Saturday, August 13, 2005

Freedom Requires Energy, Faith and Devotion!

In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961 President John Fitzgerald Kennedy made a bold proclamation about how leaders should approach adversity. He said; “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

[Listen to JFK Inaugural Address]

Anyone alive in this time and place in history must know that we live at another such epic crossroads where we must face adversity. It is in times like this that great leaders emerge to show us the way through the challenges of our time. They guide us along the edge of a knife where teetering to one side or the other will bring Armageddon. I thought it would be interesting to dissect this quote from one of our great Presidents to assess how our current administration is fairing.

All generations face challenges both domestic and international that must be addressed in a skillful manner. The skills required vary to a certain extent. During the Civil War we needed a President who would focus inward and force us to answer difficult questions about the type of society we wanted to create for ourselves. Abraham Lincoln was the perfect President for his time and place in history. Lincoln was a charismatic Midwesterner who grew up on the frontiers of our young nation. He was born in raised in a border state between the North and South on the frontlines of what would eventually be the battlefields of the Civil War.

In the early 1930s the United States economy was bleeding, near death. The government was sleepwalking under the leadership of President Herbert Hoover. The Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s could easily have extinguished American greatness before it was able to take shape. Many have credited President Franklin Roosevelt with being a war President, who saw us through our most difficult years, but FDR was not elected to be a war President, he was elected to rebuild the powerful engine of American innovation which had been brutally savaged by years of rampant poverty and economic decay. Like Lincoln, FDR was the right man for the right time. He saw that American morale was devastated by rampant unemployment. Many men and women who were capable and eager contributors to economic growth in the 1920s were shocked and awed by the economic maelstrom of the Depression. Roosevelt’s greatest achievement as President was restoring our honor and sense of pride. In addition, he created the beginnings of our social safety net that still functions capably today.

In our time, with our challenges, September 11, 2001 has become a cliché. Not the events that occurred that day, but what those events have been used to justify. Into all times of great need steps a leader who restores faith and pride to the people. President George W. Bush was surprisingly capable in the days following those tragedies. He had the country unified in intent and purpose as no one had since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In addition, he had the good will of the whole world and the ready support of allies to wage a war on terrorism.

It all rings so hollow now to a great many people around the world. All that good will was taken and used to justify the status quo. The same tired and failed philosophy for dealing with foreign threat. In a time when we needed to rip up our military play book and start a new, our government simply spruced up the same play book that we have been using since the Civil War. It is our government’s belief that when adversity is faced you must levee the full weight of the United States military against it. The terminology used at the time was “shock and awe”. It was the same philosophy which General Westmoreland tried to employ in Vietnam. He, like our leaders now, believed that the enemy would simply shrink in the face of such raw power, but the lesson that we learned in Vietnam and then promptly forgot is that our enemy was willing to go through any hardship, endure any amount of losses and would either win or be wiped out trying.

Not surprisingly this shock and awe philosophy has won us very little goodwill with the people in this region of the world. Our first military moves after 9/11 was to invade and “liberate” Afghanistan from the hard line Taliban government. In so doing, we drove Al Qaeda out of cities and into the hills. This was an operation that was widely supported by the international community and so they should hardly have been shocked when the U.S. government took this as tacit approval of using a military paradigm for dealing with terrorists. In the end the Taliban are not gone and Al Qaeda is far more difficult to track. In addition, farmers in this region of the world have begun growing vast quantities of poppies used in making heroin. In spite of all this collateral damage, our government has claimed that Afghanistan was a great success. We have installed a friendly government that really has no power outside the capital of Kabul.

Our next phase was to go into Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein. This was in spite of the fact that there was no clear link between Iraq and any terrorist organization and in spite of the fact that Iraq posed no threat to the U.S. at all. The government trumped up charges of stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction. You all know the events that have followed in Iraq from the “liberation” to the elections which went on despite the fact the Sunnis did not participate in the vote. What we have done is create a terrorist breeding ground. It is what some might call a charm school of jihadi Middle-easterner extremists bent on doing battle with the west.

Our President now tells us that it would be foolhardy to pull our troops out of Iraq because it would send the wrong message to our allies and enemies alike. I am not a foreign policy expert (which I guess would make me a perfect candidate to work on this President’s foreign policy team) but I believe that our presence in the Middle East is part of the problem not the solution. Who cares what message it sends to the terrorists, it is not because of the insurgency itself that we should leave. Truth be told we could do battle with these insurgents indefinitely. It is because if democracy is really to flourish in Iraq then it must come about as a result of their efforts, not ours. I believe that the message we will communicate to our allies in Iraq is that democracy is worth fighting for and ethnic, religious or other differences will not preclude democracy from succeeding there. In the final analysis it is the countries that struggled for democracy, that earned it through hard effort that succeed. These countries include Poland, France, Japan, Mexico and the United States. We are all examples of countries that overcame much to bring about a representative style of government.

The part of JFK’s quote that jumps out at me most readily is the last part where he says; “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” If the Iraqi people value the right to self-determination no insurgency, no matter how large, will get in its way. One should never underestimate the determination of a people to be free. One need only step out of the way and see their will be done. Of course we will be a friend to Iraq. We will assist them financially and morally in the accomplishment of this goal, but the actual victory must be born of Iraqi blood and sweat. If it is not, they will never place the proper amount of value in it.

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