Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sunshine Patriots, Fair Weather Friends

“It was American patriotism that had much to do with the defeat of twentieth-century tyrannies, the Nazi in World War II and the communist in the cold war. And for this, we Americans can be proud, or, at a minimum, take some satisfaction. Ours is not a parochial patriotism; precisely because it comprises an attachment to principles that are universal, we cannot be indifferent to the welfare of others. To be indifferent, especially to the rights of others, would be un-American.”

Walter Berns – “Making Patriots”

I read a troubling piece by Richard Cohen this morning. It was troubling for two reasons. It was a record of a man who believed he was being honest with himself. Before the first Gulf War in 1990 he was chided by a friend for being a “sunshine patriot” for supporting a war he would not take part in or have his children take part in. Over the years, Cohen apparently reflected on what he had been told and became an opponent of the war that ultimately removed Saddam from power:

“Until that moment, I had thought that getting rid of Saddam was a dandy idea, especially since he was purportedly armed with weapons of mass destruction. We now know they did not exist - although they once did - and neither did his alleged ties to Al Qaeda. Still, Saddam is gone. “Was it not worth at least some sacrifice to remove such a man from power?” Robert Kagan asked in a recent Op-Ed. I read that with the eyes of my late friend. Dunne would have pounced on it.”

The piece was troubling to me because a countryman, a “friend,” found it so easy to abandon us. It was done quickly, lyrically, without much regard for principle.

But the piece was troubling for another reason. There’s no doubt about it. Support for our effort in Iraq is dwindling; some of the latest polls show it at under fifty percent, even when respondents are asked whether it was worth it at all to remove Saddam from power. Perhaps it’s something as simple as the summer doldrums. Perhaps most Americans are thinking more about summer vacations than the war on terror.

While I hope that’s the case I don’t feel comfortable with what I’m seeing. The media drumbeat lionizing the “insurgents” who are bent on destroying democracy in the Middle-East, combined with the political calls for withdrawal from Iraq are disturbing trends.

Some who once supported our effort, like Cohen, have made a 180 degree turn and have begun to call it a futile quagmire:

“Dunne liked to refer to “sunshine patriots” - those of us who called for others to fight a war we or our children would never fight. The Iraq war was conceived by sunshine patriots. It has become the sorriest of wars, conceived for one reason, fought for another and, maybe, an awful quagmire in the making. It's time the sunshine patriots looked outside. It's raining.”

I disagree wholeheartedly with Mr. Cohen. I believe that now, while it is raining, that we need to look within rather than without. We need to embrace American principles, not abandon them.

What were we expecting when we went into Iraq? Were men like Richard Cohen expecting a magic wand to descend on the Fertile Crescent two years ago? Did they really believe that the years of oppression under Saddam and the international indifference to the plight of the Iraqi people could be overcome without sacrifice? What did they expect?

If Mr. Cohen can call those who still support the war “sunshine patriots,” I believe I can return fire and call him, and those like him, fair weather friends. They once supported us, but now at a difficult time they’ve decided to abandon us.

I recall once that a “friend” who had told me that he’d support me in my time of need abandoned me when that time came. It was only teenage stuff, but it taught me a powerful lesson. We were approached by a couple of neighborhood “thugs” who had nothing better to do than protect their turf through violent means. My “friend” had told me he would stand with me in my hour of need and I believed him. I stood my ground, believing he would stand with me. But once the battle started my “friend” ran. I was left to take the beating alone. I survived the ordeal and learned from it that one must choose his friends wisely and that one must also never abandon his friends in their hour of need.

My experience parallels what seems to be happening when it comes to supporting our work in Iraq. Richard Cohen and those like him are, for all practical purposes, like that “friend” of mine from so long ago. Things have gotten difficult and they’ve abandoned us.

Even worse, they are abandoning American principles. We have gone half way across the world, liberated twenty-six million people and offered them hope. But now things are difficult. The neighborhood bullies, the media’s beloved “insurgents,” have decided to wreak havoc on those we liberated. They’ve descended on the people and all Cohen and those like him can now say is “it has become the sorriest of wars.”

