06/21/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2014

War and Peace

There is a vibrant public dialogue in the country at the moment that is focused on finger pointing and recriminations leveled wildly about exactly who is responsible for the dramatic collapse of Iraq; Bush '43 Administration officials blaming Obama, Democrats in general blaming the W's Administration for the deceitful pretenses for invasion some 11 years ago. And the partisan sniping bleeds on unabated as our elected leaders now struggle for an adequate response to the disaster unfolding on the Middle Eastern stage.

The average American citizen, already suspicious of government, angry at the political and governmental dysfunction that has gripped our nation for the past six years, fearful of an uncertain economic trajectory that holds not only them but particularly their kids hostage to the childishness that substitutes for leadership at all levels but particularly in Washington, DC, and frustrated over the larger debate over the appropriate balance between civil liberties and public safety, grows increasingly leery and weary of a broken system that is seemingly incapable of addressing their needs. Confidence in our institutional structures and the very values we have traditionally held dear continues to plummet.

The level of public stress and distress is alarming and transcends political ideology.
In the wake of this miasma truly important questions are beginning to take shape among segments of the population that normally do not share common ground. I am a liberal Democrat yet have many conservative Republican friends. We have never let our political differences interfere with our friendships. Being the products of the Baby Boom generation advancing age has a certain way of allowing for a deeper appreciation of our accumulated experiences to discuss current events. Years of experience do not automatically translate into intellectual maturity but it does have its privileges.

Inherent in the current introspection that I find some of us wrestling with is an ability to find fertile ground for agreement that few have previously thought possible. So much so that I now find us discussing current affairs within the context of whether or not we may be blinded by the American-centric biases that influence our zeitgeist. Maybe viewing the Iraq mess through the lenses of these biases actually has exacerbated the conflict? Maybe our outsized beliefs that we hold the key to unlock complex international, cultural, religious, tribal and historical conflicts requires a more serious examination? At the risk of sounding heretical here maybe we are the problem?

I know this is an uncomfortable proposition to digest for the most well-intentioned Americans, but I believe that serious analysis from the left and the right is settling upon the heretofore inconceivable realization that maybe peoples around the world neither love or hate us for our freedom but rather resent the fact that we believe we are doing the ultimate humanitarian service by imposing our belief and value systems upon them.

It is not un-American to think this way; in fact it is essentially an American way of looking at things. I read an incredibly incisive interview by Bill Moyers on the Iraq situation from an Iraqi perspective. Amazingly it is an attempt to view what has happened and what is happening in Iraq through the lenses of someone who actually has lived through it. The viewpoints expressed by the interviewee are notably dissimilar to the viewpoints offered by so-called experts here half a world away. Now I am no apologist for Saddam Hussein, he was a brutal dictator, like dozens of others in this world. But we did not rationalize our invasion of his country on that premise, if we had the inevitable question that likely would have been asked would have been so why just him, why not all the bad guys?

I raise these questions because I believe that a truly transparent, public discussion and dialogue of our role in world affairs, particularly in light of our status as the preeminent military superpower, is critically essential for a public restoration of confidence in who we are and what we stand for. It might also lead us into some introspective reflections on our own deficiencies. To reject or ignore our own shortcomings on human rights issues seriously diminishes our ability to legitimately and soberly contemplate interference in distant lands.

There can be little doubt that most conservatives and liberals truly love this country but have differences of opinion as to how best to make us the exemplar we so desperately want to be with respect to concepts of freedom, justice and opportunity. When together we question the basis for policies which involve war and peace our leaders owe it to us and themselves to listen to our concerns about the long-term consequences of foreign entanglements. There are legitimate times for intervention, but sound planning must involve public discussion of the potential downsides.

Let us at least take a serious look at whether or not we run the risk of creating a situation that simply will not inure to our benefit in either the short- or the long-term. And let us make decisions henceforth based upon a realization of our past mistakes rather than continue to blindly adhere to presupposed visions of positive influence that never was and never will have any basis in reality.

And let our vision for the future be based solely on humanitarian concerns for others who may have very different conceptions of reality than our own. Forcing our will, our perceptions, our values, whether real or imagined, and our conception of reality upon others will always fall short of the desired outcomes. However, perfecting a society here at home that others will sacrifice and die to emulate will reap considerable dividends for world peace, and that should be the penultimate objective for all that will follow.