To the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or TO THE PEOPLE.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tom Ricks's Inbox

Kudos to the Wa Post for its new Sunday feature, Tom Ricks's Inbox. Ricks is the Post's veteran Pentagon reporter and made waves recently with his book Fiasco, which is probably the most apt title ever for a book about our Iraq folly.

Ricks's inbox features emails that he receives, and this past Sunday's was so rich that I cut it out of the paper and put it on my fridge. Here it is:
The following is the concluding paragraph of a letter sent by an Army captain struggling to make sense of his recently ended tour of duty in Iraq. Like many who have spent time there, he offers a summation of his experiences. But his stands out for its eloquence. This excerpt follows his discussion of how the United States might withdraw from Iraq by supporting a partition of the country.

. . . So we would leave Iraq, scarred, but hopefully smarter as well. The "long war" is a war of ideas. If Iraq is to teach us anything, it must be that a new idea cannot be beat into a society. I'm a believer in John Stuart Mill's assertion that "All people have the government they deserve," implying that both the choice and its consequences belong to the society as a whole. Rather than putting my faith in the force of arms to transform a society, I put my faith in the force of our ideas. The power of the idea of America had been on the march for half a century -- vanquishing its contrapositive in the form of global communism and gradually changing the face of the world -- until those who didn't really believe it themselves corrupted that idea. "Extraordinary rendition," Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib have all become shorthand for an America (or an American administration) that lost faith in the power of its own idea. Their hypocrisy seemingly exposed, people who had embraced and were gradually working towards that American idea in the world's most volatile regions were emasculated. These liberals, moderates, progressives and reformers have been overwhelmed by a new generation of extremists determined that an open society in which people were free to express themselves, to make decisions about how to live their own lives, and to have a voice in dictating the laws that would govern them was not a desirable one. What gives me some degree of hope is the ultimate vacuity of this alternative to the American idea. But as long as they can point to the adoo baeed -- the external enemy -- to deflect the blame from their own moral and material bankruptcy, they may stay afloat. If we're able to reassert our idea and to hold it up to people as a real choice, I know this current setback can be overcome. No amount of violence inflicted in the name of freedom, however, will be the force to bring it about.