United States Senate
August 3, 2007
Dear Senator McConnell:
Even though I am retired, I don’t have the time to write letters in depth. However, I finally felt it necessary. Those of us who have labored in Washington for decades, have learned to communicate in often meaningless and usually misleading soundbites. Journalists, if they want to be called that, do not serve the public if they cannot convey information to the people without injecting their own opinions. My journalist colleagues are guilty of that and should be honest to admit it. For there are times when we must get real. This is one of those times.
Senator, our country is in crisis. Both in foreign and domestic affairs. We have had crises before, but this is very different and very serious. A Twenty-First Century crisis with Thirteenth Century overtones. Terrorism, that actually reared its ugly head well before 9/11, is endangering our civilization. This is not a bumper sticker crisis and it is not a law enforcement issue. It is a war for survival that may take a very long time. President Bush is right to call it exactly that. There are those who lack ideas of their own and as a copout find it convenient to blame a president for everything. To me, however, the “blamegame” must be specific, on issues. Namecalling and hatred we see now is for small minds and garbled brains, a soundbite way out for naïve and ignorant people. Charges should be accompanied by supporting facts as well as suggestions for specific remedies. There is hatred that is deliberately spread by people misusing the new era of communications. There is no unity of purpose in a land where it is desparately needed. Politics in a democratic republic has certain boundaries among decent people. But the vile hatemongering has no place in America. The sooner the populist leaders stop catering to the extreme left, the sooner we can get our democracy back on track.
Republican, Democrat and independent voters alike, are appalled. Republicans in Congress or the White House have not always been right. Neither have the Democrats. It is clear that the 2006 Congressional election was won by the Democrats because the Republicans failed the American people. They failed because they proved that power held too long corrupts. On the other hand, the new Democrat leadership in Congress proved to be too inept to speak for the American people. What people now see are Democrats playing in the nation’s sandbox, not really having an idea what to do. Their candidates and Congressional leaders don’t seem to have a plan about anything except to oppose President Bush. That is unfortunate, because the American people deserve better. The Democrats could do a much better job of taking care of Congressional business if they move back to the political center. President Clinton won precisely because of that. National security is not their forte at a time when the country is in danger. Scandalmongering is not the way to run the country. As the 2008 campaign gets closer to its real timeframe, the American people may realize that the Democrats are in denial about the crucial issues of our time.
At the same time, the Republican candidates have no idea whether to run with the policies of President Bush or avoid them. They appear befuddled and as a result have not shown the necessary leadership. We have made serious mistakes in the past and could end up making them again. American leaders, in power and out, seem to be incapable of longrange planning. They just devise “platforms” from one election to another, platforms that will be discarded and forgotten after the election. The nation’s basic principles, values and democratic ideals become political slogans on an “as needed” basis. For that very reason, our friends as well as enemies have no idea what ideals, principles and values our country stands for. They can and will distort anything they want about us.
We have disarmed as a crisis ended, only to hurriedly rearm again. We have had writers declare “the end of history,” only to find that claims like that are ridiculous. We have had presidents come into office declaring they will concentrate on correcting domestic policies and ending up to their eyeballs in foreign policy. America has to have a president who has a clear understanding and grasp of foreign policy, a president who puts the interests of his country and not his party, first. A president who has a clear idea what our interests are as a country. This does not mean that domestic policies should be neglected, but a president must understand the priorities as dictated by national interest and security. The United States is the predominant country, the sole superpower in the world. As such, it guards its way of life and that of those who think alike. It is, as one writer has called it, “the reluctant sheriff.” It may not want to be, but it has to be. Our allies may not always like it, but they know that when push comes to shove, they almost demand it. America has certain responsibilities that, as a world power, it must not neglect. Americans who think that the country’s survival is irrelevant have a misguided sense of citizenship. And for many of them, patriotism is a dirty word.
In an era of terrorism it is grotesque to call it a bumper sticker slogan. It is just as grotesque for a White House candidate to put America’s prestige on line by declaring he will sit down with any cutthroat to discuss and out of naivete and inexperience may bargain away America’s policies, interests and values. We must not accept the lowest common denominator, the bargain basement compromise or someone speaking out of both sides of his/her mouth. We need a show of real leadership and optimism about our future, a Twenty-First Century version of Ronald Reagan. We don’t need the gloom and doom of Jimmy Carter.
President Bush, despite all the issues that merit support, made an historic blunder that should not be emulated when he sat down with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and declared that he liked the guy after he had a chance to look into his soul! The President was right in enlarging NATO to include the Baltic States, Vice President Cheney was right to tell Putin to keep his hands off his neighbors. More recently, the President has not fallen into the trap of a Putin offer to use a Russian missile radar site to target American missiles, where they can be controlled. Despite the end of the Cold War, our adversaries are still Russia and China. We deny that at our peril. Russia is not a democracy and may not be for a very long time, if ever. Whether czarist or Soviet, it will always yearn to be an empire, a third Rome subjugating peoples around it.
