For the last six years, Dick Cheney has been the whiff of sulfur emanating from the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Although the vice president’s office has largely been a ceremonial post, Cheney was never one to stand on ceremony. He took advantage of serving a president with little knowledge of global affairs to create a new center of power—in the very branch of U.S. government that he now denies inhabiting.
At the Take Back America conference last week in Washington, DC, the Bush foreign policy was clearly unpopular. References to the Iraq War debacle, to extraordinary renditions and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, were sure-fire applause lines. Indeed, Bush’s foreign policy has been so obviously unpopular, as revealed in last November’s elections, that the conference organizers from the Campaign for America’s Future departed from their previous focus on domestic issues to showcase several discussions on the Iraq War, terrorism, and the military budget.
Enemies don’t have cultures. They have leaders, usually tyrants. They have armies, usually large and menacing. They have propaganda, usually dull and artless. Enemies are not civilized enough to have culture. Culture humanizes, and humanity is the last thing you want in an enemy. It might mess up your aim.
Every so often the Bush administration rediscovers realism. Last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a pitch for her own doctrine under the name of “American realism.” She told an audience that “American realism deals with the world as it is but strives to make the world better than it is.” It is amazing that she can stand up in front of audiences and say such things with a straight face. Did the Bush administration deal with Iraq as it was and leave it better off? What about global warming? Relations with Russia? Iran?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it is not.
On the island of Okinawa is a very unusual war memorial. The Cornerstone of Peace resembles the Vietnam War memorial in certain respects: large black walls inscribed with names. But the Cornerstone of Peace has a different shape: curved, concentric walls rather than an angled slash. More importantly, the Okinawa memorial lists all of those who died in the World War II Battle of Okinawa: Americans, Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, and others.
I’m from Jersey. So whenever the Boss sings, I listen. He’s always sticking up for the little guy, the Tom Joads, the downsized, and the downtrodden. He’s patriotic, but it’s a bittersweet patriotism. You remember: when the Reagan campaign in 1984 and then the Dole campaign in 1996 wanted to use the song "Born in the USA," Springsteen said no. When Lee Iacocca wanted to use the song to sell Chrysler cars, Springsteen again said no. Didn’t they listen to the lyrics of the song? It’s all about the plight of Vietnam vets: "Got in a little hometown jam/so they put a rifle in my hand/sent me off to a foreign land/to go and kill the yellow man." It’s hard to imagine those lyrics in a car commercial.
Every culture, it seems, has the same joke: Put three Koreans—or Albanians or Poles or Kenyans or Californians—in a room. After an hour of debate, they’ll form four political parties.
In 1990, I thought that another world was not only possible, it was happening before my eyes. With hundreds of other activists, I was in Prague to attend the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA). The Berlin Wall was no more, the Cold War was receding with breathtaking rapidity, and a new age of people’s movements seemed to be dawning. It was a time for celebration for the peace and human rights activists from throughout Europe, North America, and what would soon become the former Soviet Union. When he was helping to plan the meeting in 1988, the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel fully expected the HCA to attract the full wrath of his country’s secret police and he would spend the time in jail. By 1990, the world had turned upside down, and Havel was opening the first session of the HCA as president of a newly democratic state.
Our allies should organize an intervention. I’m not talking about a military intervention, though some neighborhoods in the United States might welcome UN peacekeepers to replace the local constabulary. I’m talking about one of those interventions that friends organize when one of their buddies has become a drug addict or keeps driving when drunk or is maxing out a dozen credit cards on the Home Shopping Network.