Copyright © by Len Holman, 3/1/11
When you’re born into a very material culture, or when you’ve lived almost your entire life in one, options seem unlimited, possibilities seem endless. It must amaze and confuse the visitor to our land to go into a grocery store and see fifteen kinds of cereal, mountains of fresh fruit in the dead of winter, enough different kinds of cheese to please the pickiest Green Bay Packer fan, and every conceivable flavor and color of snack chip—enough to replicate any acid freak’s most glorious trip. Our visitor is suitably flabbergasted by the endless decisions an American shopper must make. Here, these people have so many options, they must have a hard time making a choice: chocolate or strawberry for breakfast? Square, triangular, rectangular, or round chips for a snack? It’s obvious to our visitor that America is truly The Land of Options. Except that it really doesn’t.
There are plenty of things that American force, money, influence, and public pique cannot accomplish, despite whiny editorials and editorial pronouncements in the media, and despite the legion of VERY informed politicians who insist that we “DO” something in Libya. We are, after all, AMERICA, and we have options. Everyone knows this because we have always had options—in cars, food, shelter, toys, and we have enough futuristic electronic options to make H.G. Wells envious. We have a multi-pronged military with everything needed to defeat any enemy. We know this because we HAVE defeated every enemy we’ve faced—until Vietnam. That war showed us—or should have—the limits of our power, that there are some things we, like the Romans, cannot get done by pushing over every tree in the forest. When there are limits, there is angst—especially for a country whose mythology is rich with tales of invincibility and inevitable victory over the forces of darkness.
Now we have a crazy megalomaniac—with whom we, and several European countries—have dealt with for years—watching his fiefdom shatter, and slowly and surely trying to murder as many of his subjects as possible, and we cannot do much about it. On Fox, Mike Huckabee insisted we are—I mean, he thinks our President is—too wimpy. He wants the U.S. Navy parked offshore. He wants us to shake a big stick at Qaddafi and if the Colonel doesn’t stop doing evil, to USE it. Huckabee went further and declared that the world was afraid of Bush and should have been because Dubya forthrightly wielded American power. This has obviously worked out well for Iraq, which is in the middle of another nervous breakdown, and it’s worked well for our fight against terrorism, as exemplified by the fact Bin Laden has not been seen in a Starbucks for years, no doubt fearful that Homeland Security will grab him up before he can finish his latte. Huckabee and others insist Obama get tough, but they fail to understand that—absent turning Libya into a glowing parking lot—there isn’t much we CAN do. There will, no doubt, be sanctions. There will, no doubt, be tough talk and handwringing and speeches about the “poor Libyan huddled masses, yearning to be free.” There is, increasingly, talk of enforcing a “no fly” zone, as we did in Iraq. And when we do that, it’s not an act of war? No, because we only seem to do it when not facing North Korean or Chinese jet fighters. But lots of options are named, but few, if any, can be used. A bull can take out a china shop, but the wreckage will be severe—and beyond the immediate damage there will be the lawsuits, the loss of a person’s business, his or her inability to feed the family or continue paying for the kids’ college, the drain on public finances when unemployment or welfare kicks in, and the damage to the neighborhood and subsequent lowering of the property values and psychological well-being. In other words, the days of America throwing its still-considerable weight around are over. We could fly a few fighters over Tripoli and maybe land a unit of Force Recon Marines and perhaps send the Special Ops guys with all the explosives. If we did that, I’m sure Obama would get grudging credit: “Well, finally! The guy showed some balls!.” The fallout, however, would be fierce, both in the Arab world and in Washington, where we just went through that pantomime of saying that Egypt’s future was up to the Egyptian people, and all the gratuitous and hypocritical praise lavished on other peoples whose lives were made miserable by our allies. So all of a sudden, Libya is a special case? We won’t let this play out as we did in Egypt? It won’t seem to the Muslim world that we’re not making war on Islam if we turn the good Colonel’s various palaces into what looks like kicked-over boxes of Legos?
Many would say that we should stop pussy-footing around, stop worrying about what other countries will think. We’re America’s and we do what we need to do because God wills it. We are exceptional and we rule the world. Uh, no. We certainly COULD rule, but our only friends would be guys named Bubba who live in cabins with no electricity and enough firepower to take Malibu. We have the Navy lurking and the U.N. has imposed sanctions, but when the rubber meets the road, various rebel groups will take over parts of Libya and people we don’t know very well—or at all—will be the next ones we will have to deal with. Through it all, American Power is a chimera, an illusion, and echo of the original sound. The Marines have Tripoli in their anthem, but no one sees them landing there any time soon. It’s the background radiation from the big bang. We have the power, we just don’t seem to be able to find but a few small places to use it, and once we DO use it, we’re stuck with doing what we’re not good at: running some other country and installing democracy for it. Will our mighty force lower the price of oil? Will it prevent more bombings in Iraq, or get rid of every African dictator and bring bread and peace? Our Option Mentality—carried by Tea Partiers and old war horses—needs some serious revision because the world is changing before our eyes and the indiscriminate and rampant use of force these people insist that America use is not looked upon as a big stick, a tool, but a magic wand. The hawks need to recognize that—unlike oranges in winter—total war all the time is NOT always an option in this world.
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