America and the World
Scripps-Howard News Service 8.20.02
Many who oppose the president's plan to launch a preemptive attack against Iraq avail themselves of the reasoning made popular by the "it's all America's fault" brigades. Since the United States encouraged Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, we cannot now "turn around" and treat him as a villain, they say.
Those with a memory will recall the very same argument used against Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91.
The identical crowd has blamed America for inconsistent policies toward Cuba and Iran, Panama and South Africa.
Right they are!
We have further been guilty of irreconcilably divergent attitudes to Japan, to Germany, to China, to Mexico. We have confused everyone by opposite treatments of the respective halves of Korea, and we have definitely dumbfounded historians with our 180 degree turn in the relationship with Great Britain.
America must be the most fickle country known to man. Little wonder we have no support in the United Nations, that dignified assembly of wise and mature states, some of them with a track record reaching back several years. And, brother, are they consistent! You can always count on them voting against the United States.
All right, enough of that.
The question is actually quite interesting, and I happened to be focusing on it for the first time the other day. The occasion was an opportunity to speak to about a hundred home-schooled teenagers of TeenPact who spent a week in the Capitol learning about civics. They illustrated the tragedy of this country, in that our best and brightest are having to flee our schools. Their razor-sharp questions helped me focus on the matter at hand.
Japan was our mortal enemy, and we now look upon it as a partner in the councils of economics, and a country of friends. We bombed Germany to rubble, but then sat down with a couple of wonderful old men over there and put together a workable government. We worked closely with China at one time, then had no relations at all, and now entertain a cautious level of cooperation. We save the French time and time again, even though they stab us in the back every chance they get.
Iran: Didn't we support the Shah all the way, and now we count them among the "axis of evil"?
Russia: Didn't we initiate and maintain NATO to keep them at bay, and now we invite them to attend many meetings of the same?
Most baffling of all, we treat the Brits as our closest allies when, if I am not mistaken, not only did they try their level best to prevent this country from ever coming into existence, but not that long ago they burned down the very place that gives this newspaper its name.
Upon reflection, the surprising fact is that this country - owing to the peaceful transition of power, and notwithstanding the occasional changes in outlook - has been consistent in its intended relationship with the outside world. On the other hand, with the exception of Great Britain, other countries don't seem to be able to make up their minds about themselves.
In most cases, the violent gyrations are obvious. The Kaiser's Germany was followed by semi-socialist Weimar Germany, then by national socialist Hitler Germany, then by Western-occupied and Soviet-occupied half Germanies, and is now a reunited who-knows-where-they-are-going Germany. Iran went from "let's become Westernized" to "all Westeners are Satan." Russia went from "we'll bury you" to "would you please tell us how to distribute bread?" Japan progressed from raping and killing its neighbors to making cars, television sets, and sushi.
The French can do what they want, because we always get damp around the eyes when we think of Lafayette, and the Statue of Liberty.
Alone the British have had a single, reliable change of heart, for they, too, live by the peaceful transition of power.
In other words, American policy has been, and must be, responding to the daily changing world out there in order to consistently serve the people of this land. And the changes are not always violent, or even obvious. Another country's intentions may well change under the same leader, since most countries have acquiesced in living under leaders of absolute power.
Actually, it is darned hard to be America in this unstable world. Especially when, ever since the 1960s, a growing number of Americans beat the drum of self-incrimination. I wonder why it gives some people such pleasure to throw stones at their own home.
In any event, there may be all sorts of reasons for attacking or not attacking Iraq, but our attitude to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s is about as relevant to the discussion as the meteor that's NOT going to strike us in 2017.