Then of course, there is Iraq. For the Democrats and some Republicans to demand what they call “an exit strategy” or a “troop withdrawal timeline” is an indication that they have no understanding of war or the nature of that conflict. Both demands are synonyms for defeat. They should be honest and admit that they would accept a U.S. defeat. The U.S. and the U.N. were on a war footing with Saddam’s Iraq since before 1991. We had acts of terror well before 9/11. To claim that the “president started this war,” one must include the father, former President Bush and President Clinton. One could perhaps say that the son is trying to finish what his father left undone, that is, failed to move on to Baghdad to finish off Saddam. The fact also is that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction,” the only issue is what he did with them. Just because we did not find any is no reason to claim that he was clean. There is no question that he was a mass murderer of his own people, using such weapons. To deny that, one should also deny the Holocaust and the Gulag.
The real problem in Iraq is the failure to understand a vastly different culture. We make a serious mistake in analyzing Iraq on Western terms. We do not understand the clannish nature of Iraq’s society, of sects and intermarriage within extended families. Iraq is not a modern, Western-style country, in fact, it is not a nation but some entity in medieval terms. The two main groups will probably continue to kill and behead each other and mistreat women, regardless of what we say or do. The third, the Kurds, have wanted to have their own country for centuries, but neither we nor Turkey will allow it. They are like Chechens who have been fighting for more than two centuries for independence from Moscow. Both the Kurds and the Chechens will continue to do so, despite our collusion with Russia and Turkey to hush up and curb their aspirations. Additionally, our intelligence services have been emasculated periodically over decades by our own politicians. Then they sit back and wonder with a straight face over intelligence failures!
We won the Iraqi war without planning for the peace. This is not new. We won World War Two by giving the Soviets whatever they wanted by denying the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States the freedoms we proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter. Just like in World War Two and the Korean and Vietnam wars, our fighting men performed brilliantly in the fields of battle. We did not lose any wars. Our politicians and janefondaism in the streets lost the peace. We are on the verge repeating our own history. As we had President Johnson cherry-picking Vietnam targets from the White House basement, we may now have Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid using a dartboard in their Capitol offices to pick Marine positions on the streets of Baghdad. Roosevelt did not say he had looked into Stalin’s soul, he trusted the ruthless murderer and terrorist unconditionally. Our generals could have easily occupied Prague and Berlin, but they were not allowed to do so by politicians who sat down with cutthroats to bargain away our very values. For President Roosevelt, it was perfectly ok to play poker with the peoples of Eastern Europe and dote on “uncle Joe” at Yalta. President Truman, to his credit, understood what had happened, but could not undo the situation on the ground or at the table. Stalin was encouraged by his successes over the naïve West and the Cold War followed with the Korean and Vietnam wars, the China debacle and the Cuban conflict, along with a whole mess of small proxy wars. Meantime, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States languished for half a century under brutal Soviet Russian tyranny. It took a real leader in the White House to help the “evil empire” to unravel. America and the world needs such a leader today.
Assuming that Democrats win the White House in 2008, one would hope that once at the helm of State, they will not persist in defeatism. Then another World War Two, Korean, Vietnam and Cuban-style defeat could follow in Iraq. Are we going to have a helicopter rescue from the Green Zone? What will follow? Genocide, murder, torture, beheadings, re-education camps and the same flood of refugees who had trusted and worked with the United States? They have to be rescued and resettled in the United States, the same that happened with Balts and Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Koreans, Cubans, Vietnamese and so on. When do we learn that deeds will have to match the words?
There is no question that the Iraq issue is a very tough nut to crack. Calling President Bush names and cursing will not solve it. Those who advocate “cut and run” have no idea what cauldron it creates to await the next president. Withdrawing or “redeploying” will not end the conflict in Iraq and may spread it eventually to the entire Middle East.
On the immigration issue, both the Republicans and the Democrats have pulled up lame. We send Cubans and Haitians back to possible prison sentences or worse. Yet we let the Mexicans, the poor looking for work, to cross the border along with the drug smugglers and terrorists and instead jail for long terms the guards who are trying to prevent it! Excusing the flood of illegals with plastic arguments about Americans not willing to take jobs they do is a copout. Like on many other issues, we emphasize the effect rather than the cause. We waste billions of dollars thinking that money cures everything. It doesn’t. The cause is Mexico’s inability or unwillingness to straighten out its own economy and reliance on the illegals to feed its economy with American dollars. Americans will resent amnesty, that is, granting U.S. citizenship for illegal behavior. Building fences helps, but does not cure the problem, it may just slow it down a bit. Do we have minds capable of solving the cause? Or do we continue to have politicians scared to tell the truth?
