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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tuning Up

I learned during a trip home to see my family that intelligent public opinion on America's current foreign policy issues is more divided than I thought. It started with a lunch discussion with my father. He's an intelligent man with firm opinions. I respect him and model a lot of my life on his character. Five minutes into our discourse on the war in Iraq, I was nearly screaming. I'm not a very passionate guy when it comes to matters of politics. Or, at least, I didn't used to be. Yelling at my dad is something I never do. I ended up declaring, "I'm not talking about this with you anymore."

Five minutes later I was yelling again.

When I posted Tuning In, I expected very little response. Based on the e-mails and comments, I was wrong about that. Because I think talking about it is the only way we'll ever get close to consensus, I thought I'd bump the discussion up to a post of its own.

Mike M. wrote:

What are you talking about? Mexicans booed the US soccer team just weeks after 9/11 in Mexica, chanting Osama...Osama throughout the match. This is not a "wake up" call, at least not to most of us.

Everyone hates us and they have for decades before 9/11. Are you ready to change America so that the world loves us again? Ready to sell out Israel? That will gain lots of friends.

Mature people worry about doing the right thing. Teenagers worry about being liked.


I responded:

1) Being mature and being liked aren't mutually exclusive.

2) I said "most of America" woke up with the beauty pageant. You might forget that most of America doesn't watch soccer and missed that other Mexico incident.

3) There's a difference between actively trying to be liked and actively working to be hated.


Zippy backed me up:

As for Israel, I'm pretty sure it can take care of itself these days. They can always use those nuclear weapons that they don't have that they didn't build from nuclear material we didn't give them or have taken from us in the late 60s.


Mike was having none of my liberal ranting. He responded:

C'mon, Otis. Are you kidding? Do you think this is a "wake-up call" to even 5% of Americans, the ones who have been in comas?

I think you are simply rejoicing in the humiliation of an American woman. I think you feel Americans have it coming to them for not voting the way you would vote.

And I *know* that if an American crowd acted as the Mexican crowd did, you would have no problem recognizing the unforgivable racism, xenophobia, and hatred on display by ugly Americans. There would be no "wake up call for Mexicans" for you to point out if a Mexican girl was humiliated on an American stage. It would be all about the racist American pigs who made racist taunts and jeers at a brave contestant.


I didn't respond to that at the time. I guess I should now.

You're right, Mike. I would call the American crowd xenophobic if they booed a foreign contestant. It's an ugly way to treat people who are not at fault for the world's problems. Further, it does nothing to further the cause of peace and harmony (and, lest you think that sentence is all "Come on people, smile on your brothers," I'm not really riding a Flower Child trip here--I just think peace and harmony are decent, if futile, pursuits).

What you might have misinterpreted from my thoughts about the Mexican booing is this: I wasn't applauding the Mexicans. I was simply saying that a majority of America pays more attention to beauty pageants than it does news about the war. I guarantee you that more people discussed the Mexican Booing incident than discussed how many Americans died in Iraq that same day. I'd suggest that sucks and I suspect you'd agree. The point isn't that Miss USA got wrongly humiliated. The point is that America at large is shocked by the fact that the people of other nations dislike us enough to boo our pageant queens. The point is we should be taking a critical look at why other nations dislike us. If it's because we're free and rich, well, then I don't care if they like us either. However, if it's because we use words like "crusade" when we attack lands of different faiths, well, then I think we have a problem.

The biggest part of the argument I had with my dad was over whether America's reasons for war were justified and if, even in the face that our initial stated reason was false, whether our continued involvement was just, fair, and smart. I'm not sure I have the answer to that (at least well enough to write about it). However, I think it's a question we should all be able to answer before we support or actively fight our continued involvement in Iraq.

Which brings me to Random101. He is a friend, and an intelligent one at that. Rarely outspoken, he has taken this opportunity to offer me a thinking exercise. He commented:

My reaction to the Iraq/world opinion stories ran contrary to your comments. I would like to make a request to the best writer that I personally know. You are President/King Otis. It is 9/11 or whenever. What do you do? Do you stop enforcing the “no fly” zone in Iraq? Do you pull all of the 100,000 or so troops out of the Middle East? What would be the reaction of other countries? What are your counter actions? If you capture real terrorists, what do you do with them?

I don’t want to argue or trap anyone. I just want someone describe the alternative path. People sound so hopeless. What possible series of US/world events leads to people sounding hopeful?


It is 9/11 or whenever.

I'd first take issue with the characterization of "9/11 or whenever." Not to be glib, but it reminds me of that line from "Sixteen Candles."

The Geek: How's it going?
Samantha: How's what going?
The Geek: You know - things, life, whatnot.
Samantha: Life is not whatnot, and it's none of your business.

