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Setting a Good Example, February 24th, 2002 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: February 24th, 2002
"Setting a Good Example" [permalink]
    keywords: foreign policy, Iraq, government, military, U.S. Army, United States, George W. Bush, Axis of Evil
    soapbox #: 334
    written: February 22nd, 2002
    words: 2531

"Setting a Good Example", an Essay

President Bush's "axis of evil" comment threw a lot of people for a loop. Respected politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Carter as well as other governments like those accused (Iran, North Korea, et al) and even England have all voiced their discontent with Bush's words.

And since the much talked about 9/11 which has people flapping their mouthes (just like I am right now, I admit), people have taken Bush's words, which pretty much sound like what you would expect from a good ol' boy from Texas, and used them to justify their own actions.

So Bush is from Texas, where the stereotype goes that them good folk don't like messin' and wrasslin' 'round with words and all that other hootenanny, and prefer to just let people know exactly how they feel with a show of bravado and force. And Bush, who was criticized going into his presidency for having no international experience, hasn't given people around the world much reason to think differently.

I don't agree with a lot of the criticism the international community has hurled Bush's way, but I do think they have valid points in some areas. So I'll try to be careful about what they say and what I think.

Bush's popularity rating is the highest ever for a president, or at least it was, and it's maintained its strength since the terrorist attacks. The media whores whose jobs it is are to craft their opinions based on what the people will identify with most have been trumpeting Bush as a president who picked up the job quickly like a duck to water and learned how to strategically and deftly handle things like international relations, especially in light of one of the worst attacks ever in US history.

But I've always felt that he did what any president who sought public approval would do in a situation like this. He'd throw a lot of money at the military (which Bush has done in one of the largest military fundings ever, if I recall correctly), give lots of speeches in front of military crowds and blue-collar workers, and actively go after the countries that the US has long wanted to pursue. I can't see how another president would do things much differently. Even a Democrat president would feel a need to keep confidence at home and increase security to some degree.

Really the only thing that's struck me as odd about the man is that when he was running for president and in his first days of the presidency, he made a lot of noise about how the recession would continue and that our economy would be in bad shape for a while. This was puzzling. Presidents don't say things like that. I figured perhaps he was trying to blame it on Clinton so that he could come into office with everyone clear it wasn't his fault. But perhaps what's closer to the truth is that he is a better businessman than he is a politician. Not that he was a great Texas Rangers owner or anything, but it seems by most accounts (although without a conclusive investigation so far) that he was smart enough to stay out of the Enron mess even though he was active in that area. The White House has so far kept itself away from that mess even though it certainly has lots of ties to Enron.

And I don't really trust businessmen as politicians, although overall it seems the public does. Bloomberg was elected in NYC, of course. I think people trust businessmen a little more right now than politicians because of a general antipathy towards government that's been brewing since Nixon, and with the longest bull market in history, there's a sentiment that business is somehow more successful, honest, and constructive, as well as moral. (huh?) You'd think the stock market bust and the Enron debacle would make people think twice about that, but...

I'm mainly of the belief that domestic business runs on its own, for the most part. And so does the culture in the US. And that the President really has little control over them unless he actively exerts his authority in them. The federal system allows for plenty of different levels of government to run things domestically. What I've long felt was important in a president in our day and age was how he handled international affairs. So when it was clear that Bush would become president (although the election was a lot closer than anyone thought) before election day, I was a bit concerned.

The world is gradually, with fits and starts, evolving into one large global community that will work together to achieve greater goals, like getting off this damn rock and saving ourselves from our own short-sighted abuses of technology and whatnot. That is, people who are fighting globalism are fighting a losing battle to inevitability. When our pursuits turn to the stars or to things other than whether the neighborhood next door is going to invade, we'll find that cooperating and pooling resources is not only the smart thing to do, but really the only thing to do.

The US is currently the most powerful country in the world and will probably remain that way for a long time. Contrary to the Roman Empire, it has a secure geographical location with only two neighbors who have almost always been very close friends. Unlike the Romans, America enjoys a wealth of resources, minerals, farmland, and living space in its diverse homeland. While you can have countries like Japan that may spring up out of nowhere, they really have no natural ability to remain in the game very long. They have to compensate in other ways. It's not impossible, as many countries have proven, but it's not really fair. I think Europe knows this since it's trying to mobilize a European Union.

Anyway, Bush has been, in the year he's been in office, alienating not only his enemies but also his allies to some degree. And maybe I'm a little paranoid because I'm reading Tom Clancy's "Debt of Honor" right now, but I think it's always important to stress diplomacy even among your tightest friends.

The sentiment seems to be that the US, which can't really be challenged by anyone except its own continual fear of China, will threaten and change the rules without consulting its peers first. One problem is that countries that thought they were friends of the US can be insulted when the US does not wish to confer with them about how to deal with a problem. This does little to foster trust. And seeing how people were shocked by Bush's "axis of evil" speech, it doesn't sound to me like Bush sat around with a bunch of his government peers and sought a consensus on such a strong opinion.

Bush's words about condemning whole countries as places of evil seem counterproductive to any attempts at diplomacy in those areas or, for that matter, getting other countries to help deal with those problem countries. If Bush seeks to make terrorism inert and powerless, then I would think it would be better if he actively sought cooperation and open discussion among the United Nations and even the countries not in the UN. Sure, the US is the big bully and no one will mess with him, but what you get is a passive-aggressive stance out of other countries, who altogether refuse to help the US with its own (selfish, as other countries see it) problems. The sharing of information among all the countries will have the effect of turning on the light in a kitchen full of cockroaches. It will promote generosity, trust, and initiative.

