What are we for?

Jun 7, 2006 at 12:00 am

Stop and consider this, regardless of your politics: We are currently involved in a war in Iraq in which nearly as many Americans have died as perished on Sept. 11. Far, far more Iraqis have died.

What did any of them die for? And what do we hope to get out of this war?

Whether we were lied to or not, we now know that the reason that we got into the war turned out not to be true. There were no weapons of mass destruction. So why are we still there?

We do fear the breakdown of order, perhaps since we were the ones who broke it down in the first place. But so now what?

Nothing I read indicates that anybody has any idea what we are trying to accomplish militarily in Iraq. Nor do I have the slightest idea how we would go about accomplishing it if we did.

After all, there are no front lines, nor any opposing army wearing different colored uniforms. There are only shadowy "insurgents" who shoot our soldiers and blow them up with roadside bombs.

We occasionally go kill a bunch of Iraqis, some of them insurgents perhaps; some of them not — except in the sense that the vast majority of Iraqis wants to set a timetable for our exit. And killing them does not seem to help matters. Especially since we cannot kill them all.

When asked, the Bush administration says we need to stay in Iraq until there is a stable (puppet) government running the place. Nice theory. Unfortunately, the scientists say we only have a few billion more years before the sun burns out and life on Earth becomes extinct.

Nothing about our presence in Iraq makes any sense, in other words, except for the fact that we want its oil. We never should have been there; we shouldn't be there now, and every day we stay makes it worse.

So why doesn't everyone realize this?

Simple. We have lost our way. We have lost sight of, or forgotten, what America is supposed to be. That's why we are invading small countries while ripping ourselves up at home, shipping jobs overseas, blaming workers for the failures and greed of management, blaming illegal immigrants, blaming the powerless.

Corporations lay off thousands, report record profits and talk nonsense about "the need to compete in the global economy."

And almost nobody protests this. Well, it is about time someone did.

Yet let us first remember what America was supposed to be. Once upon a time it was a country that knew it was supposed to stand for religious freedom and tolerance.

That doesn't mean that we always practiced what we preached. But there was an ideal, and people knew what it was. It was also supposed to be a nation where everybody with a dream could work hard and hope to see it come true. And part of the magic was realizing that we were all in it together. That America became an incredibly rich country that was supposed to care about not only its own people but also the world.

Forty-five years ago, a young, brilliant and far-seeing new president sketched out what that dream ought to have meant for the world.

"To the peoples in the huts and the villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves for whatever period is required."

John F. Kennedy also, in that famous speech, the first he ever made as president, made a special pledge to South America, "to convert our good words into good deeds — in a new alliance for progress — to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty."

Most of his inaugural address was not about life here at home, but it was clear he, and the better Americans of his generation, had a vision for that too. Yes, this was supposed to be a place where you could get rich.

But not by destroying your neighbor's ability to make a living and sending his job off to China. Nor did having a flourishing private sector mean that you couldn't have a necessary public sector as well.

What we had, they used to tell us with some pride, was a mixed economy. Everything wasn't owned by the state, comrade, and big business wasn't allowed to control everything either.

Capitalist society needs a dose of socialism — as in having governments that take care of the roads, the sewers and water systems — and have a vested interest in protecting the environment and education.

The goal should be as good a life as possible for everyone — here, and to the extent we can help, across the globe.

How's that for a political ideal?

Naturally, the Kennedy administration made tons of mistakes, and the biggest of all lay in a mistake very much like Iraq. We will, JFK famously also said, "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty."

What that got us was Vietnam. Getting involved there was far more excusable than Iraq, by the way. That was at a time when virtually everyone thought we were in a worldwide struggle against communism.

South Vietnam was a country, of sorts, and its leaders wanted our help resisting communism. What followed was a 10-year disaster.

Now, oops, we've done it again, with far less excuse, and absolutely no plan to get ourselves out if it.

What about trying something different?

What if the Democratic Party were to return to the idealism of the Kennedy era — idealism this time without the idea we ought to send the troops to teach other people democracy, like it or not?

What if the Democrats promised to work for a nation where everyone was reasonably prosperous, which had good schools and roads and health care? What if they promised to work for a country where politics didn't consist of trying to divide us against ourselves?

What if they were to give us something to vote for again, rather than just bank on our voting for them because we think the Bushies are worse?

That may be insanely idealistic. But it just might be worth a try.


Native American atrocity: It must be said that however bad you think the Bush crowd is, you just can't keep up. Two months ago, Tom Schram wrote an excellent piece about how Native Americans living in urban areas are being denied health care ("Bad medicine," MT, April 5).

Washington repeatedly had pledged, and various court decisions have affirmed, that the government has to do this. Yet, though more than two-thirds of all American Indians live in urban areas, the Indian Health Service has been spending less than 1 percent of its $4 billion budget on their health care; the rest goes to reservations, or bureaucrats.

Well, President Bush wants to change that, all right. Now, he wants to eliminate that funding entirely! He had one of his creatures tell Congress that big-city Injuns didn't need help with health care; there are plenty of alternatives. Incredibly, the press virtually ignored this story.

Unless something happens, urban Indian health care programs will end next year. In metropolitan Detroit, there are already 27,000 Native Americans without any health insurance. If you think we ought to stop one more atrocity against the most abused people in our history, send a letter to: American Indian Health and Family Services, 4880 Lawndale St., Detroit, 48210. It also wouldn't hurt to write your congressman.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]