Theodore Roosevelt right: It is not unpatriotic to criticize president

Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2003

As an American who has lived through four wars in which this country has been involved (five, if Panama is considered a war) and is a veteran of one of them (Korea), I have a few opinions on this one that I'd like to offer.

First, many Americans seem confused about who our enemies are. Of the 19 people who hijacked the airliners and used them to attack us on Sept. 11, 2001, none were Iraqis. Fifteen were Saudi Arabians, citizens of a country with which we have, officially at least, good relations; four were Egyptians, citizens of a country that is second only to Israel in the amount of American foreign aid it receives. When the high-ranking al-Qaeda member was captured recently, it was in Pakistan, nominally a U.S. ally, not Iraq.

Yes, those countries share with Iraq the fact that the majority of their residents are Muslims; while this doesn't make them enemies of this country, our action in attacking Iraq is bound to do so. That is to say, this war will be counterproductive for us. It's as if you are stung by a bee, so you get a baseball bat and whack the hell out of the beehive; it may give you some satisfaction, for a second or two, but you are going to start regretting it, right after that!

I could go on at some length about the reasons I believe the decisions made on this matter by President Bush are wrong, but the Clarion would soon run out of space in its letters section to print this one. Several reasons for attacking Iraq have been given. It is alleged that it has weapons of mass destruction, but so far the U.N. inspectors have only found a few rockets which may have a range greater than that permitted under the armistice of 1991, and those have been destroyed, or were in the process of being destroyed when we attacked them.

The facilities necessary to produce nuclear devices would be hard to conceal, so it is very doubtful that they have such weapons. Iraq has used chemical weapons against revolutionary Iran, which it attacked and fought a bloody war with in the 1980s, and against its own people, as we were aware of when we furnished them with intelligence information obtained by our reconnaissance satellites to assist them in that conflict. The U.N. weapons inspectors could probably have found any significant stocks of such weapons or facilities to produce them, had they been allowed by us to continue their inspections.

Iraq has been reliably reported to have produced a large amount of anthrax in weaponized form, but while this is very nasty stuff indeed, it is not a battlefield weapon, in that it does not act immediately on the persons against whom it is used. It could be very dangerous in the hands of those who would like to use it against us, with the capability of delivering it on a widespread scale, but as far as is known, they have not done so. Who can doubt, however, that in the dying throes of Saddam's regime, they would be willing to do this? (The anthrax delivered to two specific targets -- two Democratic Senators -- shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have never been traced to a specific sender, but it seems likely to me that if it was done by al Qaeda, they would have obtained more of it, and delivered it in a much more widespread manner.) Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are all reliably reported to have nuclear weapons (or, in the case of North Korea, on the verge of producing them), but we haven't attacked these countries. President Bush has tried to link Iraq with al Qaeda, but has not produced any concrete evidence of this; if he has any, he should trust Americans enough to tell us what it is.

Now he is saying that he wants to overthrow the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqis freedom and democracy, but they don't seem to be convinced of this yet. Perhaps he could do a better job of it if he had not tried to bully the U.N., rejected the International Criminal Court, and otherwise acted as if we are the only country in the world whose opinion merits any respect.

And if we are going to go around liberating other countries, there are a number of them as bad as, or in many cases worse than, Iraq: North Korea and Myanmar (Burma), to name two, and many, many others in the same class with Iraq, including many of our nominal allies. And the Palestinians, who suffer under the brutal treatment of Israel, a country we support economically and militarily and have used our veto in the U.N. Security Council on numerous occasions to protect, have good reason not to consider us fair or benign.

This administration's rejection of the ABM treaty, the International Criminal Court and other international agreements reflects an intention to "go it alone." Mr. Bush and his advisers seem to feel that we don't need any friends in the world, and their actions will soon ensure that we have none.

Driving past a local business, I have seen a sign that states: "WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS AND OUR PRESIDENT, GEORGE W. BUSH." I certainly agree with the first part of that statement. Some people seem to think that during wartime it is not patriotic to criticize the president or his actions, even if it was an unnecessary war, that he initiated.

I would like to quote a man I believe is our second-greatest Republican president, right behind Abraham Lincoln, in this regard:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right.

"Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else.

"But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than any one else."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, May 7, 1918

As the saying goes: Think about it!

Jerry Brookman

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