The world has endured what seems to be more than its share of catastrophes in the past few years, both man-made and from Nature.
There is a provisional mood of alarm among the peoples of our little planet, including those we label “rich” and “poor,” “powerful” and “powerless.” Almost everyone feels it; it is disturbing and intuitive. Optimism and hope seem at a low ebb. The daily news, now instantly transmitted by computers using e-mail, Twitter, Face Book and their almost-instantly created succeeding phenomena, gets worse and worse by the hour. What the hell is going on?
At this very moment, two catastrophes are occurring on opposite ends of the earth. One is man-made, the civil war in Libya in which a pitiless dictator is slaughtering his own population to retain power; and the other is in Japan, where Nature has served up an unspeakable earthquake and tsunami that has devastated one of the most important industrial nations on earth.
For almost one hundred years, one nation has had the resources, capability and moral/ethical desire to provide relief on the scale of the greatest world catastrophes. In war and peace, the United States of America, the world’s first modern democracy/republic, and the longest-lasting, has reliably, and often heroically, stepped up to help its neighbors and even its adversaries. Without the United States, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, holocausts in Europe and Africa, countless earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones, volcanic eruptions, floods and other major disasters, might have been much worse. Much, much worse.
We were always there, and when we came to help, we we were welcomed. In an all-too familiar pattern, when the crisis was over, or resolved, gratitude often became criticism and resentment. Perhaps that goes with the territory. But when the next crisis came, we were there again, putting up the blood of our soldiers, the storehouses of our food harvests, the medical and scientific technologies of our scientists, the toil and sweat of our aid workers, physicians and nurses.
Now we face two crises. In Libya, the people have clearly revolted against a cruel and murderous dictator after 40 years, but his army of paid mercenaries and his elite troops are proving difficult to defeat, and the idealism of the Libyan youth is no match for Kaddafi’s soul-less murder and cruelty. If the Arab, European and U.S. states do not intervene, Kaddafi will triumph and then exact unspeakable revenge on his own people.
But the Middle East has been a cauldron of violence and tyranny for half a century, and when the United States intervened, first in Kuwait, and then in Iraq (after it was attacked by Islamic terrorists), it received worldwide condemnation for the latter, even among many of our allies. But we succeeded in ousting another murderous tyrant, although we made mistakes in the process, and the usual criticism became acute. In that aftermath, the Obama administration has been faced with the dilemma of what to do in Libya.
As my readers know, I have been a very strong and relentless critic of President Obama and both his domestic and foreign policies. But I may surprise some when I say that his so-called “hesitation” about intervening in the Libyan crisis is NOT bad or wrong policy. I think he and his advisers have taken account of the U.S. record in recent years, and the world’s response, as well as our nation’s vulnerabilities at this time and our overriding national interests, and moved with understandable and, yes, laudable caution. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe the world community MUST intervene against Kaddafi, and IMMEDIATELY, but it’s time for others, long the beneficiary of American compassion, to step up to the plate themselves. (And while I am not criticizing President Obama for his hesitation so far, he must now, and quickly, successfully bring in Arab and European nations to help the Libyan people throw off Kaddafi and his regime. If he does not, hundreds of thousands of innocent Libyans will be murdered. If he does not, his “hesitation” will have been indeed a failure of historic consequence.)
This situation is the long-brewing consequence of the world taking our help, and then turning on us. Europe gladly took our protection for 50 years against the threats of the Soviet Union. It took our money and our troops, but many European countries failed to support us, even criticized us, for our actions in the Middle East. Only Great Britain and the smaller European states consistently sided with us when we most needed it.
We have no true “interests” in Africa, but we have provided aid in various ways throughout that continent’s continual disasters of drought, AIDS, civil war and mini-holocausts. After defeating bestial fascist regimes in Germany and Japan in 1945, we immediately began massive assistance to their populations. To their credit and ours, both those nations arose from defeat and the ravages of war to become important industrial powers, capitalist democracies, and our friends. There have been inevitable disagreements, tensions and problems in our
relationships with Germany and Japan, but unlike some of our allies, they have not turned against us. There IS a right way of international conduct, based on respect and compassion.
Now our friend and ally Japan, a vibrant industrial free nation, has endured a shattering natural disaster, the full dimensions of which are yet unknown. Massive aid from around the world will be critically necessary. The U.S. will not provide all of that aid, but we are the one nation on earth who can provide much of it. When an earlier tsunami occurred in the Pacific, with horrendous loss of life, we were there. When an earthquake in Haiti almost destroyed that already-suffering nation, we were there. We are almost always there.
We are not above criticism. We make mistakes. Individual Americans can be thoughtless and arrogant. But we are the best back-up the world now has. Our hearts are in the right place. In that sense, we are now (although not necessarily will be always) the planet’s EXCEPTIONAL nation. Liberals who are made uneasy by that designation, and conservatives who reject it, should get over their self-made neurotic qualms. It’s simply a fact.
But it may not always be a fact. What will the world do if the U.S. falters, and there is no one to defend freedom, no one to help the oppressed, no one to care for the victims of natural disaster?
Some believe that China and India will succeed the U.S. as the world’s greatest powers because of their vast populations, and their recent joining of the capitalist community. Perhaps that will be so. But will they defend the persecuted, feed the poor, and care for the victims of natural disaster? I hope so, and I hope they will stand up now to demonstrate their growing responsibilities in the world.
With freedom, affluence and power comes these responsibilities. Life is a provisional experience. Those with power can lose it. Every major religion in the world believes in human compassion. In these current hours of particular disaster, human suffering, rising totalitarianism and state-run violence, we must recover our hope and our common humanity. Let there be no doubt, greater challenges and natural catastrophes await us beyond the present time, to be faced by our children and their children. If they are to have any chance of dealing with those now-unknown threats, we today must face and deal with ours.