I guess it’s fair to say that America has always had its share of fair-weather friends. We had them at Valley Forge. We had them during the dark days of the Civil War. We had them two generations ago in Vietnam. Their loyalty to nation and principle was, and is, like a wet thumb testing the wind. Their attachment to principles ends when the rain falls and the wind blows. I’m glad they didn’t get their way at Valley Forge and I’m glad their “principles” didn’t hold sway during our Civil War. But I’m saddened that their “principles” guided us in the sixties and I fear that if they were to have their way today we would abandon Iraq and its people to terror. I fear that there are far too many Americans who would abandon twenty-six million Iraqis to terror and tyranny in the same way we abandoned twenty-six million Vietnamese to communism.

I find it very difficult to fathom their thinking. I ask myself how we could have survived as a nation if men and women like Richard Cohen were leading us during our darkest hours. How could we have gained our freedom if they were leading us over two centuries ago? How would they have explained to African-Americans that abandoning them to the tyranny of slavery was a “principled” course? Would we even exist as nation if they had been our leaders at those most crucial of times?

But, the drumbeat is slowly building to abandon our principles. The fair weather friends have gained a foothold.

America has changed a great deal since Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, and Iwo Jima. We’re far less united than we’ve ever been. We’re far less committed to the principles we believed when this nation was founded. It is, as Professor Walter Berns put it, lamentable:

“But where there was once a unity there is now a division. Our politicians typically know nothing about what is going on in the world of political theory, and their theorists typically do not believe it part of their job to promote the cause of republican government. Some do – those who are not Marxists or “postmodernists” – but even they are likely to teach republicanism different from that espoused by the Founders. There are no citizens in this version, not in any meaningful sense, and no common good, only “autonomous” individuals, each with his own idiosyncratic view of the good.”

If we abandon Iraq and its people in their hour of need it will be, I believe, tantamount to abandoning civilization itself. It would be, as William Butler Yeats once put it, the worst kind of crime:

“But more criminal than the crimes that were committed to bring about the extinction of our (Irish) nationality, was the extinction itself. The day will some day come when the world will recognize that to destroy a nation, a fountain of life and civilisation, is the greatest crime that can be committed against the welfare of mankind.”

In the end it seems to me that these fair weather friends are the worst kind of friends. When we need them most they are abandoning us. They are willing to deny principle so that they can take the easy path out of harm’s way. If they get their way the blood that will surely flow when they do will be, like Cain, on their hands:

Genesis 4:9-10 (New International Version)

9 “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don't know,” he replied. “Am I my brother's keeper?” 10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.”


Guy said...

As on!

James Fletcher Baxter said...

Typically, these kinds of humans believe that things will all 'work out' without war - that they will still have their political pow-wows, theater parties, and patty-cake wine salons - all without war. History teaches otherwise. But, they don't accept reality - they do prefer their bunny tales and ginger bread house picture stories which a lack of principles makes possible.

Military-amateur, Teddy Kennedy, and his "quagmire" evaluation of Iraq, are repeated by the mindless echo-faithful, totally ignorant of the realities of liberty's progress and self-evidence to all - but the values-blind.

'Tyranny equals slavery' is an option to be rejected and fought in every generation worthy of the name American. A living hell is the ultimate evil - not death.

"Man cannot make or invent or contrive principles. He can only discover them and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author." -- Thomas Paine 1797

Be reminded: the Author is paying very close attention to all our stewardship choices.


Mixed Humor said...

Excellent read...enjoyed the perspective and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

This blog post is a troubling piece. Richard Cohen initially supported the war in Iraq because he, like the rest of us, was told that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that he was going to use against us at any moment. After the invasion of Iraq, that causus belli has proven to have been non-existent. Now, the Bush administration has given us shifting rationales for having gone to war. Hussein has gone from being an imminent threat to a potential threat.

What were we expecting when we went into Iraq? Bush was told that the war would be a "cakewalk." Cheyney said that the U.S. would be "welcomed as liberators." And Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that with money from Iraqi oil, the war would basically pay for itself. Apparently, no thought was given to any post-invasion difficulties, as the insurgency affirms. Now that this rosy and uninformed scenario has proven not to be the case, past supporters, such as Cohen, are having doubts, at a minimum.

And it is not enough to say that simply removing Hussein was worth the sacrifice. We went to war over WMD, not regime change. To say that removing Hussein is the be-all and end-all of the war is basically to say that the end justifies the means, however problematic, and I do not agree with that.

Like many of us, Cohen initially went along with the war because of what Bush initially said. He changed sides only when what Bush said proved to be untrue. If someone at first allies with us because of what we say, but dissolves that alliance when what we say is revealed to be false, that does not fit my definition of a "fair-weather friend."

