Credit the Vox Populi

Love that liberal I’m-actually-quite-moderate thing I’ve been hearing with respect to events in Iraq. Seemed the sentiment of the entire panel, host and guests, on Bill Maher last week was something like, “They had elections, and though there were problems, the courage of the voters and the imminence of a new, more or less freely elected government are achievements the President has a right to be proud of.”

Wimpy Liberals Again

Wimpy liberals, as I call ’em, are nice to a fault. They want to find good in their opponents’ actions and proposals, a fair and moral approach in my view.

Ironically, it’s their opponents who closely associate themselves with the name of Christianity, the religion of loving your enemy. That strategy seems to have receded on the right these days in favor of all-time greats like obfuscation and persecution.

Of course the whole right-left dichotomy continues to decrease in usefulness. Is Karen Kwiatkowski on the right or the left? Whichever side it is has a lot in common with the one I’m on.

Virtue, Religion, and Politics

It’s a true Christian virtue to treat others well, especially if you don’t like them. It’s a true virtue of religions and philosophies worldwide. Islamic hospitality to strangers, for example, has long been famous.

However, politics is a different game. The recent life of this republic has illustrated Robert Reich’s point:

[T]he so-called center has continued to shift to the right because conservative Republicans stay put while Democrats keep meeting them halfway.

Not a winning strategy.

Courage Feedback Loop

Indubitably, the courage and commitment of the Iraqis who voted inspired us. I hope it inspired their fellow citizens who wanted to vote but were understandably frightened. I hope the construction of the new government goes well, and produces what friends of the Deputy National Security Advisor once called an “off-the-shelf, self-sustaining, stand alone entity”. Well, maybe not “off-the-shelf”, that would probably imply a US intelligence role. But a government that’s controlled by the Iraqi people. At least as much as the US is by its people.

Perhaps the Iraqi example will inspire Americans to assert their civil rights more fervently.

The Eye of Sauron

A friend used to say, “You’re pontificating again.” Always cracked me up. Sorry.

But humor me, if you please, as I emphasize a few things I think we’re agreed on.

First, recall the helplessness of seeing the war happen despite worldwide protests of unprecedented size. And the desperation last November. The power of the dark side seemed to grow without bound.

Second, remember that Bush originally opposed all the things that now seem to be turning out well. For instance, he put off the election for several months on bogus grounds, a decision that killed thousands and complicated the political situation tremendously. Now he’s celebrating the voters’ courage as if it were his own. Well, he wouldn’t be much of a politician if he couldn’t get out in front of a parade.

Gaps in the Armor

Third, observe the current situation.

Polls indicate Iraqis want the US to go home. The new government would have a large constituency if it made such a request. That request could not be turned down without a huge amount of spin, distraction, and lies, all of which would take place under an international spotlight in front of a skeptical world-wide audience.

The coalition is dissolving. Italy has just announced its intention to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Of course,

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan advised reporters not to make a cause-and-effect link between Berlusconi’s decision and the Baghdad shooting incident.

Then there’s the “opinion of mankind”, for which we used to have a decent respect. Don’t even ask. We’re borrowing about $1.8 billion a day from other countries, so our economic power is extremely limited. Countries such as Turkey, France, and Germany refused to assist in our pre-emptive war; did it hurt them? The European Union will probably soon be selling weaponry to China. The US protested; the EU said it understood the protests, but announced no policy changes. Iraq, this decade’s quagmire, keeps us looking weak militarily as well. Without economic power and military options there’s not much political power to be had. Moral authority? Right.

And don’t forget the extra-territorial issues. Will Bush, Cheney, and others dare to travel outside the US once their party is no longer in power? The Pinochet precedent is a great achievement in civilization in my book. The community of the world is beginning to act as communities ought to. Privilege quakes in its boots and buys more PR.

Conclusions

I wish my country had not lost its symbolic position as good guy. But I’m glad my country’s misdeeds are becoming common knowledge, because I believe that’s the best hope for preventing future misdeeds.

As usual, some current trends are good, some bad. The constructive ones—sometimes we’d have to settle for least destructive—usually resulted from popular pressure. Whether we’re talking Sistani’s calls for elections, or Americans’ outrage over the torture scandal (so far, the less effective of the two), the power structure has made significant behavioral adjustments in response to popular feeling, from advertising to war planning. Not significant enough, I grant you; not within a hundred thousand deaths of significant enough. But clearly we cause change when we express our common feeling strongly. Politicians usually claim to ignore media critiques and street protests; all but the stupid are lying.

The dark side has made headway recently, it’s true. But so have we. Good things happened because people pushed back against what seemed to be overwhelming power. The lone figure of the young man maneuvering to stay in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square, an iconic image, sets too high a standard. It’s rare that such courage succeeds, even in the short run.

Icons, like myths, portray the ideal. We do not expect to meet the same circumstances in our lives. We do expect to need every reserve of heart, courage, and intelligence we can muster to succeed in life’s trials. Icons and myths show us where to find those reserves, and how to employ them. If we have the courage and the timing, and we choose the right tank.

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