Sunday, December 03, 2006

We could benefit from looking in a mirror

“ What I thought was the greatest expression of the American character in my lifetime occurred in the immediate aftermath of those catastrophic attacks. The country came together in the kind of resolute unity that I imagined was similar to the feeling most Americans felt after Pearl Harbor. We soon knew who the enemy was, and there was remarkable agreement on what needed to be done. Americans were united and the world was with us.

For a brief moment.

The invasion of Iraq marked the beginning of the change in the American character. During the Cuban missile crisis, when the hawks were hot for bombing — or an invasion — Robert Kennedy counseled against a U.S. first strike. That’s not something the U.S. would do, he said.

Fast-forward 40 years or so and not only does the U.S. launch an unprovoked invasion and occupation of a small nation — Iraq — but it does so in response to an attack inside the U.S. that the small nation had nothing to do with.

Who are we?

Another example: There was a time, I thought, when there was general agreement among Americans that torture was beyond the pale. But when people are frightened enough, nothing is beyond the pale. And we’re in an era in which the highest leaders in the land stoke — rather than attempt to allay — the fears of ordinary citizens. Islamic terrorists are equated with Nazi Germany. We’re told that we’re in a clash of civilizations.If, as President Bush says, we’re engaged in “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,” why isn’t the entire nation mobilizing to meet this dire threat?

Where are we?

The president put us on this path away from the better angels of our nature, and he has shown no inclination to turn back. Lately he has touted legislation to try terror suspects in a way that would make a mockery of the American ideals of justice and fairness. To get a sense of just how far out the administration’s approach has been, consider the comments of Brig. Gen. James Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines. Speaking at a Congressional hearing last week, he said no civilized country denies defendants the right to see the evidence against them. The United States, he said, “should not be the first.”

And Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative South Carolina Republican who is a former military judge, said, “It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them.”

How weird is it that this possibility could even be considered?

What have we done?

The character of the U.S. has changed. We’re in danger of being completely ruled by fear. Most Americans have not shared the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few Americans are aware, as the Center for Constitutional Rights tells us, that of the hundreds of men held by the U.S. in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, many “have never been charged and will never be charged because there is no evidence justifying their detention.”

Even fewer care.

We could benefit from looking in a mirror, and absorbing the shock of not recognizing what we’ve become.

Knowing how we appear might, just might, allow us to see others as people too. For example, lately the media has been playing up the idea that the real problem in Iraq is the actions of Shiite militias. It's time to point out that the Shia have been murdered in wholesale lots but didn't start retaliating until last year. The Sunnis seem to have no problem killing men, women or children, but the Shia retaliation seems to be limited to grown men. That's somehow made them monsters responsible for all of Iraq's instability. Their actions are deplorable, but they don't exist in a vacuum, other than the absence of any sense that the coalition cared about their security, or their lives.

…We made the militias possible, and strengthened them.

Worse, we made them necessary.

For all our talk about democracy, when the majority won we insisted on a place for the losers who had refused to participate in the election. The losers who at that time and still are the primary threat to our men and women who serve.

Unfortunately, even then we were blaming Shiite Iran for the IEDs built from the ammo dumps and sites under UN seal that, unlike the Oil Ministry, we refused to guard after Saddam was toppled.

We broke Iraq, but we seem determined to make the regions Shia pay the price.…

con·cept: We could benefit from looking in a mirror