Lamentations on Truth, Justice and the American Way
A headline in Thursday's USA Today spoke of President Barack Obama's "defining moment" in Afghanistan -- the theater former President George W. Bush chose eight years ago to showcase for the world the United States' response to the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks (and vowed, it should be noted, to hunt down and capture dead or alive Osama bin Laden).
One day later, our freshly minted American president has now been chosen to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. It's as if some believe all the world's ills might be cured by sheer force of will --- that simply by describing Mr. Obama as a decisive leader, by calling him a man of peace -- history will one day reflect it was so.
Have the lessons of the past eight years truly gone so thoroughly unlearned?
I'm not here to suggest the Nobel Prize committee should have nominated someone else for its Peace award this year. In fact, given global trends in the quest for peace and goodwill among men I think the committee might have made a more meaningful statement by refusing to declare at all a recipient for this year's award, making a double or nothing offer for next year's prize.
But I do have thoughts about defining moments I'd like to share, and present here a brief compendium of such for the gentle reader's consideration:
On the eighth anniversary of war in Afghanistan it may be safely said the United States' adoption of the belligerent's role in that desolate land was the unmistakably defining moment of our country's pretentions to Empire. It was the defining moment of George W. Bush's failed presidency, a failure he and his acolytes reaffirmed many times over in the succeeding years.
Following shortly after his disasterous decision to invade Afghanistan, Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq became the defining moment of the United States' pretense to existence as a nation of laws. Thereafter, revelations of our sick and twisted embrace of torture as combatants in wartime at Abu Ghraib prison defined the country's descent to the moral plane occupied by the likes of ancient barbarians, Spanish Inquisitors and tin pot despots throughout history.
One hesitates to beat a dead horse, but George W. Bush's choice to play a round of golf and pretend to be able to play the guitar while the greatest natural disaster in the nation's history unfolded on the Gulf Coast in Hurricane Katrina -- along with the subsequent failure of his government's Federal Emergency Management Administration -- defined the racist, classist limitations of the United States' embrace of its calling as a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."
Even as the incompetence and criminal depredations of the Bush administration finally began to see the light of day in the waning years of its terrible reign, Nancy Pelosi's declaration that "impeachment is off the table" in the wake of the 2006 elections was a defining moment in the ultimate failure of the American experiment with democracy.
This failure has lately been further defined by the present failure of congress to enact meaningful healthcare legislation, despite overwhelming evidence of the American people's desire for a national insurance plan, and despite a Democratic supermajority in the Senate.
More seriously, President Obama's failure to convene any sort of investigation of Bush adminstration officials -- from Alberto Gonzales to Donald Rumsfeld to Dick Cheney and to the former president himself -- Mr. Obama's failure to seek any kind of reconciliation of the previous administration's official acts with the laws and treaties of our nation has -- so far -- defined an ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of our entire system of governance.
While it might not be as plainly evident to many as it seems to your faithful correspondent, Mr. Obama's failure to rescind the Bush administration's policies on torture, his failure to abdicate the former administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, define him not as a man of peace but as a man of cowardice. His failures define the ultimately hollow content of his message of Hope and Change, and they define the end stages of a once promising nation where Freedom and Opportunity are in ever shorter supply.