There are so many other problems we either refuse to face, reduce to soundbites, or bury with money, only to make demands for more money. Some will always think that past practices should be discarded simply because they are past practices. Real future is built on understanding the successes and failures of the past, without discarding our values and foundations that built this great country. Our system of public education from elementary to college is frightening enough to prefer home schooling. Our children don’t seem to learn much of anything in the classroom to prepare them for the marketplace except awareness for some social issues. Our environmental issues cannot be resolved in an evenhanded manner because extremists on both sides prevent it by shouting them down. We do not know how to control crime, we have too many guns and abortions and we are inept at eradicating poverty in a land of plenty. We don’t seem to be able to build safe cars. For that matter, we have everything, down to our own flag, manufactured overseas and find our pet foods and toothpaste are contaminated. Our courts cater to criminals rather than to victims. We have problems with health care, but make the blatantly false claim that government programs will solve the one issue that may actually bankrupt the entire country. The Democrats think that everything under the sun can be solved with more and bigger government programs and ever greater taxes. That is a recipe for ruining a free market economy.
What all this does to our image around the world is devastating. Yet, we have a system that despite crises, is able to correct itself. A heterogeneous, democratic society is bound to have warts. We must have the intelligence and desire to handle and solve them. If we have the will as a unified nation, we can do it. Anything noted above can be solved by a free people working together with a common purpose toward a common goal. If we slog along spewing hatred, we will eventually perish. Everyone around the world is watching us, our friends as well as our adversaries. Terrorists most of all.
Our way of life, the good with the bad, can be explained truthfully when placed in context. There is no such thing as perfection. We don’t need to lie. The truth will make us free, as the saying goes. We have the world’s best commercial advertisers, but are unable to explain ourselves to the world. We must also learn that we cannot promote Uncle Sam with the slogans of Uncle Ben. What we have to do is to take another look at what we had and used during the Cold War. Of course the methods and means have changed, time marches on. But to discard past principles, values and even some practices is a serious error. We must take another look at what we had with the United States Information Agency and the Voice of America.
To state that our private media along with the free media of former Soviet-occupied countries can explain us is a misconception. Our private media has become overwhelmingly leftist. It peddles in negative news, does not put information in context and often ignores or disdains the other side. That is a very serious problem for a free society where a truly objective media should be balanced. In turn, the East European and Baltic media, along with that of Western Europe and for that matter, the rest of the world, picks news items from our so-called mainstream media, thus perpetuating distortions about America. This gap was previously filled by the objective, in-context reporting, warts and all, of the Voice of America and explained quite adequately by the U.S. Information Agency. This is not a view off the wall, it is the flat statement of this writer, who spent more than three decades within those two areas.
However, USIA has now been destroyed and should never have had its remaining units returned to the Department of State. Traditional diplomacy and public diplomacy are naturally in conflict and do not belong together. They function best apart and that was the reason why USIA was separated from State in 1953. The USIA as a separate agency did a highly credible job of explaining America 1953-1999, during some of the most controversial times, issues and crises. Again, the public reason for its dismantling was the incredibly ignorant assertion that the Cold War was over and there was no need for the USIA. The real reason was the State’s desire to eliminate what it had always considered a thorn on its side, especially when diplomats had to explain things in ways that were not exactly truthful. We now basically have just one person trying to explain America, a situation that is flat wrong and bound to fail.
The Voice of America was granted so-called independence from government interference. In fact, the so-called “overseeing” Broadcasting Board of Governors, instead of becoming a “firewall” from government interference, became the new source of interference. VOA Director is no longer appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. This is a gross error. Most of VOA language services have now been dismantled and others reconstituted as mini-stations such as Radio Sawa and the Persian News Service. These stations spout Britney Spears and other musicians. There is very little commentary and a minimum of news. The BBG is even trying to eliminate America’s native language, English. This at a time when Russia and China are increasing their English broadcasts. It has been said that there is no longer any “America” on the Voice of America, a taxpayer, Congressionally funded, American station. It is rather detrimental to the United States to enter its flagship station in the private market to compete for “market share.” VOA was never meant for a mass audience, it was meant to influence the elites and the opinion-makers. A mass audience calls for broadcasting to the lowest common denominator. This also negates the VOA Charter, which mandated the station to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive.” It further demanded that “VOA will represent America” and that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively,” along with “responsible discussion and opinion on these policies.” One no longer has any idea what VOA represents.
It seems to me, Senator McConnell, that our country is nearing the proverbial iceberg. There is nothing wrong with dissent, there is nothing wrong with people expressing a variety of opinions in a democratic society. There is nothing wrong with the two great parties and independents having diametrically opposing opinions. However, when hatred turns destructive and gnaws at the fabric of our society and body politic, it can erode to the point of putting our very democracy in danger. Solutions in a democracy call for compromises, not the hatred and viciousness we see in our country today. The majority rules and the minority view is always protected. There is no place for political, racial, ethnic and religious hatred in America. There is no place for vengeance over a point of view. Especially in this era of terrorism. There are forces around the world that hate us and wish us ill. There are forces that are jealous of our greatness, goodness, prosperity and democracy that would seek to bring us down. We are not perfect, but we are the best. Don’t ever think that we are not vulnerable. We are and there are forces even in our own country that would not want us to be strong.
There was a time we had pride in our country. There was a dangerous, low period, but President Reagan restored our faith and optimism in America. We are again on the verge of a decline and need reassurance that we will persevere.
Will you help us restore our faith, Senator McConnell?
Letter to Senator Mitch McConnell (6)