Felicia Muftic: Being reactionary is not a strategy for success
Grand County, CO Colorado
If I were a psychologist who had to analyze Americans’ attitude toward war, I would sum it up as conditional schizophrenia. Americans are wannabe isolationists who are constantly jolted into wars by dramatic events and the revelation of game-changing information.
War for us is a gut reaction. Sometimes the outcome is in our national interest; other times it is not.
In 1941, Churchill had spent hours with FDR, imploring America to save Britain. Try as he might, Roosevelt could not get most of Americans to support entering the war in Europe. We remember Pearl Harbor Day, the day of infamy, as the event that kicked started us into World War II.
Nearly a hundred years before Wikileaks, there was a damning document slipped to the press that caused a quick swing of public sentiment from isolation to intervention. It was a document leak that sent our doughboys into the trenches of an already raging World War I. President Woodrow Wilson had just won re-election on the platform of keeping us out of the war. In January 1917 British intelligence intercepted a coded message sent by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Mexico. In the communication, Germany had proposed to support Mexico if it attacked the U.S. to regain Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Germany’s interest: keep the US tied up in the new world and out of Europe. American sentiment changed overnight. In a fit of anger we declared war against Germany in April.
There is a real danger in relying on events beyond our control to shape public sentiment. Reacting with blind fear and anger is not necessarily a strategy for success. Sept. 11 was a gut kicker. Newly elected George W. Bush had put al-Qaida lower down his priority list as he concentrated on organizing his new administration and America basked happily in the peace dividend of the Cold War’s end. Reaction to Sept. 11 eventually spawned a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Americans cheered at first. The attempt to link al-Qaida and Sept. 11 to Saddam was a farce. Making Iraq safe for democracy became a rationale for the unanticipated occupation later. Eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction dominated invasion battle cries. Our rush to war was egged on by our failure to verify in advance whether WMD ever existed.
The world understood why we were in Afghanistan. Our attacker was based there. This fall NATO endorsed combat troops until 2014. One real tragedy of our Iraq excursion was diverting attention from Afghanistan, prolonging that mission.
This month we have been given several opportunities to use our heads instead of waiting for some unforeseen surprises to force us into action for which we are not prepared.
North Korea and Iran are tempting us to launch pre-emptive strikes, given their potential for conducting nuclear war. We should take a page from the Cold War when obliteration was the price of nuclear aggression. It was a deterrent that worked when we had no leverage to control nuclear weapons production or use. Isolation, sweet talk and trade embargoes have failed. Our already stretched thin military makes invasion a non-starter. Russia and China are of little help. Making intentions clear and forming alliances with likewise threatened neighbors makes more sense.
It is also in our national interest to ratify the START treaty. There is bi-partisan assurance from the U.S. expert former cold warriors that the treaty gives us the ability to verify Russian nukes for once without relying on trust alone. Senate Republicans should quit holding treaty approval hostage to their domestic agenda or to the awarding of defense contracts to their constituents. START was not an issue in midterms yet there had been 14 months of hearings. The topic is not a hot one with voters.
Matters of nuclear war and foreign policy are just too serious for such political game playing. What are we waiting for: another gut kick?
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Things are starting to get back to normal finally.