September 11th could never be compared to any point that could be described as "whenever." September 11th was a moment that galvanized America and showed us how vulnerable we are to the people who hate us. No other event since Pearl Harbor had such an effect on America at large. I shudder to imagine that it could become so commonplace that we'd describe it as "whenever." So, I'll assume you were just being colloquial and you can forgive me quoting John Hughes.

What do you do?

Without question, I hunt down the organizers of the terrorist groups and I kill them. I kill them in such a way that there is no question that I intended to kill them. I continued to kill them until there are no more to kill.

So, most supporters of the current war would suggest that's what we're doing in Iraq. We're working to kill the people who tried to kill us. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence to support that. I've yet to see evidence that Iraq provided serious support to Osama Bin Laden or his people. I've yet to see serious evidence that Saddam had much success in building weapons of mass destruction. So, launching an assault on Iraq and deposing Saddam might have been a good idea. I'm not saying it wasn't. What I'm saying is, 9/11 wasn't justification for it. What I'm saying is America is in the middle of a crisis of its own making and the only people winning are the Haliburtons of the corporate world.

People sound so hopeless. What possible series of US/world events leads to people sounding hopeful?

Maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there was reason to occupy Iraq for four-plus years in an effort to fight terrorism. Maybe the trillions we've spent destroying and rebuilding Iraq is actually making my family safer. However, I don't think that.

I have an in-law who once said, "If we don't find them over there, your son will have to fight them over here."

My question: Who is "them?" Iraqis? Muslims? Middle Eastern people? Brown people?

Supporters of the war seem to draw a clear connection between The War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq. I don't see one.

So, what of hope? What would make me hopeful?

Hard to say anymore I guess. Looking back, I wish we would've spent trillions in covert missions and undercover work to find and kill terrorists. I wish we had not gone to war in Iraq. Had we decided to depose Saddam, I wish it would've been a CIA mission as opposed to a full-scale military assault. I wish we would've listened to the intelligence about the insurgency problems we were sure to face. I wish thousands of American soldiers hadn't had to die for a war with no clear goal or exit strategy.

But, hope in one hand, yada, yada.

So, what would give me hope now?

A gradual drawdown of the American presence in Iraq.

A clear timetable for our eventual exit.

If we're to stick to a strategy of pro-active war, I'd be hopeful that America is given clear and accurate reasoning for such future battle.

The end or reduction of no-bid contracts.

Clear accounting of money spent during times of war.

For-profit mercenary firms being held to the same legal standard as American military troops.

A recognition that our espoused noble war is operating, if not at the expense of, at least in the ambivalence about such tragedies as the genocide in Darfur.

***

I am not a foreign policy expert. I don't claim to know even 25% of everything I need to know to have an educated opinion about this. I'm speaking largely from my heart. I believe in democracy. I believe in freedom. I believe in America. However, no one has given me any reason to believe the war and continued occupation of Iraq is helping America or the people of Iraq. To the contrary, the war has injured my belief that America works in the interest of peace and democracy. I can only hope that my belief is restored. War is sometimes necessary. This kind of war, however, is not.

***

When I left my hometown, I sat in a small airline gate with my kid at 6am. A clean-cut, tough solider in fatigues stood almost at attention. He looked through the glass windows out into the insecure area and did a lover's version of sign language to his girl on the other side. For nearly 30 minutes, they signed back and forth in their own unspoken longing. When the gate agent called for boarding, the guy turned on his cell phone. With tears running down his face and a waver in his voice, he said, "I love you, baby." And then he walked in tears onto the plane that would start his journey toward Iraq.

If he was your son, your husband, your boyfriend, or your brother, what would you say if he died in Iraq tomorrow?

Would he have died for a reason? And if so, please tell me what that reason is.

Labels:

9 Comments:

Anonymous Ken Prevo said...

Otis, you are one of the very limited number of bloggers I pimp. I like your writing and thoughts. They aren't my thoughts; I'm closer to your dad in a lot of respects.

You've observed the type of people that get involved in seeking power. If you can solve that situation with the simplistic demands your cite in your article, it would seem you've lost understanding of the process that gets us into these situations.

It is great to have a collection of ideals to espouse. You and the beauty pageant winner who wants to end world hunger are in good company.

Quoting NYT op-ed's aren't the way to win over a lot of us. Balanced isn't part of their editorial process on that page.

You indite the politican and I don't have a problem with that. I tend to indite the media. All they want to give us today is body counts. Who are the Iraqi people? What are their goals? Where is it better? Where is it worse? Is that on my nightly news? No, but I can find it on the Internet without problem.

I mentioned Michael Yon's site in my weekend blog. I come from that with a different picture. It isn't handing out simple solutions but it shows an important side that is left out by those with your more liberal view.

The fact is we are in a shitty situation that should have never happened. So, do we go for a shitty exit strategy that runs that cesspool up over the hipboots? That isn't being answered by the liberals or anybody else. Simple reason why...there isn't a simple answer.

