Puttin' on the Ritz
Let us not negotiate out of fear,
But let us never fear to negotiate
But let us never fear to negotiate
Since repackaging the war is all the rage these days, I'm noticing a concomitant attempt to repackage the President himself. I recently saw a clip of Bush on CNN delivering a talk with a giant video depiction of the Red, White and Blue unfurling itself behind him...one is almost brought to mind of George C. Scott's rousing portrayal of Patton's Blood and Guts speech. And as the G.I.'s of the time used to say, it's our blood and his guts.
Bush has been dusted off, and variably referred to as a new Lincoln, Wilson or Truman. I have already addressed the bogus comparison to Truman in a previous post (Bush is no Truman). The Wilsonian spin doesn't work either, because Wilson actually petitioned Congress for a declaration of war, and he had a postwar plan. (As a child, I was forced to memorize these 10 Points--now that was torture.) But I'd like to focus on Newt Gingrich's recent feeble attempt to draw parallels with Lincoln (Wall Street Journal, 9/7/06).
Bush, like Lincoln, does/did stretch the war powers of the presidency, albeit for different reasons. Lincoln tortured the Constitution solely to protect and reunite the Union. However, Bush seems to stretch the limits to instate a new, imperial presidency.
Lincoln entered his presidency with the country torn asunder by the Southern rebellion (what else can I call it without losing readers? I'm down to two as it is!) His main goal was reunification.
In contrast, Bush took the national and international upwelling of unity after the 9-11 attack and squandered this across-the-board goodwill and support. One started from minimal consanguinity; the other, apres 9-11, from 100% bipartisan support. But spending political capital seemed more important to Bush than non-divisive leadership. Now, even this supposed external threat to our national identity serves as a internal wedge-issue for clever political spin meisters, i.e., "You're either for us, or you are a traitor."
When Newt quotes Lincoln, "As our case is new, so must we think anew, and act anew. We must dis-enthrall ourselves," he suggests that Bush faces something totally new in this Islamic terrorist threat. But that is not true, which is why we, along with the international community, have laws for dealing with such criminality. The world has dealt with this criminal behavior in a legal and judicious manner prior to 9-11.
Lincoln always considered the Southern rebels to be human beings who would eventually have to be reintegrated into society. Viewing terrorists in the same way could be constructive.
When you torture people, you must face the consequences when you release them. It is like pressing a ball of mercury--you may break it, but you break it up into myriad replicant little balls that go rolling away from your grasp. Democracy applies to prisoners at Abu Ghraib as well as the citizens of Baghdad. That's the American democratic way.
Newt's linkage of the Kerry/Gore/Pelosi bloc to moderate Civil War political factions is a stretch, but such moderation would be refreshing, and not "weak". As Thomas Friedman recently said, "It's the center that's not holding" (New York Times, 9/9/06). Politics used to be about compromise and finding the center ground.
The position that we will not negotiate with "enemies" flies in the face of diplomacy and the facts of national statehood as we know them. If all nations established this policy, imagine the results. Newt may establish this cutoff policy in his personal life, but it simply does not fulfill the needs of a realistic national policy.
War is classically defined as the extension of diplomacy by other means. Warfare does not coopt the legitimacy of diplomacy.
Violence on a national level can only be justified if it serves a higher goal, which is generally arrived at via diplomacy. Diplomacy does not equate with Newt's statements on national resolve, which seem to translate into "going it alone." What so sets America apart from other nations that for us, negotiating with an enemy becomes abhorrent? Even Reagan and Nixon had personal relationships and discussions with dictators.
Trying to equate the threat of Al Quaida to the imperiled state of Civil War America is absolutely false and overstated. The U.S. is not engaged with an adversary that can threaten our national survival.
We risk entering the realm of fantasy when calling the present struggle WW III. Assuredly our adversaries are real, but a realistic threat assessment must address this issue. (See "The Security Industrial Complex" (WSJ, 9/7/06) by Heather Mac Donald [directly below Newt's article] for a clear discussion on this topic.)
Newt is correct that we should not compromise our self defense to our external critics. But when those critics are American judges, voters and legislators, then the disputed issues need to be examined critically.
Unlike Newt, I believe that America's safety is best ensured by a legal and moral response to terrorism, rather than "entrepreneurial national security systems," which is simply throwing money at the problem. Security has become the new national product of America.
When Newt fingers the terrorists as threatening a "determined American people whose very civilization is at stake," I would remind him that Rome fell from within.
Do not look either high or low alone for threats to American civilization--the corruption is pervasive. Junk bond and insider trading, gangsta ethic music and lifestyle, inane television prying into private lives, now offering racially segregated teams duking it out for survival of the fittest on a desert island...we've come a long way, baby.
I submit that American culture no longer exists as Truman, Wilson and Lincoln knew it.