We Can’t Have it Both Ways

I’ve been noticing over the past few years that American society is not only fickle, but impossible to please. It seems that the majority of those living in my country (legally or illegally) amount to little more than a mob with a short fuse and an even lower IQ. It’s very frustrating to me, particularly when someone tries to shout me down after begging me to debate an issue with them, be it the war, 9/11 conspiracy theories, religion, immigration–you name it.

It all leads to one problem: we subconsciously wish we could have everything both ways.

We can’t, yet that’s exactly what we want. During Clinton’s presidency, we were attacked multiple times by radical Muslims bent on destroying America. Each time, Clinton tucked tail and ran, apologizing as he went. And each time he did that, the attacks became more brazen, leading up to the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. But the big finale would come on 9/11, when 19 murderers carried out plans they’d been making for years and managed to do more damage and cause more carnage than all of their predecessors combined.

After it happened, everyone bitched about the government’s lack of response. Where was that anger when we were attacked in Mogadishu? Or when the Khobar Towers were bombed? Or when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were all but vaporized? Or when the Cole was attacked? Nobody demanded to know why Bill Clinton hadn’t done anything to stop those attacks. Clinton had plenty of opportunity, but he never took it, and he left every possible door open for 9/11 to happen (yes, folks, it took years for a plan like that to come together the way it did, and I promise Clinton had a hand in ignoring the warning signs). Did Dubya have a chance to stop 9/11? Maybe. But if he had done something to stop it before it happened, we would’ve had another problem.

Any time we do act preemptively in an attempt to protect ourselves from a pending attack, people decry the move as premature and tragic. They complain (quite loudly) that there wasn’t enough evidence for us to take such action. Iraq is the perfect example. Plenty of mistakes have been made. The war wasn’t planned properly and our rules of engagement are atrocious (requiring our soldiers to see the sniper that’s picking them off before firing is a prime example of how ridiculous it is). I think we should’ve taken out Bin Laden before taking on a bigger responsibility in Iraq. Be that as it may, we’re there, and it was going to happen whether we liked it or not. If we hadn’t taken Saddam out, he might’ve formed an alliance with Iran that would eventually have spelled disaster for America.

In acting preemptively, we have stopped an active threat against us before that threat could become even more real. We know Saddam had weapons of mass destruction; he used mustard gas and sarin in bombs he used on Iranians and Kurds. If he had those weapons, you know he had others, and pictures like this tell us stories that thousands still refuse to believe:

foxbat

Those are US troops digging a MiG-25 Foxbat, an advanced fighter plane, out of the Iraqi sand. Saddam was allowed to have fighter jets, but had limited flying ability and wasn’t supposed to have them fitted to carry ordinance (weapons). Three of these practically brand-new Russian-made planes were found, all fitted to carry the weapons Saddam wasn’t allowed to have; more than 50 planes total were hidden near al-Taqqadum airfield. We know there were mass movements toward Syria in the days before we invaded. What else was he hiding?

The fact is that we’re never satisfied. If we don’t act to stop a major atrocity, we didn’t do enough; if we do act and disaster is averted, we acted too quickly and should be ashamed of ourselves. We can’t live this way.

It’s the same way with everything in our culture. We’re expressly forbidden from watching a potentially violent person without mountains of evidence. But when that person does snap and kills thirty people, such as in the Virginia Tech massacre, everyone cries foul that more should have been done–he should have been forced to get help, he should have been stripped of his civil liberty to buy firearms, blah, blah, blah. I’m not trying to make light of any issue, but we’re shooting ourselves in both proverbial feet by acting this way.

WWI was fought over a few issues, but was started by the Serbia assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (yes, the band got it’s name somewhere). Americans were adamant that it wasn’t our fight, but it was the arms race that ultimately led Germany to start taking out her neighbors and eventually leading American leaders to decide that we had to help our allies. The anti-war marches then would put the marches against the Iraq war to shame. But we barely spent a year in that war before it ended, and some argue that it was the US involvement that turned the tide. We lost a lot of our soldiers in WWI and were in no hurry at all to fight again.

Hitler’s popularity was largely based on his insistence that Germany regain her dignity after being crushed so decisively during the first great war. The Allies so demeaned Germany in the terms of surrender that the German people were very bitter and quite embarrassed. Hitler, signing alliances with Italy’s Mussolini and Japan’s Tojo, began by slowly wearing away at his European neighbors–taking back the Rhineland, then the Sudetenland and later the rest of Czechoslovakia. Everyone was so busy trying to appease the bad guys and refusing to believe there was any evidence of hostility that they were blind to what was possible and what later happened.

Even now, we look back on WWII, the holocaust, and the other atrocities (like the rape of Nanking) and wonder why we didn’t get involved sooner. We all know why: if we had stopped Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo in their tracks, we would have later complained that we didn’t have enough evidence to make our actions right.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t refuse to act because we don’t want to fight or take a risk and later complain that we didn’t do enough. History is littered with such indecision, and it has been the death of many a civilization. It will, one day, be our undoing.

You know why? We’ll never learn. We’re too proud to do that.

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12 thoughts on “We Can’t Have it Both Ways

  1. This was a very thoughtful post. It’s kind of a shame that I have to disagree with this level of eloquence. It would appear, Mel, that you may now count yourself as part of the “I want it both ways” crowd. It seems that there is still a rationale for the “Bush Doctrine”. But laws are meant to protect all parties involved, not just those who are angry or suspicious. If I kill my neighbor because I suspect he may harm me first, I’m a murderer. If the president of the United States does it, he’s somehow a hero who was trying to avert tragedy. Suspicion alone is never grounds for violence, especially on a massive scale like war.

