First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Brokaw, Practical Idealism, and France
I could hardly believe my eyes last week. Tom Brokaw, one of the icons of the American media, was a guest on the David Letterman show -- and he actually told a story that reflected well on the idea of liberating Iraq.
As Brokaw and his crew were filming an anti-American, we-love-Saddam demonstration on the streets of Baghdad, one of the Iraqi demonstrators approached him and asked, under his breath, if they could talk.
Brokaw distracted his "minder" (i.e., Iraqi secret police spy) by sending him to do some business in front of the camera (vanity works every time).
The demonstrator who wanted to talk waved a placard and loudly shouted, "Death to America!" Then, softly, he said, "Are the Americans really coming?"
"I think so," said Brokaw.
"Long live Saddam!" shouted the demonstrator. Under his breath: "Tell them to hurry up."
Of course I'm paraphrasing wildly here, not having memorized the conversation, but the point remains: Brokaw had an encounter that completely undercut the idea that the Iraqi people don't want us to attack.
After all, the whole "peace movement" uses as its excuse the idea that it's wrong to "kill innocent Iraqis" in order to accomplish Bush's purpose (which is assumed to be oil, or to show American might, or to get even for the assassination attempt against his father, or because he's evil and insane).
But Brokaw's story suggests that at least some of those Iraqis are eager for the Americans to come -- even though they have all been informed, over and over, that lots of Iraqi civilians might die.
Maybe they think freedom is worth dying for.
Clearly they just haven't lived in Europe, so they still have those naive "cowboy" ideals.
Come to think of it, though, it isn't so surprising Brokaw told this story. Ever since he did the work leading up to his book The Greatest Generation, Brokaw has been unashamed of the idea that America is capable of doing good in the world -- and that sometimes that good comes about in the form of a war.
After all, there were French civilians who died whenever America and Britain bombed German-occupied France. But the French understood that this was the price of liberation.
Are the Iraqis not capable of understanding that situation at least as well as the French?
These days it seems that the French have completely forgotten what only people like Iraqis and Iranians and Afghans understand -- that despite America's flaws, we are today -- as we were in 1941, in 1917, and as the North was in 1861 -- the last best hope of human freedom.
And it's good to know that here and there in the media establishment, there's someone willing to go on record with a story that might actually make Americans believe that we still stand for something good in the world.
It comes late in the game, and by the time this column comes out we might actually be in combat, but it's still worth buying and reading Lawrence F. Kaplan's and William Kristol's The War Over Iraq.
This slim book is an excellent overview of the events leading up to our current war. It is, more importantly, a succinct and telling analysis of three theories of foreign policy that have dominated American actions since World War II.
One of the two main traditions is the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger and his ilk (which long included Colin Powell) -- the idea that America should go to war only when vital national interests, always defined in economic or strategic terms, are directly threatened.
The second tradition is the wishful liberalism that calls for negotiations and the avoidance of war at all costs, regardless of the trustworthiness or willingness to negotiate of our enemies.
Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush exemplified realpolitik. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton exemplified wishful liberalism.
But Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan (in his dealings with Communism, not his dealings with the Middle East) followed, in their analysis, a third way -- a sort of practical idealism.
This depends upon the idea that America is not a nation built on ethnicity or shared ancestry, but rather a nation build upon ideals, and that those ideals represent the longings of all human beings: for self-government, for liberty within reasonable bounds to live their lives as they see fit, and for freedom from oppression.
You know, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
These ideals transcend the accidental variations of human cultures and speak to human nature itself. Multiculturalism is irrelevant here.
It's like when anthropologists studying a primitive culture are appalled when the "natives" start wearing t-shirts and demanding vaccines and penicillin. Oh, no, cry the anthropologists. We've "interfered" with the culture we're studying.
Sure. You've interfered by letting them know there's another choice. And when given a choice, those lovely primitive people did not choose the way you thought they should. It's called "freedom." And everybody wants it.
But how can you base a foreign policy on ideals?
After all, isn't "wishful liberalism" based on ideals, too?
Yes -- but the ideal of "peace through negotiation" has no connection with the real world, where dangerous, evil governments negotiate only in order to stave off retribution, and, when they do agree to a treaty, cheat while their enemy sleeps contentedly.
Wishful liberalism always leads to worse wars later.
Realpolitik always ends up supporting the goals of our enemies in the long run, because it always defines our "interests" far too narrowly.
