Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The media in China has been pretty quiet about the shoe throwing incident in Iraq. I imagine they would not really want to encourage the view that someone who shows that kind of contempt for authority is a hero. Bush gets mixed coverage here in China. I think the powers that be realize that his economic policies have been very good for this country, because Bush is a free trader, and free trade is good for everyone except American labor unions. But China also wants to give voice to those in the international media who bemoan Bush's unilateral approach to foreign policy.

The shoe throwing incident was troubling, because it was such a vivid statement of contempt for a national leader. It was painful to watch. Particularly painful was Bush's response--a rambling discourse comparing the act to road rage and suggesting that this guy was just trying to get attention. You bet he was trying to get attention. And he got it, too.

Perhaps history will be kinder to Bush than the international media has been, because, after all, he did get rid of a dictator. But the way he did it has damaged the reputation of the United States to an extent that is all but irredeemable. It is to his credit that he finally implemented the "surge," even though so many (including Obama) opposed it. Even the Joint Chiefs opposed it. Not surprising. MacArthur always said "counsels of war breed defeatism." He said that because his father said it to him. Arthur MacArthur charged up Missionary Ridge as a 19-year-old Colonel in the American Civil War, and took the hill, all without permission, which was granted retroactively. But I digress. What I'm saying, I guess, is that Bush did some things right. Or at least you could say that he learned from his mistakes to some extent. I personally think it is a travesty of history that the surge even had to be called a surge. But it worked, and as Reagan used to say, "Nothing succeeds like success."

But the disregard for human rights that characterized the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo has robbed the Americans of any right to point fingers. It is this wholesale abdication of moral leadership that is the greatest tragedy of the Iraq war, and of the Bush presidency. And who will take America's place as a moral leader? To cut to the core of the argument, allow me to be a social studies teacher for a minute, and present the issue in the form of a test:

1. The Americans built a prison where innocent people were held in small cages without charge for months and years. They put this prison at an off-shore location on Guantanamo Bay in order to circumvent the strict human rights standards of which of the following countries?

a. United States
b. China
c. Russia
d. North Korea

It's a test with only one question. If you get it wrong, there is little hope that you will ever come to terms with the contempt and disgust that the Americans have generated against themselves throughout the Muslim world. The point is that the Americans built the prison at Guantanamo in order to circumvent their own standards of justice. This hypocrisy has robbed the Americans of any right to speak out against human rights abuses in other countries. I am getting weary of hearing Americans say that terrorists do not deserve special treatment. Nobody likes terrorists (except dispossessed people who are angry at rich, powerful countries like America). But that is a different subject. I am not talking about terrorists. I am talking about innocent people. People who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I remember when two Palestinian journalists were released after two years at Guantanamo. The were held for two years. For what? Writing articles critical of America? And one of Aljazeera's men was just released recently. It took the Americans six years to figure out that he was a camera man! There is no excuse for this kind of injustice. Of course we know there are real terrorists at Guantanamo. Nobody denies that. But this idea of rounding up a whole bunch of innocent people, and then picking out the bad apples one by one at one's leisure is something that would never be tolerated in the United States. Criminal procedure in every state in the country includes very strict laws about how long someone can be held without charge. China is not necessarily bound to such rules (see Education through Labor). Neither is Russia. And we don't even need to talk about North Korea. But America has always been different. Until Guantanamo.

I do not mean to suggest that it is appropriate for reporters to throw shoes at national leaders. The behavior he exhibited cannot, of course, be tolerated. And it was certainly unprofessional. A true journalist would pride himself in being able to write the message rather than throw it. Nevertheless, the reporter's message was timely and poignant. He was not just one isolated crank. He spoke for many, many people.

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