Carol Platt Liebau: Answer: We Are Americans

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Answer: We Are Americans

Check out this piece. The title says it all: "Who Are Americans to Think that Freedom is Theirs to Spread?"

Short answer: We are Americans. We are the people who -- more than any other on earth -- have sacrificed our blood and our treasure to ensure that forces of evil are defeated, and that people all across the world can live in freedom. We are the heirs to a country that was founded on the religious principles that would pave the way for the freest, bravest, best society on earth.

Are we perfect? No. Have we always come down on the side of democracy? No -- especially during the Cold War, when we judged (correctly, I believe) that it was more important to stop the forward momentum of the evil of Communism (a particularly virulent, godless form of totalitarianism) than risk instability in countries whose admittedly sub-par, dictatorial rulers were, at least, American allies in the "main event."

But what this author seems to overlook is the importance of American idealism. For the fact that we hold certain ideals, rather than lapsing into the cynicism that characterizes so much of Western Europe (and American lefties) is what sets us apart. The author clearly doesn't get it:

And then there are the prisoners, the hooded man with the wires hanging from his body, the universal icon of the gap between the ideals of American freedom and the sordid -- and criminal -- realities of American detention and interrogation practice. The fetid example of these abuses makes American talk of democracy sound hollow.

As long as human beings are fallible, there will always be gaps between our ideals and the actions of some. But, as Donald Rumsfeld pointed out on every Sunday show, those who have been found to have violated the rules governing the detention have been punished. To say that the existence of unauthorized abuses turns "American talk of democracy" into a sham is childish -- and shows a certain absence of the nuanced thinking that liberals seem to prize so highly.

This piece is interesting because throughout it registers the ambilvalence and uncertainty about America's historical role and, indeed, its greatness that reflects so much current day liberal thought. The author concludes with this paragraph:

Even those who have opposed the Iraq war all along, who believe that the hope of planting democracy has lured America into a criminal folly, do not want to tell those who have died that they have given their lives for nothing. This is where Jefferson's dream must work. Its ultimate task in American life is to redeem loss, to rescue sacrifice from oblivion and futility and to give it shining purpose. The real truth about Iraq is that we just don't know -- yet -- whether the dream will do its work this time.

He's wrong. There are those who are eager to tell Americans that Iraq is a "quagmire" and resembles nothing so much as Vietnam -- the one war where Americans' sacrifices were for naught. Ted Kennedy's remarks on the floor of the Senate last week (check out Radio Blogger from 6/23) are a prime example.

And the point is that the sacrifices were for naught NOT because the United States could be defeated militarily -- it's because those who (like Kennedy, and to some extent, the author) were ambivalent about, or hostile to, America's traditional role as liberators and defenders of freedom got the upper hand. It's because people like John Kerry -- who see nothing exceptionally wonderful about America -- succeeded in convincing the American people that there was nothing worth fighting for, and that America really wasn't that special anyway. When everyone talks about how Ronald Reagan "gave America its confidence back" -- well, what they mean is that he reminded the America people that, in contrast to what the Kerrys and Kennedys said, we were unique, and God-blessed, and given a special role to play in the world.

Jefferson's dream of liberty has always worked, as long as Americans and their leaders were resolute enough to soldier through "the times that try men's souls." We are now in such a time . . . but we can succeed if the voices of the defeatists are not allowed to drown out the steady drumbeat of progress and of hope.


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