Tonight is the third republican debate, and we can be sure that for those of us who have the stomach to watch, there will be many new treats about doubling the size of Gitmo (thx, Mitt), how terrorists are all around us and we better take it seriously or the Democrats will let them kill us (thx, Rudy), how we need to bomb more countries (thx, McCain) and how illegal immigrants should be shot on sight or that we should threaten to bomb Mecca (thx, Tancredo).
On Monday night, we were treated to call after call for blood and killings by Wolf Blitzer at the second Democratic debate. And over the past few days, we have been treated to non stop coverage of another “busted terror plot” that was yet another example of “aspirations but no means whatsoever”. Granted, plots are plots and people that want to cause harm need to be dealt with accordingly (as the law enforcement and legal system historically has provided for). However, one thing is perfectly clear from this culture of “all fear all the time”.
Until someone – a real decisive and true bold leader – steps up and leads this country out of an “all fear all the time” mindset, this country will never move forward and regain its’ place as someone to be taken seriously on the world stage.
The other day, I touched on a statement made by then Candidate John Kerry about terrorism not threatening the very fabric of our lives. While the country wasn’t nearly ready for that statement in 2004 (and many may still not be ready for that statement today), it has proven to be very accurate. Yet, both Democratic and republican party candidates and party members continue to ignore this very reasonable statement – the Democrats as they prove their “toughness” to take military action in response to hypothetical situations and the republicans, well, for just about anything.
This is foolish. This is weak. This is counterproductive. This isn’t reasoned or at all smart. And most importantly, this is something that will not work – not in terms of regaining our status or credibility and not in terms of moving this country forward.
I expect this from the republican candidates. Which makes it all the more imperative to not just defeat them in 2008, but to crush them and their ideology of fearmongering along the way. A country that lives in fear can not prosper. A country that lives in fear is not a strong country. Those who perpetuate a feeling of fear amongst their country’s citizens are not able to “protect that country”. Those who do so are cowardly in their own right and can not provide leadership through any means other than keeping the masses submissive.
How much respect would you gain for a Democratic candidate or party official if they were to come out and utter those words? The closest I have seen is John Edwards – yet he doesn’t go far enough. The one with the most potential is Barack Obama (with his “Audacity of Hope”), yet he toys with these sentiments but seems to back off in order to “prove” his strength.
We know that Rudy can’t lead. What if, for argument’s sake, the Fort Dix Six were successful? Two of these individuals were legal residents of the US, a third was a US citizen. The other three were illegal immigrants – all have been here for years. Who would Rudy bomb then as retaliation?
What if there was an attack in the US whose plotters were tied to the same people who were responsible for the UK subway bombing? Would Mitt or Fred Thompson or McCain bomb the UK? Who would Senators Clinton or Obama retaliate against if that were to happen here?
For all his warts, Fareed Zakaria is a pretty smart guy. He has a very good article in this week’s Newsweek titled. Beyond Bush: What the world needs is an open, confident America. I encourage you to check it out, as it makes so much sense (with a few exceptions), and touches on this theme, as well as a number of others. Right now, we are not a confident nation. We are a scared but outwardly arrogant nation. If anyone thinks otherwise, then they are just kidding themselves. This is not a trait of a country that was very recently viewed by many as a “moral, diplomatic and economic leader” (and yes, we have also had many warts as a country).
When talking about Iran, only Edwards has come close to speaking in a comprehensive manner that didn’t give me a bit of the willies. During the debate on Monday, he said the following:
Well, let me -- can I be more specific. I think that beyond just talking about diplomacy, if you lived in Iran, you know that the Iranian people actually rallied for America on the streets of Tehran after September the 11th. And there's a long history of pro-American sentiment in Iran.
There is an extraordinary opportunity available to us on Iran, and there's a very clear path, from my perspective. They have a president who is politically unpopular. The people are in a different place. He hasn't done what he promised to do, Ahmadinejad, when he was elected president.
We don't have economic leverage over the Iranians, but the Europeans do, the European banking system does. We should put two options on the table. One, carrots; we'll make the nuclear fuel available to you, the international community, but we'll control it, you can't nuclearize -- you can't weaponize it. Second, we're going to put a clear set of economic incentives on the table.
And the Iranian people need to hear this.
Zakaria touches on this point, and really gets it on the mark when it comes to Iran (and North Korea, for that matter). In a stark difference between the “bomb Iran” and “under no circumstances will we let them go nuclear” and “if they get a bomb then they will destroy Israel and give them to terrorists to blow up here in the US” – he lays it right out there. In talking about how Rudy, Bush and Romney all lump Sunnis, Shiites, Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda together:
But Iran is a Shiite power and actually helped the United States topple the Qaeda-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Qaeda-affiliated radical Sunnis are currently slaughtering Shiites in Iraq, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are responding by executing and displacing Iraq's Sunnis. We are repeating one of the central errors of the early cold war—putting together all our potential adversaries rather than dividing them. Mao and Stalin were both nasty. But they were nasties who disliked one another, a fact that could be exploited to the great benefit of the free world. To miss this is not strength. It's stupidity.
There is a world beyond Iraq. The primary challenge we face in the Middle East is the rise of Iran. No country has caused greater panic among American elites—of both parties. There are many influential voices arguing for military attacks on Tehran. But let's keep in mind that this is a poorly run, internally divided oil tyranny that is increasingly antagonizing the rest of the world. It is insecure enough to have arrested Iranian-American civilians and warned its own scholars never to talk to foreigners at conferences abroad. These are not the signs of a healthy system. Iran is a serious and complex problem, but it is not Hitler's Germany. Its total GDP is less than one third of America's defense budget. A nuclear-armed North Korea has not been able to change the dynamics of global politics. A nuclear-armed Iran—and we are still far from that point—will not bring about the end of the world as long as we keep it tightly contained.
After years of empty threats and foolish rhetoric, the Bush administration is moving toward a more sensible containment strategy on Iran, though one that faces continued resistance from hard-liners like Dick Cheney. The United States should ensure that the reality of a resurgent Iran brings together the Arab world. The focus should stay on Iran's actions—and not U.S. threats.
This is a huge point – especially the last one. As I touched on a few months back, many of the Middle East (and neighboring area) countries are predominantly Sunni in terms of the leanings of the government. Iran is the largest Shiite country when it comes to the government, and clearly countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan wouldn’t want to see such a rise in Shiite influence – especially from a country that has the potential to wield significant power (if it got its act together, or if someone like Ahmadinejad was actually popular).
Europe holds more economic influence than we do over Iran. The “Sunni” countries in the region would likely keep Iran in check – certainly moreso than we can.
However, to keep fear in the forefront will ensure one thing – that we as a country continue to ignore the domestic problems that impact people on a daily basis. Things such as healthcare, education, real homeland security, the environment, the price of food, medication, gasoline and shrinking middle class.
It will take a bold and strong leader to move this country past the culture of fear that has been drilled into us over the past 7 years. It is the only thing that can make us a confident and serious nation again.
Is there anyone that is strong enough or bold enough to do so? And does the country realize how much that person truly is needed right now, as opposed to more of the same fearmongering?