But practical idealism recognizes the limits of our own power. For instance, we don't have the ability right now to liberate the people of China or, for that matter, North Korea.
Still, we do have the power to prevent the worst depredations of many evil regimes, and the moral obligation to use that power when we can. It was good to liberate Haiti -- and, frankly, long overdue (thanks for that are owed to the Black Congressional Caucus, and not at all to a foot-dragging Bill Clinton).
It was good to prevent a drug lord from ruling over the Panama Canal -- while also liberating the people of Panama, who have proven themselves quite capable of running a reasonably democratic government since.
It was good to keep a Communist government from ruling tiny Grenada, and restoring democracy there.
It is always dangerous to meddle in other countries, and our intervention should be rare, when the regime's evil is clearly visible and the danger it poses is significant, or when a country is being taken over by a "one-way" system like Communism or Islamicism, in which the election that brings them to power is the last free election the country will ever have.
The War Over Iraq definitely has a point of view. But it is not partisan. It is disparaging of the foreign policy mistakes of Republican and Democratic administrations alike, and praises good decisions by Republican and Democratic administrations.
The book even points out that while Reagan used practical idealism in dealing with Communism, he was governed more by realpolitik in dealing with Arab nations -- to our sorrow.
And the book is not a love letter to George W. Bush. The authors make it clear that until 9/11, W was headed down his father's realpolitik road. But his conversion to practical idealism seems to be sincere, and bodes well for the future.
Even if you disagree with them -- as many will -- the authors have done a superb job of laying out the case for Saddam being a truly dangerous monster that no nation on earth should have to put up with as their leader.
But more than making it clear that those who support the continuation of Saddam's power in Iraq because they "love peace" are really saying that it doesn't matter how much Arabs and Kurds suffer, The War Over Iraq presents a plausible and, I think, fairly convincing argument for the shape American foreign policy should take in future conflicts.
In other words, they don't believe that we should hang all our foreign policy on "fighting terrorism," but rather should base it on practical idealism -- which will include fighting terrorism but will have as its overall purpose the creation and support of democracies wherever possible throughout the world.
If McDonald's and Coca-Cola then go into those countries, then of course the citizens are free either to buy their products or not. That's a separate question. Our foreign policy isn't about making the world safe for Pepsi. It's about giving people the chance to choose their way of life.
Even if, like France, they freely choose to do everything in their power to support evil regimes and hamper the efforts of America to bring freedom to oppressed people.
Where did France cross the line? When they lobbied Turkey to try to prevent American planes from using bases in Turkey for sorties against Iraq.
This was not a maneuver designed to help prevent war.
It was a maneuver designed to get the maximum number of Americans killed when the war occurs.
France is no longer simply opposing our foreign policy, which even an ally may sometimes do.
France is now, as a matter of official government action, trying to make it more dangerous for American soldiers in the battlefield and increase the risk of our young men and women being killed.
This makes France an active ally of Saddam Hussein and a co-combatant. When American planes are shot down in greater numbers because they cannot make the shorter northern approach to their targets, and when American troops die in greater numbers because they cannot get the immediate close air support they need, the French will have our blood on their hands.
Of course, the French might answer, there would be no increase in the American casualty rates if America simply didn't go to war.
But then, that's always true, isn't it? After all, the casualties of the French in World War II, after their rapid surrender to Germany, were very low compared to the casualties suffered by those nations that fielded vast armies of their citizens to win French freedom.
The fact is that America is already at war with Iraq, and France's actions may already violate the international laws concerning neutrality.
When President Bush said, more than a year ago, If you are not with us in this struggle, then you are against us, he spoke nothing but the truth.
Has France crossed the line? If so, our answer has to be something more than calling French fries by another name. Until the French people wake up to what their government is doing in the name of "peace," perhaps France needs to be treated as the active abetter of our enemies that they have decided to be.
Is it time to call our ambassador home? Is it time to restrict the travel of Americans to France, and of French citizens to America? Is it time to restrict the importation of French products and the exportation to France of items with potential military application?
We would be doing no worse to France than they have been threatening to do to smaller European nations that dared to oppose their will.
If France thinks that using economic leverage to punish other countries that aren't "obedient" is perfectly acceptable, then is it not at least as acceptable to use that leverage against a nation that is actively pursuing the deaths of American soldiers?
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.