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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fear Itself

In almost 6,000 years of recorded history, the names that ring down the corridors of time are the names of the brave. In every nexus of history, at every turning point, stand men and women with the courage to face the eternal bugaboo of every titanic ego since Cain used a rock to shut up his overachieving brother – FAILURE!

People who seek power for the sake of power all seem to have one thing in common – a deep dread of not getting it or not holding on to it. As a result, an endless stream of history’s bureaucrats and placeholders never did anything if there was even a slight chance that they’d lose hold of the reins of power. History’s bullies never attack unless they have overwhelming superiority of numbers (or at least believe they do). They never defend to the last man if they can negotiate a surrender that leaves them in their nice cushy palaces – often literally selling out their own grandmothers to preserve their well upholstered tushies. It’s a shameful litany of compromise, betrayal and thuggery that marks the interstices between the rare moments when someone does something actually brave.

Then there are the heroes – those who stand out for their courage. These are the men and women who believed in something and bravely stuck to a course until they went down in flames – again, often literally. Jesus and his disciples died almost to a man at the hands of terrified bureaucrats who saw Christianity as a threat to their retirement plans. The English set fire to Joan of Arc because her example of courage to her fellow Frenchmen in facing English troops, threatened their empire so they maneuvered her into their clutches by convincing some cowardly French bureaucrats to rat her out (big shock there).

A string of popes sent thousands of protestant preachers and their followers to their deaths during the middle ages and the reformation era to protect the Catholic Church’s hegemony over the Christian faith. Santa Anna overran a fort full of Texicans hoping to punish a weak province for its rebellious behavior and protect his control over the Mexican nation. Jefferson Davis and his followers figured with all the good generals and the power of the slave economy that he and his fellow plantation owners could slip out of the Union and preserve their way of life. The string of weak-kneed generals who led the Union armies early in the war were so afraid of losing that the threw away opportunity after opportunity to end it. The Romans got so decadent in the later empire they split their capitals, negotiated with a succession of invaders, and gave up territory till there wasn’t anything left.

Luther, Huss, Jerome and Wycliffe stood up to the church and changed the face of Christianity. Bowie, Travis and Crockett stood up to Santa Anna buying Houston time to gather his forces. Houston’s men dragged a reluctant Sam into a fight that won Texas’ independence. Commodore Edwin Moore disobeyed Houston (a consummate weak-kneed bureaucrat) and pounded the Mexican Navy into submission and saved the young republic from invasion. U.S. Grant lost virtually every battle he fought with the Army of the Potomac and kept on advancing and attacking until he beat Robert E. Lee and ended the war. Abe Lincoln once asked wimpy General McClellan if he could “borrow the army if he wasn’t going to use it!”. The English Navy, outnumbered and outgunned, stood up to the Spanish Armada (a gang of politicians who had no stomach for a fight it turned out) and sent them flying into the teeth of a convenient hurricane. A tiny little band of colonists stood up to the mighty British Empire at the risk of their lives and property and made it too inconvenient for them to hold on to the place – creating what turned out to be the most powerful nation on Earth in a mere 200 years. There was FDR who said, "We have nothing to fear except fear itself." and quietly rebuilt America's military while everyone else was trying to figure out how to talk Hitler and Tojo out of attacking us.

Historically, those who accomplish something worthwhile have been those willing to run the risk of failure. Unfortunately, the United States has gotten older and is afflicted with the same sort of weak-kneed bureaucratic mentality that afflicted the Romans, the Spanish, the Israelites, the Mexicans, The French and the British once the bloom was off their particular rose!

Today we face calls by media, academics, left-wing politicians, ex-generals and government bureaucrats for “more negotiation”, compromise, retreat and ‘diplomacy’. Get out of Iraq. Apologize to the Islamic nations. Use more diplomacy.

The sunshine soldiers and crafty politicians who have dominated US foreign policy really believed we could have wars without casualties, that we could bend the world to our will (or at least get them to leave us alone and not attack us) by being smarter and craftier than everyone else. Diplomacy it’s called. The military doctrine of the past has always been that we should only go in if we have overwhelming (and expensive) firepower which is developed and purchased by retired generals working as consultants for defense contractors. The diplomatic doctrine of the past century focused on appeasement and negotiation to accomplish American goals.

Did it work? Let’s see. There was World War I, World War II, the unfinished Korean War, the failed Vietnam War, the unfinished Persian Gulf War, a string of terrorist attacks on American soil and American interests abroad and an interminable Cold War. Into that breached stepped a starry eyed actor/president name Ronald Reagan. An affable old geezer who believed America was strong, smart and could do anything it wanted to. He walked away from weapons negotiations with the Russians (against the advice of every politician, media pundit and diplomats everywhere who predicted a nuclear holocaust) and wound up ending the Cold War and dismantling ICBM’s that were pointed at us. He told the Russian president to tear down the Berlin Wall (against the advice of every politician, media pundit and diplomats everywhere who predicted we’d set back relations with Russia by decades) and got the Russians to do guess what? That’s right – tear down the wall.

I hope the majority of people who have been polled recently about it who believe we should cut and run from Iraq will rethink the matter. Are we running a chance of losing (or at least taking losses)? You bet. Is it worth it? So far, we’ve confined the conflict to the middle east. Could we do it better? Definitely. My main criticism of President Bush’s approach is that he hasn’t seriously suggested we go ahead and kick butt in Syria and Iran to keep them from continuing to support terrorism. If we don’t stop the funders of terrorism, we’ll never stop terrorism. The funders are nation states, not isolated fanatics. Most Arabs and Muslims would rather do business than blow themselves up, but as long as the greatest nation in the world remains cowering on the borders, afraid to take on the local bully boys, freedom will never catch hold. We need to get Pakistan’s attention too and get a serious effort going to take out Al Quaeda where it lives in the mountains of western Pakistan.

You can’t build a wall around America and keep evil people out forever. It won’t work. No fortress has successfully withstood all sieges raged against it. They all fall eventually. When Rome quit expanding its borders and went on the defenses, it soon got its Italian butt kicked. When Spain settled down to defending its property, it wound up losing it. When the Catholic church started defending its power, it lost its power. And you can't talk evil people out of hating you or wanting to take away your property or your money. Ask the French, the world's preeminent diplomats, just how well that's worked for them the past 400 years.

One thing I admire about the President is the thing he is most criticized for – his stubborn vision of what’s right. His policies have been called na├»ve because they risk failure and disaster. He’s called stubborn and single-minded and is accused of refusing to listen to his advisors because he insists we can and should win in the middle east.

Good for him. I’m a Texan like George. If it hadn’t been for Commodore Edwin Moore’s stubborn insistence on defeating the Mexican Navy, Sam Houston would be remembered as the Texas President who fiddled while Austin was sacked and burned and I’d be pledging allegiance to Vincente Fox and trying to sneak across the border to find a job in Oklahoma! Thank God there are men in history who are willing to risk their lives, their reputations and careers because they are impelled to do the right thing, whether it’s politically expedient or not.

You cannot win if you are afraid of losing.

God bless America and God bless the President. The rest of you – get some cajones for crying out loud!

Just one man’s opinion.

Tom King