This favorite reads my blog, but like most of the readers who knew me long before I moved to Spain, he chooses to comment in private e-mails.
After reading this post, he wrote:
-Wow! Getting a tad defensive living in Europe, aren't we?
Stunned, I asked him to elaborate. Here's his reply:
- I read your blog -- the belief on the part of the Europeans that most Americans were in disagreement over W's policies -- and the need to vote
to change direction. You seemed embarrassed / defensive over the
foreign policy of the USA. I guess I hadn't seen or heard you being so passionate about politics before -- and was surprised.
He got me to thinking.
Am I passionate about politics?
I hate politics. I am passionate about my values, values I acquired in the USA. Values I was raised to believe were the cornerstone of our legal system, our lives and, yes, our foreign policy.
Am I defensive?
I don't think so. Deflated, yes, and disappointed. Sad.
Am I embarrassed?
No, try ashamed. Alarmed. Appalled. Horrified, some days.
My country has decided it's okay to torture prisoners and send them off to secret prisons outside of our borders. Just this week, we've decided it's okay to deny people we label as enemy combatants the right to see key evidence against them in a capital trial.
We have 14,000 people in our war prisons. A handful have been charged.
We've decided it's okay to deny secret prisons and flights secretly refueled in our allies' sovereign territory - to deny them even to the government, citizens and press of those allies- until we are caught red-handed. In at least two countries - Italy and Canada - an internal scandal has erupted over collaboration with our secret service in the illegal kidnappings that sent suspected terrorists to our secret prisons. In Italy, agents and, as I recall, the former director of the secret service have been charged with crimes, for simply collaborating with this part of our war on terrorism. Ireland had a similar storm brewing when I was there in June.
Foreign policy? Did we really tell Musharraf we'd bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if he didn't cooperate? Do you know what I am passionate about? The anger I feel when I realize it really wouldn't surprise me if we had.
We have created a world in which Hugo Chavez can rally a growing "axis" held together by one common obsession: fierce hatred of the USA. His alliance of the "unallied" has one openly stated purpose: oppose the USA. His best propoganda is our own track record over the last 6 years. Simple news stories.
I believe that torture, kangaroo courts and secret prisons are wrong when dictators and terrorists use them, and they are wrong when we do, too.
I am passionate about my belief that our enemies do not define us. That we best defend our values by living to them. That the worst way to secure liberty, justice and human rights is to make exceptions to them.
I am ashamed of our indifference and the lack of respect we show our allies. I am ashamed to see that we have replaced our values with arrogance.
I told another American friend a few months ago that something had fundamentally changed about our relationship with the world. I watched the world wait for us to do something to stop the senseless deaths of innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians in a war in which it's now said both sides committed war crimes. We responded with stalls and spin - bad spin, at that. We announced that we didn't want a merely "temporary" peace - you know, the kind where nobody dies for a few days. We singlehandedly blocked a rapid end to civilian bloodshed. And I tell you, something changed.
But more than all of that, I am frustrated because I can see that none of this will work. I don't know how long it will take to regain our credibility, our image (and yes, it DOES matter), our relationships with other peoples and their respect and trust. How long will it take us just to reclaim our fundamental values?
When the (torture) bill Bush just signed was presented to Congress, Colin Powell warned that the world was coming to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." He was being polite. I'd be hard pressed to tell you which part of the world sees any moral basis. I don't, do you?
I am ashamed to say I know no better recruitment poster for terrorists than a photo of an American solder or George Bush. Or perhaps a news story about Iraq, or Lebanon, or Abu Ghraib, or the changes we've made to our own laws in the last 6 years.
I was sincere when I said I am asked about Bush, often. Jimmy Carter said his recent travels abroad revealed "consternation, disappointment, sometimes animosity and embarrassment" toward the United States.
I am not defensive about those questions, that consternation or that disappointment because I share them. In a way I find my neighbors' disbelief comforting. Their questions remind me that there was another USA, once, as they reassure me that I didn't pull my values out of thin air.
Labels: an american abroad