Where is the Outrage?
About 45 minutes after the conclusion of the second presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, I found myself in my room watching the post-debate spin and discussion on CNN. Bernard Shaw posed a question to highly respected CNN conservative commentator Robert Novak, asking him for his opinion on who performed better in the lengthy foreign policy discussion. Novak's response: "I don't think the American people care all that much about the issue of foreign policy right now." Less than 12 hours later a bomb exploded on the other side of the planet that killed at least 17 American sailors aboard the U.S.S. Cole, a United States Navy ship that was refueling in a port of the Arab nation of Yemen. At the same time a Palestinian mob was murdering two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, a Palestinian-controlled city in Israel. The Israeli government retaliated by using helicopters to fire missiles into the heart of the West Bank town. Was this horrible string of events enough to make the American people care?
Only now is our country getting used to being the lone uncontested superpower in the world. Since the end of World War II we had found ourselves with a counterpart in the Soviet Union, something to measure ourselves against both from a military and a social standpoint. We have barely entered our second decade of military supremacy and already we have forgotten that the United States of America is vulnerable, not to a full-scale war but to targeted terrorist attacks meant to eat away at our morale and attract attention from the media. Our continued defense of Israel and our involvement in the peace process in the Middle East, whether right or wrong, have made us even more of an enemy to many who already had the means and the desire to harm our nation and its people.
Our country is not involved in a major war and will likely not be any time soon, but this does not mean that we are at peace. The recent tragedy at the port of Aden, Yemen, shows us that our own soldiers can be victims of a terrorist attack, even when their purpose is not to fight but to enforce economic sanctions, in this case on Iraq. You wouldn't know this, however, by hearing the discussion on foreign policy (or lack thereof) that we have come to be used to hear at home. Our arrogance and feeling of invincibility has allowed and will continue to allow terrorists and enemy nations to chip away at our gold-plated armor. No one is more responsible for the alarming rise in America's vanity than our president.
Bill Clinton has single-handedly turned foreign policy into a joke, or at best a side note. It is widely believed that his efforts to hasten the peace process were due in large part to his desire to mold his legacy from one of debauchery into one of diplomacy. As is evident from the recent escalation in violence in the West Bank, the talks have failed thus far, and it is possible that his efforts to speed up the process for personal convenience have in fact set it back. President Clinton, it seems, has turned our military from a fighting force into a peacekeeper and nation builder. Whether or not you supported our presence in places like Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia, you must concede that the function of our military has changed over the past eight years. Its job is no longer to defend the U.S. but to travel around the world monitoring the activity of other countries and attempting to resolve conflicts when we deem it politically beneficial to do so.
Although incidences of civil war and ethnic fighting in places like the Balkans and in the Middle East have risen rapidly in recent years, most Americans consider the possibility of another world war remote for now. Therefore I can understand to some extent the public's general apathy towards U.S. foreign affairs. What we must understand, however, is that we as civilians are actually in equal if not greater danger of terrorism than we would be if our military was fighting overseas in a war. Our military would not be challenged by any other nation in a full-scale war, but it is still by its own admission nearly powerless to stop a well-planned act of terrorism.
In a CNN poll taken over the weekend 54 percent of Americans said they would support military action against the country or group that orchestrated the attack on the Cole. If 46 percent of Americans aren't angered enough by this act of cowardice to demand military retaliation, we have a huge problem. American soldiers are being sent home in coffins and many still feel a sense of separation between themselves and the danger. Even as our distinguished President stood in the Rose Garden on Thursday to notify us of what had happened, the eerie similarity in his facial expression and demeanor in this speech and in the "Lewinsky apology" speech made me question his sincerity (but then again so does everything else).
Clinton is currently in Egypt to conduct yet another session of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The conflicts, however, will almost certainly still be going on when the next president is sworn into office, and so we will look to either Al Gore or George W. Bush to seize the reigns of our military and continue to work for peace. Am I the only one a little uncomfortable with the choices? Saddam Hussein has almost certainly been watching our two candidates lay out their visions for America's foreign policy, and something tells me he's not that scared. He knows that as long as the United States lacks a strong leader and its people remain disinterested in foreign affairs, his reign of tyranny will continue undisturbed.