
So why don't I cheer when Hillary or Barack calls for quickly bringing our troops home and ending it all?
I think it's my strange sense of honor. I know we screwed up the place, set Shiite against Sunni against Kurd, emplaced a crappy government of guys filling their bellies and bank accounts -- and now we want to leave?
It's that "you break it, you pay for it" thing from my childhood that haunts me.
Here are the three reasons why I'm conflicted.
» No. 1 is my long, painful association with Vietnam. I was as exuberant as most when I began covering that war in early 1964. America versus communists of the North subverting a nice Buddhist and Catholic culture of the South. Of course, events proved me wrong and by 1966, still there, I realized that we had stumbled into a civil war that wasn't all good guys and bad guys. Just as many, or maybe more, bad guys were running the South.
Good first lesson for a well-meaning, honest, trying journalist who, I guess, hadn't learned much from reading Graham Greene or Stendahl.
» No. 2 reason is a newfound sense that those who want what we call democracy have to take the steps and make the initial sacrifices that make all the free societies of the world believe that they really want it, and that we should help them achieve it.
Few in Iraq, except some of the wealthy emigres and Kurds, seemed that hot for regime change. Sure the Shiites and the Kurds were repressed by the Sunnis, and sure there were tortures and atrocities. But we never saw anything we could call a popular uprising. If you say "well they couldn't," then you're missing my point about our obligation to help. They must! France sure didn't come to the colonist Americans' help in those early days when Washington's army was pathetic and being chased from place to place by the British.
My ideology, having personally covered horrible, unresolved, fratricidal events since the late '50s in Belgium, Algiers, DeGaulle's France, Vietnam, Nigeria and Gulf I -- is don't touch them until there's some emotive conviction like the American revolutionists' stand at Yorktown which says this is it. They're in the fight to win.
We are not some god-like deliverers of democracy to the downtrodden. That smacks of the Prohibition gals. And look what good it did us!
No, we should be there to help when we see a viable resistance to an intolerable dictatorship. Somebody will say, well, how about Hitler and Stalin? In neither case was there widespread resistance that was viable. Actually, it seems that the majority acquiesced. We went to war against Hitler because he went to war against allies France and England. We never went to war against Stalin, did we, no matter how many millions he killed?
So don't make the spread of democracy some holy crusade. Offer it. Spread its gospel and also be honest about its shortcomings -- one wit said a failure of our Constitution is that there is no prohibition on some moron running for president.
Demanding full democracy in many poor, illiterate places in the world just isn't smart. Saddam Hussein probably knew what he was doing, and so did Josef Broz Tito. Look what happened once they were gone. And if they were so horrible, why no nationwide uprisings? And if none of those, why would we intervene?
» Last reason is that we have to get our own house in order and re-make some friends.
We're a great nation but we're not so great in spreading the riches or providing health care to everyone or handling the immigrants that, let's face it, we let in so they'd pick our produce, work cheap in our factories, clean our houses and mind our kids. Now we want to send them all back? Outsiders think we're nutcases!
This country went a bit whacko recently. We have a crazy income tax system, we pay CEOs $10 million bonuses as they lay off 25,000 hourly wage workers, and we're more worried about the threat to health by smoking in Honolulu bars than we are by what's served until 4 a.m. in those same Honolulu bars.
We hold a hearing about genetically engineered taro but not a peep about all those pigs and chickens shipped here from the mainland, slaughtered here and legally sold in supermarkets and fine restaurants as "island" pork and poultry.
We've been telling so many foreign populations, especially in the Middle East, South America and Cuba, for the past seven years to shape up or we'll shape you out.
We don't easily accept criticism from outsiders.
So maybe it's time for one brave presidential candidate to say what needs to be said.
America, get your own house in order.
Bob Jones is a MidWeek columnist, former KGMB news anchor and former NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Asia.