Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Greetings after a sad New Year's

I know I’ve been silent for a while, and some people have asked me if I have “recovered” from the election. Indeed, I put so much energy into communicating during the run-up to it, that I have needed time to get back to the rest of my life. Although I was disappointed with the outcome, communicating with you was very rewarding. It was a good way to feel involved in the debate from afar.

I was in New York shortly after the election. Even though New York is not exactly a bastion of conservatism (au contraire !), I heard a variety of views. One person said the election came down to differing world views: one that is ready to accept the notion that there are limits to what the United States can do (environmentally, politically, militarily, etc.) and one that is unwilling to accept that notion. Another person said he voted for President Bush, because he (the voter) was more of a “nationalist” than an “internationalist”. It also seemed to me that many families split their votes. Meanwhile, some e-mail I received reflected the view that John Kerry’s campaign and the Democratic Party in general were driven by an “East and West Coast elite” whereas supporters of President Bush represented the “real” America. I began to wonder why it was that the Democratic party has seemed unable to forge a broad vision of the future. Moreover, I wondered why “the vision thing” was so important to begin with.

Finally, it seemed to me that there were two categories of people who voted against their economic self-interest in this election. This was nothing new for American politics – my mother used to analyze things this way when I was growing up – but the contrast seemed as stark as ever. Simplifying, the first group was that “elite”, if such a group indeed exists. To the extent these people are wealthy, higher taxes would not benefit them. Nor would more generous social programs. But they seem to think that with them, America as a whole would be better off. The other group was composed of those who have worked hard all their lives, earning a modest, but honest living. These people, it seems, resent the largesse of the social and entitlement programs and want more self-reliance in America. Lower taxes and stricter entitlement programs will not help them either, but they think they will make America overall better off. These are both noble, enlightened views. But I can’t escape the feeling that the second group was hoodwinked by the Bush administration into believing theirs.

The new year comes in the wake – literally – of tragic events halfway round the world, as it did last year after the earthquake in Iran. For the first two days of the crisis, the Bush administration’s response, if any, was inaudible here in Europe. Only after accusations of “stinginess” began to surface, did the president announce his multinational initiative. Regardless of the merit of those accusations, it was a shame the US government’s pledge to help had to come in that context.

When it did come, it was, initially, anything but generous. Senator Leahy said that we spend $35 million every day in Iraq before breakfast. He thought he was being sarcastic. In fact, if we assume that our troops are early risers and eat breakfast at 6am, then Senator Leahy’s estimate means we spend $140 million a day, or $51 billion a year. You be the judge of how close that is to reality.

This is not to say that Americans have not been generous. Americans themselves are as kind and warm-hearted as any people on Earth and have been showing it. Anyone who has visited or lived in America knows that. Yet America is viewed abroad as domineering and selfish, because the American government, which is thought to represent its people, gives the impression of putting America first just a little too often.

Why didn't George Bush show America’s greatness in those first few days? When will this administration understand that that’s what the world wants to see? Instead, after demanding, in no uncertain terms, that all nations stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States after September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration’s response to this natural catastrophe, seemed at the very least, insensitive. We can only hope they get things right in the long run. Colin Powell’s delegation will probably do a good job. Too bad he’s leaving….

On to Iraq, that fully sovereign nation we are helping to set free. This week’s Economist has an article that starts out like this:

THERE is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hand, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: “Back this bitch up, motherfucker!”

Now I don’t take issue with this sergeant’s methods, or even his language, as it is very difficult for people like me, sitting in my living room, to understand how men and women act under high stress. But I do take issue with the methods of the commanders of our armed forces. If this excerpt and the rest of the article, submitted by an embedded journalist, are anything to go by, the US military hasn’t got a clue as to who its enemies are and how to find them. As a person who earns his living in a language field, my first thought was that the severe lack of Arabic speakers mentioned in the article is perhaps the US military’s most serious handicap. By the way, I think it was a similar mix of fear, bewilderment and lack of respect that contributed to the Abu Ghraib scandal. Then, as now, I find it extraordinary that no heads rolled as a result of that one. I’m thinking in particular of the Secretary of Defense.

