Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Benefit of the Doubt

As I watched the leader of the free world put his hands on the German chancellor’s shoulders last week in a friendly attempt to make physical contact, I was embarrassed by the ridiculous image. Why was I embarrassed? I didn’t do it—I wouldn’t think of being physically familiar with a world leader at a public forum, even if I were a world leader myself. But this act in and of itself is not the problem.

A lot of bloggers and media pundits have tried to turn it into an issue of sexism and any other of a number of contemporary societal problems. What boat they’re all missing is that the crux of this action lies in the mentality of the individual, George W. Bush, and the almost disassociation with reality the act conveyed, which may be a key to the bigger dilemma of having such a person as president.

There was a series of rumblings on cable TV today because of the lack of progress toward a cease fire in a meeting of Secretary of State Rice and others in Rome:

The assembled dignitaries expressed their “determination to work immediately to reach with the utmost urgency a ceasefire” in the war that started two weeks ago today when the Hizbullah militia crossed the border to capture two Israeli soldiers, and Israel responded with a massive counterattack the length and breadth of Lebanon. But, at American insistence, the ceasefire would have to be one that’s “lasting, permanent and sustainable.” Which means the flames searing Lebanon, threatening Israel and endangering the most volatile region in the world will go on for weeks, if not months, to come.—Christopher Dickey, Newsweek

The rumblings were on the order of, as usual, Bush’s miscalculations and his ignorance of the consequences going back to the invasion of Iraq. More appropriately, the finger should be pointed at the neoconservative contingent of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, before just sticking it to the POTUS.

Howard Fineman, on MSNBC, said he had not seen the “body language” [I saw this today and do not have transcript or reference yet] Bush demonstrated which was clearly that of someone “not in control” as he has been up to now. Fineman was referring to the speech of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Al-Maliki, in congress today. The controversy over his speech emanated from some remarks over the last couple of days during his visit to the US that implied he wasn’t entirely in sync with Bush policies concerning Israel and the region. Some of our elected representatives differed over whether to accept the P.M’s point of view, or boycott his speech, as Schumer of NY did:

"Am I surprised that an Arab has voiced words of concern about Israel and has supported Hezbollah and Hamas?" asked Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut. "No, I'm not surprised. He's trying to build coalitions in his own country. I am outraged. But you know, welcome to democracy."--CNN

National security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters Tuesday that al-Maliki's comments were not as inflammatory as those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the Jewish state's destruction. "I have not heard from him statements suggesting Israel does not have the right to exist," Hadley said.—CNN

Fineman is the lead political reporter for Newsweek, and he thinks Bush is exhibiting some kind of psycho-body language that signals a change from the last, what, 6 years? There is more to this that is significant. David Gergen (Commentator, editor, teacher, public servant, best-selling author and adviser to presidents for 30 years, according to his web site) offered his two cents as to what the hell the US is waiting for in not demanding an immediate cease-fire. [Again I just heard this on satellite radio and don’t have transcript]

Gergen explains the US in the past has taken the lead position to broker cease fires in the Middle East, then work out the details afterward. Part of the ability to use diplomacy has been the ambient message that the US is the neutral party, interested only in ending violence, while supporting Israel as the in-place democracy and giving a nod to the needs and wants of the Palestinians and other Arab groups.

Gergen went on to explain that the new Bush response is divergent from past US policy since Israel became a state in that there is no wish to broker a cease-fire until and unless the Hizbullah threat in Lebanon is neutered. This may not happen, so Gergen says this policy is a big risk for the US, and could fail.

My friend and Middle East expert Chris Dickey goes on to delineate the crisis in a more articulate and compassionate fashion:

But as irrational as the politicians who make policy may be, the professionals in their entourages often understand reality quite well. And in the corridors of today’s conference I met several men and women who, on background or off the record (meaning they were afraid of losing their jobs if caught talking too frankly) laid out a picture of the situation in the Middle East right now that was convincing, frightening, and seems to have escaped the notice of Dispatcher Rice altogether.