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Ken Prevo said...

P.S. I am sorry for Mr. Bacevich's loss. That is a horrid happening for all too many families. He mentions two writer out of many who were so despicable that impinged on his family's grief. Shame on them.

But it is disingenuous when he leaves out those dozens of Kansas "Christians" that were showing up at soldier's funerals with signs calling them war criminals.

What I take from his article is that he couldn't resist playing the sympathy card to espouse his ideals any more than some would use a grief filled moment at the other extreme.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Pokerwolf said...

However, no one has given me any reason to believe the war and continued occupation of Iraq is helping America or the people of Iraq.

All of these statistics are accurate. We don't hear about them because the media earns its money by talking about death. Positive news doesn't sell.

To the contrary, the war has injured my belief that America works in the interest of peace and democracy.

I think this administration has caused that injury to a large number of people. How the next administration (and the rest of the government) acts will be very important on a number of fronts.


I will be the second person to recommend Michael Yon's blog. It shows a side of the war in Iraq that the major media outlets do not bother showing.

Would he have died for a reason?

What sort of reason are you looking for, Otis? A noble cause? Having "our side" be "right" in the conflict? The soldiers who have died in Iraq have died performing their duty to their fellow soldiers and the civilians they have been ordered to protect. Yes, I used the words "been ordered" on purpose because that's how the military works. Not every soldier who is currently in Iraq believes that we should be there. But, they're there anyway. It's their job and duty to do so.

8:48 AM  
Blogger BG said...

First of all, great post.

I'd like to address this quote from Mr. Prevo:

"The fact is we are in a shitty situation that should have never happened. So, do we go for a shitty exit strategy that runs that cesspool up over the hipboots? That isn't being answered by the liberals or anybody else. Simple reason why...there isn't a simple answer."

This argument is built around the idea that the only solution to the current military morass is to find a way to make the military strategy successful. It's a rhetorical construct that was designed to keep the focus of the conversation on the war and the troops and away from alternate strategies such as diplomacy. Since you can't be against the "Great War on Terror" because of 9/11, and you can't be against the troops, if the conversation centers here, warmongering with specious connections to terror becomes a self-perpetuating notion, and nearly unopposable.

Random101 gave you a thought exercise Otis, and I'd like to offer the same to Mr. Prevo. What happens if we do withdraw our troops from Iraq? Wait, before you answer, here's your level of difficulty - all those PNAC/AEI/Weekly Standard pundits who were wrong about the consequences of getting in to this war must be assumed to be wrong about the consequences of getting out.

So, do we go for a shitty exit strategy that runs the cesspool up over the hipboots? Yeah, we do. There's your answer. Let's not wring our hands and pretend that the possible genocide of Kurds matters to us when the Darfur tragedy continues to unravel in small print in the back pages of our newspapers. Nation building and the installation of friendly governments who will give us (read: US-based corporations like Halliburton) control of oil resources is the priority. Terrorism is the enabling force that gives the American public the sense of righteous purpose that allows these invasions, coups and occupations to occur.

(By the way, Iran is going to be as much about oil as nukes, as an Iran without leverage can't get in our way to pipe oil out of the Caspian Sea.)

So am I saying that our war in Iraq is not a righteous battle for the future of free society in the face of Islamic extremism? Damn right I am. Terrorism is a multi-faceted problem, for which there are a variety of solutions - but none of those solutions involves or involved invading and occupying Iraq.

Terrorism is a law-enforcement problem, where we must develop the capabilities to infiltrate and dismantle groups intent on executing attacks before they happen. Terrorism is an education problem, where we must regain credibility as a positive force for the good of humanity with the people in that region of the world, so that the reasonable and moderate Muslims will work with us to push their fringe elements farther and farther out of legitimacy. And terrorism is an economic problem, one in which free markets, trade, and self-determination for all people in that region of the world will help stem the tide of disenfranchised despair.

And yes, sometimes there will be a military solution to terrorism, such as with the Taliban and their inextricable ties to al Qaeda. But it is an economically independent and educated society that trusts the United States that is less likely to breed this dangerous form of discontentment, and it is the Bush administration's historical albatross that they have chosen to ignore these truths in favor of illegitimate warfare.

9:07 AM  
Blogger on_thg said...

Otis:

I'm curious if you might expand on your comment here:

"Without question, I hunt down the organizers of the terrorist groups and I kill them. I kill them in such a way that there is no question that I intended to kill them. I continued to kill them until there are no more to kill."

How do you determine who's a terrorist and who isn't? Osama Bin Laden's one thing. How about the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah or Sinn Fein? Are they different? For that matter, what about Robert Mugabe or al-Bashir of the Sudan? Are they terrorists? What about Qadaffi, who purports to be pretty much reformed?