Click here for the full Economist article.
Let me know if access is limited to subscribers; I’ll send you the full text.

May peace be with you in 2005.



At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My realm has always been visual, but I don’t have time to draw what I think. In any case, I think you have portrayed the Bush supporters well, my family was split, too. Although I don’t know if “hoodwinked” is right, we’ll have to see if the end justified the means. Personally, I was torn on voting, I didn’t think much of Kerry or Bush. Neither were much of a choice.

What saddens me about Bush is the overconfidence in his beliefs, and his unwillingness to take more time to analyze differing viewpoints. I am shocked on a daily basis by what I hear and read our future is to hold. But, I do my part, focus on the little things I can control.

Overall, I have moved beyond the election, hoping time will speed up, and this era of world events will be over before I die.

2005 and beyond? I wish for a public who will strive to understand all issues more fully. My brother who travels to Europe regularly always comes back with stories of how misinformed or ill informed many people are about the facts of IRAQ, IRAN, RUSSIA, CHINA, ISRAEL, PALESTINE, and the list goes on. The same ignorance can be found here in the US. Of course, that opinion reflects his own views, but nevertheless, no one today questions or analyses enough. To me, that is the biggest problem the world has to face.

I wish for a better PRESS. I don’t have faith in the present situation. DRIVEN mostly by ad revenue and craving power, they too are a big part of the problem. It’s standard procedure these days for the press to be feeding off rumor, feeding off poor research, seeming to just be concerned about what sells paper and ink. How many stories were printed that were factually incorrect? When was it that the NEWS became EDITORIAL? That every reporter was bucking to become the next great Anchor, or have influence over people, inserting their own views into reporting? Although the press can only report what it knows, they don’t seem to have a full picture (or at least report it) on any issue. And that has created quite a bit of chaos on the planet. Not to blame the press, but I feel by in large they have done a poor job of upholding their responsibility as humans.

I also wish for good health and happiness for all I know, hope you have a great year. I hope I can make a difference in someone else’s life.

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed reading your thoughts over the last several months but I
now feel compelled to respond to your remarks about the US relief
efforts after the Tsunami. I am far from an apologist for this
administration, however, the often repeated criticism in the media that
the US has been slow to respond is simplistic. The extent of this
disaster was not clear in first hours or even in the 1st day. As the
horrible magnitude of this catastrophe has been revealed the US has
steadily increased our commitment. Unlike most European nations, the
response of the US has not been limited to merely pledging funds. The US
has deployed two carrier battle groups with their attendant enormous
logistic support capabilities. A large amount the disaster relief
effort is being accomplished via the helicopter capabilities from the
carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The US is the only nation capable of
projecting such a large amount of immediate physical humanitarian
relief. If you are only measuring commitment by dollars, be fair and
calculate (like you have done for the cost of the Iraq war) the daily
cost of operating 2 carrier battle groups comprised of dozens of ships
and many thousands of personnel. Oh and by the way, how about the
hundreds of million of dollars being donated by ordinary Americans, not
just to this crisis, but every time there is a need. You write about
America with the voice of someone who no longer remembers (or sees) the
great essence of this country. I'm sorry to see that.

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The three day tsunami of silence -- I mean the one from Bush in Texas -- is yet another of those mind-bending events we have come to expect and will without fail continue to happen until January 20, 2009 exactly at noon. At least he wasn't playing golf & refusing to speak to reporters. The right-wing media (I don't suppose you get Fox "news" on cable?) has decided that the best defense to this is to scream and yell that the Chinese are so stingy! Now that's a comparison that makes me feel better. The good news is that they have been shamed and are now seriously on the case.

Disclaimer: Do not interpret the above paragraph as implied support for whatever Mr. Chirac thinks he's up to. Has there been a worse leader for France in the international community since the war (and I don't mean the Iraq war)? Bush and Chirac are almost made for each other, happy in their parallel universes of unilateral greatness.


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