The bottom line: Hizbullah is winning. That’s the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, “Hizbullah is eating their lunch.”

…Several of my worldly Lebanese and Arab friends here in Rome today—people who loathe Hizbullah—understand this problem well. Privately they say that’s one of the main reasons they are so horrified at the direction this war has taken: they fear not only that Lebanon will be destroyed, but that Hizbullah will wind up planting its banner atop the mountain of rubble.

That’s the latest fear—Israel responded to an invasion of its border by Hizbullah with tremendous firepower and military force, and may have created a brand new Lebanon, one that joins the other Muslim haters of Israel and run by an organization that didn’t exist 25 years ago, a proxy of Iran, Israel’s real menace. Talk about miscalculations!

Several polls were reported today, with the overwhelming numbers of Americans believing that the current Israel-Lebanon conflict will widen in the region, and that they don’t think the Iraq War will come to a successful conclusion.

I heard a poll number today that says that 75% of Americans think Bush should listen to US allies, and 29% think he does. I believe in standing up for a cause even if you’re the only one among millions who believes it, if it’s right. I don’t think that philosophy applies here, and I’ll tell you why very simply. The other day on the CNN web site there was a photo of an infant lying on a hospital table with its mother standing over in obvious emotional pain. The caption was that the infant was in such pain that he was shuddering as he went in and out of shock:

Standing in front of this 8-year-old boy lying in a hospital bed, the "conflict in the Middle East" and the "cost of war" seem endless and suffocating. His pain cannot possibly be imagined as he shakes uncontrollably in and out of shock. He has blood coming from his eyes.

His name is Mahmood Monsoor and he is horribly burned. In the hospital bed next to him is his 8-month-old sister, Maria -- also burned.

Screaming at the top of her lungs is the children's mother, Nuhader Monsoor. She is standing over her baby, looking at her son -- and probably thinking of her dead husband. The smell of burned flesh is overwhelming.

… Politics creeps into the ward like the blood that runs on the floors. "Clearly he is Hezbollah," says one of the doctors outside the room -- arcastically referring to 8-year-old Mahmood, whose screams can be heard from the hallway. His screams now blend with the wails of his mother, matching the baby's cries.

The hospital ward begins to teem with members of the international press. They all have blue flak jackets that say "press" on the front. They carry microphones, cameras, radios and satellite phones, and have local guides to translate.

Today, as I finish I am sitting in the same spot and the shells are still falling. Hezbollah rockets are firing toward northern Israel. I can imagine another reporter, in another flak jacket, standing over an 8-year old Israeli boy.

I'll finish by asking another question: Are any of us making a difference?

Here is the “cause:” the United States should stand for something greater than the common national interest of other countries. The great experiment of democracy, the Constitution, created by mortal men so many years ago, as a Republic that would stand for the rights of human beings, should be a standard and a model for those people who are living in miserable conditions.

Now that the US has the means to quell regional conflict that imparts horrors on innocent children, it has the responsibility to exercise this power to inhibit those envious, resentful, and ambitious little people who would use their charisma and maneuvering for their own ends, to cause trouble for others who want only peace, and the space to do their daily work.

In the US Declaration of Independence, Jefferson made it clear what the object of existence is, through the power of just government:

…organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

It would seem that a society based on such concepts, revered for over two hundred years, would work to install these concepts on a society in turmoil, if it could, to save innocent lives. The Middle East is such a society, in need of mediation and “cooler heads.”

Can’t those people who were polled and expressed dissatisfaction vote? Isn’t there an election this fall where they could express their wishes? Isn’t that what democracy means? Then again, so many voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004, and we already knew better then.

Time to wake up. There's no benefit of the doubt--that's a silly phrase anyway. We are citizens of the world, and we have the option of stopping suffering. Who would refuse that mission?

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