Friday, January 13, 2006

The True Patriot

Al Franken has a great way to simply characterize the difference between an extreme conservative's love of country and a progressive's. The conservative love is much the same as a 5 year old boy's love for his mommy: its simple, unconditional, and anyone who says mommy is less than perfect is gonna get a big punch in the nose! The progressive's love, in contrast, more closely resembles a mature adult romantic relationship: deep, complex, always open to ways it can become better; recognizing that there are flaws in all of us, but still loving, building, growing.

There has been a lot of good, constructive analysis from a lot of great minds in the U.S. detailing what is wrong with our foreign policy, and our military approach in Iraq. The 5 year old calls many of them traitors, cowards, soft on terrorism, Osama-lovers; well, you get the idea (funny how just 6 years ago criticizing the Commander-in-Chief was tres fashionable in their circles). We've also endured considerable criticism from around globe, much of it virulent, from friend and foe alike. However, now we have some comprehensive feedback from one of our oldest and closest friends and allies, the British. A high ranking officer in the British military has written a very constructive but painfully frank critique of U.S. performance in Iraq after spending a few years working alongside the Americans in Iraq. There is much praise, but also a heaping helping of some friendly advice. What is more remarkable and very encouraging is that the U.S. Army published in in their magazine, Military Review (kudos to Colonel William Darley, editor; it's a great first step). No "peacenik", the man who wrote it.

While the British understandably are distancing themselves from the article by saying it does not reflect the view from 10 Downing, indications are that his are widely held opinions among high ranking officials, perhaps even in the mind of Mr. Blair himself. Of course, the rightie rule number one being to viciously attack the messenger, Brig Aylwin-Foster will be the target of long worn out negative cliches about the British over the coming months. Perhaps there will be a ban on fish-and-chips in the senate lunchroom. Maybe something less mature like giving up gin. Or, as we love to do to the French, we can declare "we pulled your fat out of the fire in WW II!" with all the righteous indignation we can muster.

Or we could listen to the sober words of a good friend.

No doubt there are some misconceptions in the article, but the overall tone supports many, many other assessments from other sources. We are morphing into a caricature of wild west movie gunslingers in our approach to the rest of the world, allowing our diplomatic skills to atrophy. No subtleties, no grays or nuance; Black or white, with us or again' us, good guys or bad guys. And what we don't like we blow up. Then we blow it up with a bigger bomb. Shock and awe. Civilian casualties? What civilians? They're all bad guys!

I know, I know. The world's an ugly place with some pretty ugly characters in it, who'd cut my throat without a second thought. True. And then we can trot out that Swiss army knife of excuses and justification, 9/11. And I take this life for granted in the comfort of my living room, never threatened by the hell that's out there. Again the all or nothing approach.

But the reality is that the world is evolving politically and diplomatically, especially the west, and we are becoming increasingly out of touch. We are losing our credibility in diplomatic circles as we continue arrogant unilateral actions, much as we are losing our moral authority through situations like Abu Graib, illegal detentions, black sites, illegal wiretapping, torture and rendition. Most progressives love this country, and are desperately trying to sound the wake-up call. This article is the latest wake-up call, let's hope its loud enough. We've stopped growing, folks (in some ways we're regressing).

Bill Clinton (among others, like W's dad) has said that we can never kill, capture or contain all those in the world who mean us harm. In fact trying to do so alienates those who would be our friend, and fuels those who won't. We can still set a major example for the world if we recognize this, and act accordingly. Mr. Clinton understands the world community we live in; he's a true patriot. Mr. G.W. Bush is an oligarch (or a plutocrat?).

No comments: