A Country That Has Lost Its Way

America has gazed at itself in the mirror, has taken stock of its wealth, power, influence, military might, and is in the process of deciding whether or not to throw it all away. Historians centuries from now will not refer to the United States as an empire in name, but it will be treated as such in fact. They will look back on the 20th century in awe, not just of humankind’s achievements, but for its seeming descent into insanity, for thrusting upon itself a pace of change that the world had never seen, and that has been proved it was not yet ready for. Out of all this, the United States was poised to stand tall for the foreseeable future. No one could seriously challenge the will of its people, or its money.

But the United States could falter because its enemies are taking advantage of its arrogance. No great group has risen and forced the world to look upon the United States as the greatest source of unrest in the world today. Al Qaeda should today be nothing more than a small group of fatalistic jihadists, a mouse to be stepped on and crushed; a group that overstepped its bounds in arousing the fury of the American people, and was soundly dealt with as a result. Instead, Americans at home are locked in an idealistic battle with each other for control of this great, yet declining empire. Americans overseas are trying desperately to win military battles that should never have been fought.

This small enemy, Al Qaeda, succeeded beyond its wildest dreams when it wrought death on three thousand of our citizens. But then again, maybe everything is going according to plan. Maybe Al Qaeda understands how power works in this country more than we do. Maybe they could foresee the coming firestorm we would bring to the Middle East.

I have to wonder, when they were fleeing America’s bombs and America’s proxy army in Afghanistan, if Al Qaeda was secretly delighted in the knowledge that it would not be long before America’s short attention span would allow its leaders to bring the fight where their ambitions truly lay: Iraq.

Al Qaeda had to have known they were sealing the fate of the Iraqi regime with their attacks on America. They had to have been counting on the true nature of the Bush administration to come shining through as soon as a moment presented itself. It was a colossal gamble. If America had maintained the focus on its true enemies following 9/11, Al Qaeda would exist mostly in the grave. Instead, our military is bogged down in a conflict we now appear to be soundly losing. Our great armies are built to battle the great armies of the Soviet Union, and our ability in standard military tactics is unmatched in the history of man. The solid trouncing we inflicted upon the Iraqi military when the war began is solid proof that we cannot be overmatched by a conventional military.

But it appears Al Qaeda learned more from the Vietnam War than we did. We should have learned then that a struggle against the indigenous peoples of an occupied nation is a losing struggle, for the conflict never ends until either the occupiers leave, or the occupied are all dead. As such, the occupiers always leave. We should have learned this lesson not just through our own experience, but also through the experiences of many nations over the past hundred years. One of them, France, learned its lessons in Vietnam before we took up the fight. Yet here we are, just shy of thirty years since the Vietnam defeat was complete, waging a counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq where it increasingly appears we are doomed to repeat history. But Iraq holds far greater consequences for the United States. Even if we were to win, and our government’s wet dream of a free Iraq, gleefully providing a stable energy source for generations, were to come true, America has been irreparably damaged.

The defeat in Vietnam was not nearly as damaging for many reasons — the most important being that Vietnam has never been, and never will be, an important country. She has no great industry, she has no vast expanse of lands in which to grow food to feed the starving of the world, and most importantly, she has no oil. We proceeded in Vietnam under the false assumption of an expansion of communist hegemony in the world, when in fact, we were fighting against the forces of independence.

Iraq, on the other hand, has the second largest amount of oil reserves in the world behind the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and we are not the only people on the earth that need it. Iraq is also situated right in the center of the Middle East, a fantastic location for any ruling empire to step in and exert pressure on surrounding nations. To the east is Iran, to the south Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to the west Syria, Jordan, and Israel beyond, to the north Turkey and the remnants of our old nemesis, Russia. Because of her location and because of her oil, a solid stake in Iraq provides the means to project power over all industrialized nations. No longer would the United States have to occasionally bow to the whims of OPEC. No longer would we have to listen to anybody, quite frankly. Not that we ever did. It wasn’t enough that we were the only superpower left standing after the end of the Cold War. Iraq would be the final piece, the last undeniable move on the chessboard of international politics, that would cement the United States as the greatest power the world has ever seen. With those facts staring them in the face, is it any wonder the Bush administration chose to invade?