But it seems that Bush does not value cooperation much at all. I get the feeling that he does not trust anyone else to take care of the problems. In some past situations, this has shown to be true. But still, Bush's "war" on terrorism only extends as far as he can deploy his military, if he seeks to sever active ties with other governments.

There is a good argument that says Bush SHOULD be treating the "axis of evil" in such harsh words. Brute force name-calling. Discredit the opponent's views as being pure horse shit. But in a world that's skeptical of the US to begin with, and in regions like the Middle East where it's easier to identify with an extremist Islan than a globalist secular America, this can backfire and turn even more moderate groups against Bush.

This is where setting a good example is so important. Obviously the US has to step up as a leader. No one else wants the role, even if they criticize the US so much whenever it attempts to take initiative. The British, known for being better diplomats than outright war makers, tend to try their best to set a good example but are limited by resources. So it's the US that has to try to work things out with problematic areas of the world. It's the US that has to put forth a reasonable and equitable diplomatic effort. This not only has the effect of defusing attempts to point out the US's hypocrisy, two-facedness, and self-interest, but also has another bonus.

It stops other countries from using the same rhetoric for their own goals. And this is one thing that has really bothered me. I see Sharon in Israel using Bush's exact words about going after terrorists. He justifies warring with the Palestinians by saying that they are terrorists all the way up to their head political members. Where Bush says the US is at "war" with people who may or may not be Taliban and in Afghanistan, Sharon says he is at "war" with people who may or may not be anti-Israeli terrorists lurking in the West Bank. I see officials in the Philippines and other countries in that area cracking down on political dissidents using the same excuse. Really it doesn't apply so much there, but Bush opened the doors and they will gladly use it to go after people they don't like.

When Bush comes up with excuses to skirt the law, so will other countries who then have an excuse to fall back on as well.

Shit, look at the Olympics. Already sullied because of the whole fiasco about bribery to get the games hosted in Salt Lake City, then there was the French judge being accused of throwing the ice dancing so that the Russians would win. She said her country's committee leaned on her, and there were witnesses later to her breaking down and confessing. (of course, as of the latest news, she recanted on any admission of guilt) Later the US's endorsement-clad speed skater Ohno would be awarded the gold after some other guy was DQ'd. So the Russians saw this and saw their results in things like their being caught doping, their losing to some 16-year-old Kerri Strug lookalike from NYC, and cried foul. Hell, the judges were already found to be cheating in one event, so why not all? Everyone's complaining about thrown votes and whatnot now. It's ridiculous. And people think the US looks suspicious because not only are the games being held under bribery and overpatriotism (new word!), but the US has also won the most medals it ever has at the Winter Olympics and it's winning in things it hasn't won medals in for a long time. Once again you take one concession and the whole veneer of trust and honesty breaks down.

It's an oft-quoted maxim that with freedom comes responsibility. In the US's case, that involves setting a flawless example for other countries to find strength and accountability in, and to lose excuses for doing less-than-civil things. And I don't think Bush is understanding of this. He seems to be taking a popular, but brutish strategy of exerting aggression towards those who are deemed unfavorable to the US, finding little disagreement from a large group of Americans who care little for regions that always seem to be in conflict. And damn all those who don't step in line with the US. You're either with us or without us, he seems to say.

Many feel that this shows that Bush has no grand strategy for policing against terrorism but is instead reacting in a simple, narrow-minded way. That has yet to be proven, but seeing as how Bush doesn't have much support or evidence to go into any countries, and has not captured Bin Laden, he'll have a lot of trouble expanding on his stated goals without others' help.

Again, it's not that I agree with all the protesting parties. But definitely it's worth being sympathetic and cooperative with other people, particularly in a problem that's been partly caused by a view that the US doesn't care about them and only seeks to use them. Eliminating any evidence or possible inference of that kind of blatant ignorance is a good step towards stopping terrorism.

Just my opinion. For what it's worth, I do think that some countries like Iraq know that the US can be bogged down by diplomacy with its allies in dealing with military action, so it is necessary to show that the US WILL take things into its own hands if an openly hostile and threatening country taunts it, but then again, condemning whole countries as being evil does nothing but halt any diplomatic efforts and even destroy past attempts at peace and reform.

I don't envy Bush. It's a difficult situation for him to be in. And I'm in little place to criticize him. But that is my opinion based on what I know, and I'm very open-minded towards being informed of any errors in my thinking, any pieces of info that I didn't know about, or any future changes that may validate or invalidate Bush's policies.

I say that out of some exhaustion with dealing with ranting fools who will never do anything productive to help fix the problems they constantly whine about; I'm trying to be more constructive, as well as receptive. =P This takes the end of the Soapbox way off topic, but I think what started as rants to let off steam turned into rants to show off, which are, I hope, turning into anticipation and vision into what the future will bring, and how to shape it and bring vigor and life to it once it does arrive. Studying what the possible consequences and unexpected benefits might be...knowing what to expect ahead of time. Being an investor, an entrepreneur, a contributing member of society?

Yeah, I hope that's where I am heading.


 
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