Thursday, December 15, 2005

What We Take For Granted 

As long as I'm wallowing in shameless triumphalism, CardinalPark prompted me to look for this OpEd, which I thought confined to the subscription-only section of the WSJ:

...living in China also shows you what a nondemocratic country can do to its citizens. I've seen protesters tackled and beaten by plainclothes police in Tiananmen Square, and I've been videotaped by government agents while I was talking to a source. I've been arrested and forced to flush my notes down a toilet to keep the police from getting them, and I've been punched in the face in a Beijing Starbucks by a government goon who was trying to keep me from investigating a Chinese company's sale of nuclear fuel to other countries.

When you live abroad long enough, you come to understand that governments that behave this way are not the exception, but the rule. They feel alien to us, but from the viewpoint of the world's population, we are the aliens, not them. That makes you think about protecting your country no matter who you are or what you're doing. What impresses you most, when you don't have them day to day, are the institutions that distinguish the U.S.: the separation of powers, a free press, the right to vote, and a culture that values civic duty and service, to name but a few...

But why the Marines?

A year ago, I was at my sister's house using her husband's laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let's just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn't. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.

Read the whole thing, if you can, for two reasons. First, I thought it an excellent piece on what prompts young men to join the Marines. I have known my husband since I was seventeen and can testify that he was galvanized, in large part, by the hostage crisis in Tehran. I hear a lot of talk about how we're "imposing" democracy on the Iraqis.

Rubbish. Condoleeza Rice said it best last Sunday in a remarkable essay. In the years since September 11th I have heard more than enough about "Why they hate us". I don't hear nearly enough about "Why we should resist them" - what we believe in. Have we become ashamed of our values? Are they no longer worth the candle?

The "freedom deficit" in the broader Middle East provides fertile ground for the growth of an ideology of hatred so vicious and virulent that it leads people to strap suicide bombs to their bodies and fly airplanes into buildings. When the citizens of this region cannot advance their interests and redress their grievances through an open political process, they retreat hopelessly into the shadows to be preyed upon by evil men with violent designs. In these societies, it is illusory to encourage economic reform by itself and hope that the freedom deficit will work itself out over time.

Though the broader Middle East has no history of democracy, this is not an excuse for doing nothing. If every action required a precedent, there would be no firsts. We are confident that democracy will succeed in this region not simply because we have faith in our principles but because the basic human longing for liberty and democratic rights has transformed our world. Dogmatic cynics and cultural determinists were once certain that "Asian values," or Latin culture, or Slavic despotism, or African tribalism would each render democracy impossible. But they were wrong, and our statecraft must now be guided by the undeniable truth that democracy is the only assurance of lasting peace and security between states, because it is the only guarantee of freedom and justice within states.

Implicit within the goals of our statecraft are the limits of our power and the reasons for our humility. Unlike tyranny, democracy by its very nature is never imposed. Citizens of conviction must choose it -- and not just in one election. The work of democracy is a daily process to build the institutions of democracy: the rule of law, an independent judiciary, free media and property rights, among others. The United States cannot manufacture these outcomes, but we can and must create opportunities for individuals to assume ownership of their own lives and nations. Our power gains its greatest legitimacy when we support the natural right of all people, even those who disagree with us, to govern themselves in liberty.

Yes, yes, and again, a resounding yes. This is the answer to those who say, "But what if the Iraqis 'misuse' democracy?". That is the nature of freedom. We cannot control what use they will make of it, but that is the glorious nature of the power they will, for the first time in decades, possess: the freedom to choose their own destiny. That is why we are not "imposing" democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that is why the "insurgents" fight so hard against us: because they, too realize they cannot control the outcome, and so they seek to gain through fear and intimidation what they cannot win at the ballot box. That is why they want us to leave. One wonders why Representative Murtha is so eager to accede to their demands?

Shortly before our own Independence Day, I wrote about democracy: the glorious dream. Do we still believe in it?

We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.

On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military - brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas - believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.

What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?

We take so many things for granted. I hope the blessings of liberty will never be among them. And I trust we will never forget that those blessings did not come without great cost. A tremendous price was paid for the freedom we take as our birthright today, by the kind of men who, at 31, find themselves giving up a comfortable life and joining the Marine Corps to defend uniquely American values. America is hardly a perfect vessel: no institution composed of men and women with human failings can ever be. But what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq and Afghanistan is truly majestic in its scale, and it is worth a few tears. We are trying to bring the blessings of freedom to a people who have never known them before. And this woman, for one, gets it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, though it sounds a bit corny: a fire has been lit in the hearts of men. May it ever be so.


By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Thu Dec 15, 04:55:00 PM:

Musically said.

VE Day was proclaimed long before Germany, and the rest of Europe, was rebuilt. VJ Day was declared days after we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We have already achieved a military victory in Iraq. We helped them launch the revolution against tyranny which they themselves tried to launch in 1991 and, tragically, failed. We have now protected the people of Iraq sufficiently to help them launch their own democracy. What they choose to do with it is their business.

God bless them and those Americans and coalition partners who helped them.

It would be nice if others would support and assist as well. They need all the support they can get.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Dec 15, 05:35:00 PM:

This is a tad off-topic, but I really liked this paragraph from the linked op-ed piece:

"I made a quick trip back to New York in April to take a preliminary physical fitness test with the recruitment officer at the USS Intrepid. By then I could do 13 pull-ups, all my crunches, and a three-mile run along the West Side Highway in a little under 21 minutes, all in all a mediocre performance that was barely passable. When I was done, the officer told me to wipe the foam off my mouth, but I did him one better and puked all over the tarmac. He liked that a lot. That's when we both knew I was going for it."

As we say in blogland, 'heh.'  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Dec 15, 07:17:00 PM:

I liked that too.

I was never much into physical fitness in high school. I was a gymnast, so I was in very good shape, but I didn't play team sports.

As a child I played neighborhood football with the boys but that's about it.

Strangely enough I met the Spousal Unit because in high school my doctor had told me I should start running to help my asthma. I was mouthing off in the Senior Room about how boring my neighborhood was (there was no one to run with on our Naval Base and the sailors used to bother me if I was alone) and said Unit, who lived two doors down from me took up the gauntlet. So I was trapped. I think I jogged with him briefly until we started dating, at which point we both went off to college, honor had been served, and I hastily abandoned the distasteful activity.

When I was about 23 or 24, I decided again for some odd reason to start running - probably because I was done having children. The spousal unit, who has been accused by his Marines of taking them out and running their butts off, promptly took me out in the Camp Lejeune heat at noon in the summer and ... well, ran my butt off.

The funny thing was that I managed the first time out to hit the minimum time and distance for the guys PFT (told you he ran my butt off). So I never had a whole lot of sympathy for the different running standards for women on the PFT after that.

But I almost threw up, too. It was only pride (and a great deal of stubborness) that got me through that run.

I was walking funny for two days afterwards :)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Dec 15, 09:52:00 PM:

"Shortly before our own Independence Day, I wrote about democracy: the glorious dream. Do we still believe in it?"

It's not democracy per se that we believe in but the principles of freedom that normally accompany it and we must believe in it and endlessly strive to maintain it because the alternative is slavery and death.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Dec 16, 04:38:00 AM:

I might have to quibble with you a bit on that one.

If you think about what you just said, a democracy is the only form of government I can think of where power will remain in the hands of the people (because they choose their own leaders and laws). So if you believe in freedom, you must of necessity also believe in democracy as the best guarantor of your freedoms, even if it is imperfect.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Dec 16, 04:39:00 AM:

I should perhaps have said, a democratic republic.  

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