America's continuing naiveté about 'freedom fighters'
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, October 22, 2015


If it’s Thursday, Oct. 22, it must finally be the day of the Benghazi hearing at which Hillary Clinton must testify as to what she knew and when she knew it.

You may have to be close to my age to remember where that phrase came from, and why it is still so important to know. When President Nixon was covering up the Watergate break-in, Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein got to the truth by asking the question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Eventually they got their answers, which led to the president’s resignation.

No one thought that finding the truth didn’t matter — and yet, no one died because of Watergate, as four Americans died that night in 2012 in Benghazi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on erroneously blaming an “inflammatory anti-Muslim video” for an impulsive attack on the embassy compound, instead of Islamic militants using the anniversary of 9/11 to attack a poorly defended consulate. She’s continued to insist that nothing could have been done to save the Americans once the attack began.

Maybe in the intervening forty-some years, our nation’s moral, truth-seeking base has vanished, and none of this matters — so that instead of a lying president resigning, an evasive former secretary of state will be elected president.

Thinking of Libya makes me admit to a possible mistake that many Americans like me have made over the years. During the “Arab Spring,” the revolution that spread from Tunisia in late 2010 and independently spread across North Africa into the Middle East, many of us related to the revolutionaries, equating them with our own revolution in 1776, a fight for freedom and democracy.

Partly, this reflects one of the charming qualities of Americans: our willingness to relate to the rest of humanity, when we think of other countries at all, to assume that everyone would be like us if they just had a chance. This quality is also a negative, reflecting our national self-centeredness, naiveté and lack of interest in geography and other countries’ histories and cultures.

Truth is, we’re not even like each other. For most of my life I thought that deep down, everyone (except of course serious evildoers) was really like me. I grew up as I grew old, and realized there are very few practical libertarians in the world.

As for the country as a whole, there’s no reason the U.S. couldn’t continue to function as the world’s leading superpower, as it did during most of my lifetime. But we really need to face the reality of the differences with which we have to work, diplomacy-wise.

Fans of the Showtime series “Homeland” have been talking about the following opening of Season 5. Peter Quinn, a young CIA operative, had just returned from 28 months in Syria to report to a roomful of CIA executives.

CIA BOSS:  Is our strategy working?

QUINN:  What strategy? Tell me what the strategy is, I’ll tell you if it’s working. See, that right there is the problem, because they — they have a strategy. They’re gathering right now in Raqqa by the tens of thousands. Hidden in the civilian population, cleaning their weapons, and they know exactly why they’re there.

BOSS:  Why is that?

QUINN:  They call it the end times. What do you think the beheadings are about? The crucifixions in Deir Hafer, the revival of slavery, you think they make this (bleep) up? It’s all in the book, their ... book, the only book they ever read. They read it all the time. They never stop. They’re there for one reason and one reason only: to die for the caliphate and usher in a world without infidels. That’s their strategy, and it’s been that way since the seventh century. So do you really think that a few Special Forces teams are gonna put a dent in that?

BOSS:  Well, what would you do?

QUINN:  Two hundred thousand American troops on the ground indefinitely to provide security and support for an equal number of doctors and elementary school teachers.

BOSS:  Well, that’s not going to happen.

Quinn’s recommendation immediately reminded me of George Crile’s book “Charlie Wilson’s War,” about Texas Congressman Wilson’s encouraging President Reagan and Congress to support the mujahideen (which Reagan, making that same charming American mistake, liked to call “freedom fighters”) against our mutual enemy, the Soviet Union.

After this successful Cold War strategy, which drove the Soviets into near-bankruptcy, Congressman Wilson tried to convince Congress to provide follow-up money to spend on doctors and teachers to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Congress refused, the Taliban filled the vacuum, and the rest is our own worst history. The lesson being, we do conventional war well, but haven’t learned to make peace.

I know many in the military do work to make friends with the people in countries we conquer, to train replacements, to encourage democracies. Sometimes our selling of democracy pays off, as it did in Germany, in Japan, after World War II.

We tried hard in Iraq, which at least had a long traditional history of some kind of government; maybe we just got out too soon. But we are learning in Afghanistan that we aren’t going to change that tribal society any more than the Soviet Union did. The same is probably true of Syria.

I still maintain that there are individuals everywhere who, like Americans, long for freedom, even who, like me, are libertarians. At today’s hearing, we may learn about Libyans who expressed sorrow over what happened to ambassador Chris Stevens in their country.

But the latest discussions about geopolitical strategies, that argue some peoples need a strong, even evil dictator to keep order among factions, should give our American egos something to think about. I don’t like it, but I wonder if it isn’t true.

Lest we start to feel superior, it’s also worth imagining our own country, perhaps falling into economic chaos as our own people become more irresponsible, more fractional, more insistent on “free stuff,” eventually needing “someone strong” to keep order.

I know it’s presumptuous of me to write about our foreign policy, or, for any of us ordinary Americans to have an opinion about such complicated matters. If only our leaders appeared to have a strategy we could simply support.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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