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A Likely Correct Assessment Of US 'Resolve'

Annie

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/stories/MYSA070506.2O.gurwitz.4e3a2cd.html
Jonathan Gurwitz: Enemies are watching as Americans' resolve erodes

Web Posted: 07/05/2006 12:00 AM CDT

San Antonio Express-News

During his surprise visit to Baghdad last month, President Bush made a pledge to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — eye to eye, as the president put it. "When America gives its word," he said, "it keeps its word."

Of course, that's not true. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese lost their lives and their livelihoods clinging to the pledge of one American president to "pay any price, bear any burden," and another that, "We will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement."

Perhaps because in recent history America has not kept its word, because the Vietnam syndrome still afflicts the American political body, Bush felt compelled to refute the memory of it. What each man wishes, Demosthenes observed, he believes to be true.

But I suspect Bush knew that statement isn't true and also that he was in no position to make such a pledge. A new Congress will gather next January and another two years later, when a new president will take the oath of office.

What they will decide to do about Iraq, Bush cannot say.

Which is why he delivered another, more important message to the Iraqi prime minister, his Cabinet and the citizens whose fate is bound up with theirs: "Seize the moment. Seize this opportunity to develop a government of and by and for the people." Implicit in this charge is the prospect that the American commitment is fleeting.

Democracies are very literally not constitutionally suited for international conflict. The laws of democratic societies are focused inward on the protection of civil liberties, on the peaceful resolution of disputes and on balancing competing political interests.

When democratic societies come up against systems of power predicated on internal oppression and external aggression, as they did twice in the last century, they are slow to apprehend the danger.

So it is today with the threat posed by jihadism.

Never mind the question of how long America can sustain its commitment to fight the enemy in Iraq. Not even five years after the towers fell, the Pentagon burned and the field was scarred, it's not at all clear America is willing to carry on that fight here at home.

Within the last year, the New York Times has twice revealed the existence of secret programs the government has deemed essential to national security. In the first case, the Times held off reporting about surveillance of international phone calls involving terrorism suspects for more than a year while it considered the objections of the Bush administration.

In the latter case, involving surveillance of international wire transfers, the Times' editors, whose offices are only a few miles from ground zero, decided in a matter of weeks to disregard the pleadings of government experts, members of Congress and the co-chairmen of the 9-11 commission not to publicize the anti-terror effort.

Recognizing the tension between government and a free press in a democratic society, both Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, and the Times' editorial page defended the decision to publish as a matter of principle.

"We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them," Keller wrote.

But here's a question for the principled class. Would they have made the decision to publish so quickly, if at all, if their sources had come to them in the fall of 2001 when the World Trade Center site was still smoldering?

If it were purely a matter of principle, the answer would be yes. But, of course, the answer is no. What each man wishes, he believes to be true.

As time diminishes collective memory, strains democratic mores and embellishes principled stands, our enemies are watching.

In his latest hiss from the nether regions, Osama bin Laden warns, "We will continue to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan to run down your resources and kill your men until you return defeated to your nation."

That timeline isn't true either — the killing began in our nation. And the erosion of memory makes its return more likely.
 

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