Iraq was about all we talked about at work today, before the grisly incident of today became public. Actually I should say other people talked. I didn’t do much but listen.
This is about all I have to say.Last time around, I wouldn’t say we were above reproach, but there was something very different. Last time around we were liberators. George Bush went on the air and told the Iraqis we treated their prisoners with kindness. We stood in stark contrast to Saddam Hussein. We got in, did our work, then got out. We fought more like Israel than like the United States of the late 20th century.
Whether we were justified in going back in and going after Hussein isn’t an argument I want to broach. Someone asked me several months before we did it what I thought. I said I knew we were going to have this war. It was just a question of when, and how long.
It’s been a lot longer than the last go-round.
The stories of brutality to prisoners ignited controversy. Who’s responsible? Was it justifiable? As I listened to people arguing about it, I tried to place myself in the role of a soldier guarding these prisoners. Let’s say a superior told me to do something to them. If I’m the one doing the smacking around, it doesn’t matter if I was just following orders. The guys in the Nazi death camps were just following orders too. They have a conscience. They’re guilty.
But the Nazis worked in fear of retribution, you say.
Do you think our soldiers had no fear of retribution if they didn’t carry out orders? Doing the right thing might not get you killed on the spot in the U.S. military, but do you think it might keep you from getting promoted? Do you think you might be the one picked to go into harm’s way? There’s still plenty of room for retribution in today’s U.S. military.
Harry Truman had a sign on his desk. It read, "The buck stops here."
Today it’s not very clear where the buck stops. It’s pretty clear who those Islamic militants blame. All of us.
So what’s the right thing to do now?
Part of me wants to go back to George Washington. Washington warned against getting too tangled up in international affairs. World Wars I and II were different–we were dragged into those. Kicking and screaming all the way, in the case of World War I. We haven’t fought many good wars since those.
Part of me says it’s a different world today, and it’s not realistic to be the world’s only superpower and ignore international affairs.
Part of me asks what I would do if I were Donald Rumsfield or George W. Bush.
Well, I’m a Promise Keeper. One of the Promise Keepers’ mantras is that the man is responsible for what happens in his house. Even if someone else in the household does it, the man had something to do with it, so he has to bear some of the responsibility. That same attitude goes into the workplace, and any position of authority.
Frankly it keeps you honest.
If I were Secretary of Defense, I think I would have to step down. Not because I want to, and not necessarily because people were calling for me to. The reason? To send a message.
So, what of these militants who did this despicable and, frankly, disgusting act?
Some will call for a war on Islam. That’s not the way to show what freedom is all about. If I may go back to my childhood for a minute, when I was growing up, I was always told I was representing more than just myself. I was representing the orgainization I belonged to–be it the Boy Scouts, or the school I went to. So I needed to show people what those things were all about, through my actions. I didn’t always do it perfectly, and I still don’t. But I can honestly say that I did at least try.
Through our actions in the Middle East, we need to be showing these people what Freedom–yes, capital "f"–is all about.
We sure did a better job of that in 1991 than we’re doing now. Sometimes I wonder if we’re trying.
So what if we change our ways? Will we win them over? Not tomorrow we won’t. Freedom isn’t free. In this case, it’s starting to get really expensive. But I think it might have been cheaper if we’d done it right from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong: Either way, it would have been a long and painful process. But maybe it would have taken one century instead of twelve.
We got our man. We got his obvious successors. We didn’t find what we were looking for. We accomplished some worthwhile things, but we kind of look bad too.
I think we have to decide whether we are willing to pay the escalating cost, or go back to George Washington.