To: The Atlantic Monthly

 

Regarding: Your article "Supremacy by Stealth" in the July/August 2003 issue.

 

Your usually sensible magazine took a big step into irrationality with the July/August article "Supremacy by Stealth". Irrational because the premise the author wants us to start with sets us on a course to our own harm. The author wants us to accept the recent moves to make the U. S. a warring, domineering, empire builder as a decision that's already set in stone, and move on to how to be a more effective dominator. Yes, we have made such mistakes in the past, though fewer during the 90s. To turn back to those same mistakes and with an order of magnitude greater zeal is an enormous change for the country, not something that should be done by executive decree without a full airing through the democratic process, and not something that is as yet set in stone.

 

So let's step back to that question the author so quickly wants to skip over; is empire building what this country should be doing? If this will be an American century, will it be so primarily because America leads the way to an era of greater international cooperation on issues that will really wrack the world if we don't deal with them (global warming that will disrupt the most populous areas of the world, mass extinction of species, water scarcity, AIDS and other diseases)? Or will it be an American century primarily because we use war, threats, and domination to get our way in places where we want something?

 

I'm not advocating pacifism. Afghanistan was harboring people who had attacked us. Invading Iraq, on the other hand, even by its promoters' definition, was a pre-emptive action (meaning "we're not sure if we need to attack but we will just in case") that affected the whole world and set a radical new precedent for U. S. behavior.(Yes, we've attacked others before, but anyone who denies that this is a major change is being willfully ignorant.)

 

A wise president would have seen that what fell in his lap was an opportunity that has never happened before in history. The world has only in recent times had nearly instant global communication. In those few years the world has had no occasion to be in agreement on any one thing and feel impassioned about it. This was it. This was a sort of global birth event. In every part of the world that there was awareness of the issue a majority, in many places an almost unanimity, of the populace was against this war and said so loudly. Even in parts of the world that would be little affected. This included most people in England and, up to within a few weeks of the war, even a majority in the U. S. wanted to at least wait longer and try harder at other methods.

 

If Bush had been smart he could have gotten out in front of the parade and been a hero, and still protected us against the possibility of Iraq being a source of weapons of mass destruction (if that had really been the goal rather than empire building). He could have told the world that, while he thought they were wrong, he would show what a big man he was by honoring their concerns, avoiding war, putting together a large, international, aggressive team of inspectors, pulling scientists and their families out of Iraq, destroying suspect sites, and aggressively bottling up Hussein. He would have instantly become the world's darling. He could have used such momentum to energetically pursue cooperative international efforts on a host of other problems.

 

That's a taste of the alternative vision available to us, and of the decision we, U. S. citizens, need to make. Genuine global leadership based on our principles, or empire. Make no mistake that you cannot have both. Empire building, and democracy with rights are incompatible ideas.

 

The author throws a bone to the idea that this is all for what is best for the world. But this is after he has advocated that we, "...keep the public's attention as divided as possible. We can dominate the world only quietly: off camera...", and after advocating manipulating the media to propagandize whatever cause the government is currently pursuing, and after going on at great length about the ignorance of the people opposed to invading Iraq (which was most of the world, remember) and after implying that we should play along with the media when it casts our actions as having to do with "...'democracy,' 'economic development,' and 'human rights,'..." even if those at the levers of power know that that "...conceals the harsh...ground-level truths."

 

So the authorís attitude seems to be that the masses are ignorant and need to be herded toward what is good for them, by distraction and media manipulation if need be; that there are a few at the top who know what's really going on, that they need to be unencumbered by the populace so they can pursue wars and tinkering with other countries as they see fit. Does this sound to you like what America is supposed to be about? Is this democracy? Is this open government that operates in the sunshine? Isn't this just the way we were told the old Soviet Union behaved, that we fought a Cold War to avoid? Isn't this just the sort of attitude we fought our own revolution to escape?

 

The world is not a democracy, but you can approach the world in a way that encourages collaboration as circumstances allow, or you can just bully nations into behaving as you want, use war and aggression whenever you want, and covertly undermine whomever is in your way, so as to do it "... quietly: off camera...". We cannot take the latter approach and sow those seeds and not expect to reap the fruit. Two kinds of fruit: The first is repercussions from the world (the terrorism of 9/11 itself was a belated echo of our meddling in the Middle East for our own purposes in the past).

 

The other fruit is at home. We cannot treat the world as if the will of their people didn't matter and rights are a convenience, and not have the same thing begin to happen at home. If we choose leaders with this mindset, we cannot expect them to be the devil we've made the bargain with in their dealings with the world, but still be saints at home. Just as de Tocqueville correctly predicted that the U. S., founded on great principles, could not allow slavery without it someday ripping the country apart, so we cannot take this tack with the world without it someday coming to a head at home. These two things, dealing with the world as if we owned it, and erosion of our rights at home, come as a package. They cannot be separated. Do we want to buy the whole package?

 

I don't mean to get personal with the author, but it is pertinent to the point that this kind of approach to these problems - being quick to compromise rights when they're deemed inconvenient, using underhanded dirty tricks when open above-board methods have not been exhausted, deceiving those you are supposedly helping and thinking it's or their own good, striking first just in case the other guy might be thinking about it (the author says, "the United States will periodically have no choice but to act pre-emptively on limited evidence...") - these are all the actions of small, scared minds. I don't hold it against them. These are scary times. But America cannot turn itself over to them.

 

Real courage would show the terrorists and their sympathizers that we donít have to compromise our principles and our rights in order to stand firm for our freedom and safety. On the contrary, it is fighting from atop the foundation of our principles and rights that makes us strong and gives us what we need to come through this intact, and proud of how we did it. That will make us a beacon to the world of how it should be done, which is the best thing we can do to undermine the terrorists' propaganda.

 

We don't have a George Washington handy but it doesn't hurt to look to our own past to see how we can behave in a crisis. In fact E. Harrison Clark's biography of Washington would be an excellent guide for leadership at this time. Washington was not a pacifist. He didn't hesitate to be a warrior when he needed to. Despite the odds being greatly against him, he carried out the war and his leadership with nearly flawless fidelity to his principles. He was smart and aggressive, using tactics such as a large network of spies far more advanced than others of the time. Yet, despite the obvious advantage he could have achieved by extracting information from prisoners of war, he always treated them according to the highest standards of the time. Despite the fact that congress refused to give him the resources he needed, and despite the almost devotional support from the people which could easily have allowed him to circumvented congress, he didn't, knowing that undermining the authority of congress was contrary to the very goal he was fighting for.

 

He didn't view his own principles and those the country was struggling to establish as inconveniences to be avoided when possible. Rather he viewed them as a strength to both give energy to the fight and as goals to fight for. The people saw this in him; they gave him amazing support and sacrifice for their country, and it enabled the smaller power to win.

 

These are not schoolhouse fables. Washington was no pie-in-the-sky idealist. This is what we really have accomplished in the past. And if times have changed, then we have all the more need to hold to our basic principles. This is the choice we face today. Either we stick to those principles or we use these methods that are utterly, morally wrong, unchristian, and contrary to our own foundation - methods that will surely come back to do us great harm. Do we want to go down a George W. Bush path, or a George Washington path? This is not a question to skip over as the author wishes. I thought we had settled all this a couple hundred years ago. It seems many of us need to go back to "U. S. Principles 101". Our country is being asked to go along with taking a turn in a decidedly wrong direction. We need to pull our heads out of the sand and start acting like Americans.