    Every bit of available intelligence (our own included) said that Iraq posed no threat. You choose to believe otherwise. The president decided it was better to rely on cherry picked information from a defector. He thought it would be convincing to send Gen. Powell to the UN with vials of powder and cartoons of mass destruction. He intended to inject fear into the public discourse by conjuring up images of mushroom clouds. None of the pre war claims of the Bush administration have ever been substantiated, the theory of Syrian involvement included. So while I get the scenario you pose, and the dilemma involved, the fact of the matter is, every man, woman and child better know damn well, beyond a shadow of a doubt, why their country is going to war. Unfortunately, we never got that from the last administration…

  2. Mel, I agree we can’t have it both ways. So for me the question that comes up is which way should we have it?

    Should we act preemptively and risk being wrong?

    Should we act after the fact knowing we will most always be right but at the cost of human lives and great suffering from an attack?

  3. “If I kill my neighbor because I suspect he may harm me first, I’m a murderer. If the president of the United States does it, he’s somehow a hero who was trying to avert tragedy. Suspicion alone is never grounds for violence, especially on a massive scale like war. ”

    You accuse me of bad analogies? If you suspect your neighbor is going to harm you then you have options other than violence. You can move. You can go into seclusion.

    A nation can’t move itself away from a threat, real or imagined. A nation can’t go into seclusion. If it could then Kosovo would have hid from Serbia in a heartbeat.

    There is a huge difference between acting on suspicion (e.g. no real proof) and acting on information that a reasonable person would accept.

    If you kill your neighbor because of a “gut feeling” then you are a murderer. But if I see your neighbor approaching your home with a loaded rifle and I call you on the phone and tell you that, then you still don’t know for certain what you neighbor has planned. But you’ve got more than suspicion to go on. A reasonable person could conclude your neighbor intends to do you harm.

  4. Being human, John, I don’t think we’ll ever know which way we should go.

    Robert, I do see your concern, and it is certainly valid. And while I agree that Saddam may have been trying to hide the fact that he didn’t have nukes in a twisted act of posturing against Iran, that doesn’t excuse it; he was trying to build them, and eventually he would’ve had them.

  5. “Being human, John, I don’t think we’ll ever know which way we should go. ”

    I agree. I don’t think this government acts on gut calls and suspicion. Saddam Hussein sure acted like he had WMD’s. His actions crossed the line of gut call to bona fide reasonableness that something is not right. If he truly did not have WMD’s and no intention to build or acquire them, then there were means to secretly disclose and communicate such information without any of his enemies finding out.

  6. “You accuse me of bad analogies?”

    Oh yeah, you’re terrible at them.

    “If you suspect your neighbor is going to harm you then you have options other than violence.”

    Oh, we have a winner, folks! Now why weren’t you in the president’s cabinet in 2003?

    “If you kill your neighbor because of a “gut feeling” then you are a murderer. But if I see your neighbor approaching your home with a loaded rifle and I call you on the phone and tell you that, then you still don’t know for certain what you neighbor has planned. But you’ve got more than suspicion to go on. A reasonable person could conclude your neighbor intends to do you harm.”

    That would make more sense if you said “imaginary rifle”, because that’s what it was. All made up…

  7. “That would make more sense if you said “imaginary rifle”, because that’s what it was. All made up…”

    I believe based on your other posts you are too emotionally invoved in this Iraq thing because you were there. Such closeness troubles you and perhaps brings up experiences you’d rather let lay.

    We can discuss this matter Mel brought up without bringing Iraq into it. The issue is how to react to threats and attacks to our nation. As much as you would like to time warp back and make Iraq something that never happened, you can’t do that. The sooner you accept that the better off you will be.

    You may think I’ve live and have lived a happy go lucky pampered life filled with nothing major on the downside. I so wish that were the case but that is not the case.

    I’ve had my haul of very serious and bad ass days. I can’t change those days. They happened, they happened to me and there is no erasing them. I cope with such things by accepting those days are part of who I am. I surround myself with people who are loving and supportive. That works for my situation.

  8. “I believe based on your other posts you are too emotionally invoved [sic] in this Iraq thing because you were there.”

    Apparently, conveying sarcasm over a computer screen is harder than I thought. I’ve never been to Iraq, John. I would much rather have been thrown in prison than fight an illegal war that was based on lies.

    “We can discuss this matter Mel brought up without bringing Iraq into it”

    We can? One of the major points of the post was the rationale for invading Iraq.

    “The issue is how to react to threats and attacks to our nation”

    Okay, and that’s why I said that laws were meant to protect all parties involved. A rational reaction to a perceived threat is to explore all options available and pursue a diplomatic solution. Would you agree with that?

  9. “Okay, and that’s why I said that laws were meant to protect all parties involved. A rational reaction to a perceived threat is to explore all options available and pursue a diplomatic solution. Would you agree with that?”

    I agree with that when one nation threatens another or is perceived to be a threat. This is why we have diplomats, embassies and such.

    Terrorist groups are not nations. There is no framework for dealing with such groups. Sadly it is terrorist groups that need to be dealt with. Just when and how is the issue.

  10. “I just happen to like fish in most circumstances.”

    I am so gay I don’t like Tartar sauce.

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