Every government in the world that understands power understands how important Iraq is. There are some that, if they had the means, would consider making Iraq theirs. We were the only ones stupid enough to try. And not only did we try, we cloaked our aggression in a different conflict, one that has just as much to do with ideology as it does power. Long gone are the days when one country could rule another. When I say America is an empire, it surely is, but not in the way empires of the past were. Empires of the past were empires of occupation and subjugation, of many different peoples in vast areas of the world subjected to rule by centralized government. The American Empire is an economic one. Where the Roman Legions once spread the authority of the Caesars, the American dollar now spreads American authority. But alas, in Iraq, we inextricably tried to do things the old way, and the world’s other nations (and the Iraqis, it seems) are not having it. The world has seen the devastation that had been wrought by the old ways. The last great conflict, World War II, was the death knell, the final show of the futility of subjugation. Sovereignty is an important, almost unassailable, ideal of governments in this era. And we violated it.

We marched into Iraq fully understanding the Iraqi military was no match for us, but misunderstanding the consequences. Inside Iraq, our government failed to foresee the difficulties of securing a country that, although it was operating under the thumb of a brutal dictator, nevertheless DOES NOT WISH TO BE OCCUPIED. Outside Iraq, the Bush administration took it for granted that the world would follow lockstep behind our ambitions. The other governments and peoples of the world had always seemed to do so before, but how often had we ever, truly, pressed the issue. Now that we have, it is clear that whatever sympathy we had after the 9/11 attacks has been used up. The United States is now on the brink of standing alone in a world that is increasingly hostile to its intentions. The blame for this debacle falls squarely on the shoulders of President George W. Bush and his administration.

Yet with all the mistakes, foreign policy gaffes, domestic policy gaffes, outright lies, and quite a number of deaths that this administration is responsible for, a large enough number of the American electorate supports this president that defeat in his re-election campaign is anything but assured.

It seems as if not a single day goes by without another reason to ensure that President Bush is put out to pasture next January, yet the passion with which many Americans are calling for his head is at least equaled by, and more often drowned out by, the passion of his supporters. It is stunning that President Bush has a chance of being re-elected next month. It boggles the mind. It makes no sense. It is frightening.

If President Bush were to be re-elected, it would be the final straw, the last event that would set an all but unalterable course for the United States for the next four years. Our foreign policy needs not just serious revisions, but complete reversals in many areas, yet President Bush has made clear he will stay the course in all our overseas endeavors. Our government here at home is becoming hamstrung by the massive tax cuts for the rich that are responsible for 270 billion dollars worth of our deficit this year. As a result, our economy is faltering as well. There is a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots in this country that is plainly a result of an aristocracy that is out of control — an aristocracy that has a friend and a member in the White House today. This type of old money patronage is eating millions of Americans alive everyday.

Most importantly, President Bush has distorted the very underpinnings of American society. Ideals such as freedom and equality seem to mean little to this administration. They are interested in only one thing: Power. They have it, they want more of it, and they will try anything to get it. A mandate from the people for another four years in the White House would serve to do nothing but embolden this administration. Whatever nightmares I had about this administration upon George Bush taking the oath of office four years ago have been far surpassed by the realities. In those four years I at first saw a president who was plainly showing how incompetent and ineffective he was, a sure one-termer with grand designs but a limited sense of how to accomplish those goals. Instantly he was morphed into a wartime leader of immense power who was not afraid to erode centuries-old freedoms that are at the heart of the United States in the name of defending those freedoms.

I have seen a president show his true loyalty to those with money and power, for they received the bulk of his tax cuts, thereby placing the burden for financing this government squarely on the shoulders of those who can least bear that burden.

I have seen this president lie as a justification for spreading premeditated death and destruction to a country that was not a threat, while all but giving up in Afghanistan, where the real war is still being fought almost silently to this day. This particular decision has cost the United States and its limited partners over a thousand lives, and the Iraqis tens of thousands. It has cost us the trust that most nations in the world would extend to us, and caused many of our allies to become openly hostile to our intentions.

I have seen this president spread the specter of weapons of mass destruction to justify his invasion of Iraq, where there were none, while North Korea has garnered itself a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, and Iran openly states it is pursuing nuclear weapons development.

I have seen this president shrug off the conduct of this nation over the past year and a half, walk into the United Nations with his head held high and all but demand that the civilized nations of the world follow behind us in Iraq and clean up our mess.

President Bush has no regard for reality. He doesn’t understand world politics, nor does he understand how his administration’s policies have adversely affected the United States since we invaded Iraq. He doesn’t understand much of anything a president needs to be an effective leader not just at home, but abroad as well. He does understand the power he wields, but not how to use it effectively and justly. He wields his sword as a child would, amazed at its sharpness, but uncaring of the damage he causes. His administration is brutish, unreasoning, and dangerous. He has failed at his job to protect this nation, its people, its finances, and its natural resources. This is a dismal assessment of his performance as president that begs the question, one month before the election, “Why isn’t he losing?”