Do you limit your operations to those who take active measures against the U.S., or do you include those who just hate us but limit their activities to more convenient targets -- like, say, certain Palestinians and Israeli citizens?

How does international law and other nations being sovereign over their own territory affect your strategy? It's one thing to have a war - it's something entirely different to invade, either overtly or covertly, a country that has a legitimate government for the purpose of removing one or more persons, isn't it?. Or were you planning on relying on extradition treaties?

11:35 AM  
Blogger Luckbox said...

You honestly think Mexicans booed Miss America because of Iraq? Sorry, that's projecting.

They booed Miss America because of immigration. Especially the latest immigration policy that may make it harder for them to suck out our American resources.

Mexicans don't care about Iraq.

11:45 AM  
Blogger slb159 said...

Presidents are most stupid during their "lame duck" period (If I rememeber the terminology correctly from my grade school days). Stubborn, arrogant and sometimes, completely insane.

Saw a bumper sticker the other day that had two American flags on it, with the phrase, "I can't wait 'til 2008" in the middle. God bless America.

Cave state? Thought it was the "Show Me State". Never really knew what that meant, or how it orginated, guess there's just a bunch of flashers that live there.

I did find this classic line that I remember:
When Grandpa is told his flag only has 49 stars, he snaps, "It will be a cold day in hell before I recognize Missour-ah!" When Missouri first wanted to enter the Union as a slave state, abolitionists at the time flatly refused to recognize Missouri as a state.
Episode: Father Goose

Gl at the tables

1:32 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

In the spirit of putting this to bed, I'll offer my final thoughts before I return to blogging about my kid and whatever trouble I find in Las Vegas.

Ken: There is no simple answer.

Right, there is no simple answer. And that’s the problem. It’s also what makes these discussions more difficult. I am no paid to analyze foreign policy. In fact, I’m often encouraged to NOT think about it. I would like to think, however, there are people getting paid to figure an answer to the complex problem. Sure, they aren’t going to tell me, but at least they could give us some idea what they are coming up with.

PokerWolf: What sort of reason are you looking for, Otis?

I agree that it is their jobs. They weren’t drafted. It’s still a volunteer army. Further, I agree that they are duty-bound to die if necessary. That duty, however, doesn’t discount the lack of reason. I offer you this off-the-wall hypothetical: If Mrs. President Clinton decided she didn’t like Mississippi because Haley Barbour can be a real bitch, should soldiers answer duty’s call and listen to their commander and go to Jackson, Mississippi to fight a battle? Apart from being unconstitutional, it would be unreasonable. It would lack rationale. Duty is duty, but exploiting that duty simply because it exists cannot be defended by saying, “It’s their job to die, so who needs a reason?”

thg : How do you determine who's a terrorist and who isn't?

I don’t determine anything (see above about me not getting paid to determine this stuff). However, someone days. There need be criteria. That’s the thing: With criteria, we make sure we don’t adopt a “kill’em all” doctrine that encompasses “foreigners.”

thg: Do you limit your operations to those who take active measures against the U.S?

In short, yes. And by active measures, I mean either planned or realized activities. Is that isolationist? Sure. Does that lessen our reputation as defenders of democracy? Maybe. Regardless, we are either the world’s police chief or we aren’t. There is no success in doing it halfway.

thg: It's one thing to have a war - it's something entirely different to invade, either overtly or covertly, a country that has a legitimate government for the purpose of removing one or more persons, isn't it?

Damn straight it is. Oh, and when was the last time we declared war? WWII was the last formal declaration. We don’t have war anymore. We have “police action” or whatever they are calling it these days. We authorize money to send troops to depose or otherwise fight. I would think many, if not most, of the world governments would much prefer we overtly or covertly pick off a few terrorists over coming in with aircraft carriers and F-16s. And if they don’t, what the hell do we care, right? What’s better for the people of those countries? Is it better that we occupy their homeland for half a decade or send in a team of Navy SEALs to bring out Bin Laden? I would suggest the latter.

CJ: You honestly think Mexicans booed Miss America because of Iraq? Sorry, that's projecting

I never said that, so stop it. I said the Mexican booing was an indication of an widespread dislike for America. There’s a lot of different reasons for it. This one was immigration. I later went on to say other people don’t like us because we blew up Iraq. Two thoughts, one post. My bad.


So, that’s it. I’m not a policy wonk or a peacenik. I’m not an activist or even all that active. I’m just a guy who counts himself among the disillusioned and those who are concerned about the future of the country.

So, that’s it. One week of Otis playing in left field. Back to center. Or the dugout.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled silliness.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Random101 said...

Thanks Otis. I meant to say "It is 9/11 or whenever you deem the critical point in time to change decisions.” Me not right so good. Crawling back into my hole now.

7:29 PM  

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