4:19 PM May 16, 2003

by Rob Ritchie

I have been exchanging some pleasant emails with a Canadian named Alfred Woolley. In reponse to his thoughtful letter, I responded like this:

Dear Alfred,

You have the distinction of being the first person ever to write to me concerning my blog, with the exception of my family. I would like first off to thank you for your well written letter; it is an unfortunate fact that I had come to expect your note to be filled with expletives written by someone calling me an "asshat." What a relief that your note was polite and friendly!

Since you were nice enough to take the time to write me, I'll do my "Den Beste-ian" best to answer your points in a complete way. I can't claim that I'll do a terrific job of making myself clear, but here goes.

In my family, I am considered fairly conservative, though I'm wary of right and left labels in politics, because the meaning seems to shift with usage. In one place, left and right refer to Socialist vs. Capitalist economics, in another, it refers to Internationalism vs. Nationalism, in a third it represents the extremes of a continuum between Stalin and Hitler, or the SLA and the KKK.

In my experience, most people consider themselves in the "center" because the center is where "reasonable" people reside, and I've never met anyone who considers their beliefs unreasonable. The most people will admit to is being "left-of-center" or "right-of-center" which still ties them to the reasonable center, and after all, that's where most people belong.

I can certainly understand why many people in other nations (mine too) would be alarmed by the recent actions of the US. The specter of unbridled militarism is one that should alarm anyone. But from the inside, it doesn't look that dangerous to me. The policies and interests of Canada are not diametrically opposed to those of the US, and our common history and the reasonableness of our two nations precludes any sort of war between us. The same is true with any other Liberal Democracy in the world. Liberal Democracies do not make war on each other; but that doesn't mean that they do not make war as a last resort upon nations with other forms of government. With LD's, there is always the route of diplomacy and trade; with nations like Iraq, those available routes are limited and following the same methods as are productive with LD's is often fruitless.

I do know that wars have been waged without UN sanctions by practically every member of the Security Council in the last 20 years or so, without the attendant outcry that we've heard recently. Perhaps our status as a "hyper power" is behind it, but few nations have misused their power less than the US. Does that mean that the US has never misused its power?

To discuss US meddling in the governments of other nations without putting it in the context of the Cold War is to leave out the motivating factor behind such actions. The US has supported many awful governments in the past in its (ultimately successful) attempt to halt the spread of communism throughout the world. Many of the "democratically elected" governments you site were created through elections as legitimate as that which elected Saddam last year in Iraq.

(By the way, I'd like to thank you and your nation for their assistance in our united efforts to topple the legitimate government of Afghanistan last year. If it hadn't been for actions like that, the Taliban would still have a voice in the UN General Assembly.)

Were all of these actions, in retrospect, the right thing to do? Probably not, but we don't have the luxury of judging events in this way before we undertake them. Were some of these actions so reprehensible that they shouldn't even have been considered? That's harder to judge, without knowing everything that went into the decision making process, including the expected results of inaction.

Do I, personally, wish that the US hadn't been forced to make these kinds of devil's decisions? Certainly I do! I'd love it if the nations we shielded during the Cold War could have the same peace and freedom they currently enjoy, without the stains to our national honor that the shielding required us to take on. But I'd rather us be perceived as evil then to have real evil visited upon us or upon others.

Finally, has the US made mistakes in its foreign policy? Of course it has. No nation can say they've never strayed from the best course. But I think that no nation regrets its mistakes more, makes restitution more, and is a stauncher ally than is the US.

With regard to the question of WMDs, I think that the jury is still out on this. I also will be very angry if Powell's presentation to the UN last December turns out to have been some sort of farce. At this time, I have no reason to believe that it was; if, as suspected, Iraq was able to move a significant portion of it's WMDs to Syria, and otherwise hide them, then that does not invalidate the threat they pose if passed into the hands of an organization like Al Qaeda. Considering that, before the war, UN inspectors were asking for many additional months to find the WMDs, I don't think it's unreasonable for the US to take some time to find the incontrovertible evidence that the world rightly expects.

As far as the relative fighting power of the Iraqi army, I think it was demolished not only by the prowess of the Coalition forces, but also by the effectiveness of the psych-war that was waged against them piecemeal in the months preceding the invasion. None of its neighbors had the capability to soften up Iraq's army divisions the way that our nations could; and in the absence of that, they remained a threat to the Saudi Arabian oilfields and other countries in the area.

Finally, about NGO's...thank you for your service! In no way did I mean to denigrate the selflessness of people like you who volunteer to help other people in need. I never expressed an opinion of NGO's before, and I can see that I struck a nerve with you on this. In no way did I intend to annoy you or anyone else. The article linked made it fairly clear that it was the administrative councils that were causing problems, and at least implied that there were political motivations for the complaints that we were seeing. Just like any organization, you can support the folks who actually do the work while still grousing about the brass hats at the top.

I am sure that I have made a total mess of trying to express myself in a clear and consistent way, though it wasn't due to lack of trying. Your letter prompted me to think through some of the points you raised, though I suspect that I haven't convinced you in any way. That's OK; two people in the center can still disagree on lots of issues. And to answer your last sentence, maybe we have messed up this time, but it isn't because we haven't tried to do right, but because our reach exceeded our grasp; but we won't know if we messed up, I think, for years to come.