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
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.
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
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
That's a taste of the
alternative vision available to us, and of the decision we,
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
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
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
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
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
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