And I am disturbed that so many people are so willing to justify a needless war that, ever-increasingly, seems to have been based on false pretenses.

Rob in L.A.

Mixed Humor said...

I am disturbed so many people don't have the vision to see past the end of their nose to understand the simple fact that the Hussein regime would always be a threat. There was never a point in time between 1991 and 2003 that he did not consider himself at war with the United States, calling the sanctions "genocide" and the enforcement of the no-fly zone "acts of war." The policy on Iraq was fatally flawed, there was no status quo to return to. It was a choice between war or living with a graver threat. Saddam had to go, a bipartisan conclusion as far back as 1998, but much earlier in many cases. Notable "neo-cons" like Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards all understand this full well...there was no coexisting with Saddam in a post 9/11 atmosphere. His activities were unacceptable.

It's deeply disturbing those advocating appeasement to this menace of peace are unwilling to recognize the very real possibility that this war would've been fought at a later date, on Saddam's conditions and terms, when the implications were far deadlier.

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed by the post above. Apparently, there are some people who see no difference between the war in Iraq and World War II. It's a view that many of the rest of us don't share.

The Hussein regime would always be a threat? How? He was boxed in by no-fly zones, sanctions (however imperfectly administered), and U.N. inspections. This severely limited his military options. What was he going to do, ally with Osama bin Laden? There's no evidence that he did, despite Bush's constant intermingling of Hussein and 9/11 in his speeches.

If going to war with Iraq for the explicit and primary purpose of removing Hussein was the causus belli, that's what Bush should have said from the get-go. It would have made for a more honest and open dialogue. Instead, he made the rather dubious claim that we needed to go to war in order to disarm Hussein of supposed WMD, the evidence for which was far from certain and not supported by the U.N. inspectors.

"Appeasement"? That's extreme rhetoric. To use the word "appeasement" brings to mind images of Neville Chamberlain trying to placate a Hitler who was gobbling up Europe. But Hitler was on the march; Hussein was contained. Hitler was an immediate threat; Hussein was a theoretical threat. The two were not the same. More of the extreme rhetoric is the phrase "cut and run," which implies cowardice. While I agree that it would be unwise to withdraw troops from Iraq immediately or according to an arbitrary time line — the result would probably be a civil war ending in a terrorist-friendly, Taliban-like theocracy — war supporters seem to imply that any downsizing of troops would constitute "cut and run" and thus be cowardly. This kind of rhetoric hurts discussion about the war.

Also, some of us against the war in Iraq supported the war in Afghanistan, which, after all, had direct and concrete links to 9/11. Going to war with Afghanistan to remove the Taliban was an appropriate response. And I think that we could be fighting a smarter counter-insurgency in that country if our troops weren't stretched so thin in Iraq.

By contrast, I'm not convinced that Bush's rush to war with Iraq was an appropriate response to 9/11. As the insurgency continues and the body count mounts, I get the idea that Bush made things worse. Odious as it was, at least Hussein's secular regime kept a lid on Iraq's ethnic and theocratic tensions. With Hussein gone, those tensions have exploded — with no apparent foresight by the Pentagon for dealing with them — turning Iraq into the breeding ground for terrorists that Bush said it already was before the war.

Did we need to remove Hussein primarily because he was a bad guy? So are lots of other regimes. If we are going to remove evil regimes militarily, I would rather we take down the junta ruling Burma and allow Aung San Suu Kyi to claim her rightful office as the country's democratically elected head of state. Does our unwillingness to do so show a lack of resolve toward a brutal dictatorship? But Burma/Myanmar was not allied with Islamic terrorists, you say? Neither was Hussein, says the reliable evidence.

I'm left with the impression that Bush went to war with Hussein for a quick and easy military victory after 9/11. With 9/11's figuratively "emasculating" attacks on U.S. soil, Bush wanted to prove our figurative "manhood" by demonstrating our military superiority against a relatively weaker country. Many Americans and others supported him in this effort to win back U.S. virility. I don't think that Bush's war council saw beyond the "Mission Accomplished" photo-op.

Now that events have not gone according to Bush's Panglossian premonitions, Americans who were once promised a quick and easy victory are bewildered why no one in authority was prepared for this drawn-out insurgency. So, war apologists tell us that we must steel ourselves for a long, hard slog in Iraq, when this is not what we were told in the days leading up to the invasion.

Is this any way to run a country?

Rob in L.A.