Wednesday, September 12, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 435



Staff Editorial


Tom Carpenter        Ken Fountain 
Nikie Johnson          Keenan Singleton       Audrey Warren


Ambivalent America

"The U.S. needs to be engaged in world affairs. If you don't do it now, you'll have to do it later, but it will take a lot more time, effort and lives."

Those words were spoken in Houston by Reuven Hazan, an Israeli scholar and government adviser, speaking on the year-long violence between Israelis and Palestinians. The speech occurred on Sept. 4. A week later, those words became prophesy.

Hazan was speaking about the Bush Administration's policy of disengaging from the Mideast peace process, presumably to let the parties sort it out for themselves. During his presidential campaign, Bush repeatedly said that if there was to be peace, it couldn't be on "our timetable."

But last month, the violence in the Mideast was brought to our shores in an unimaginably horrendous act. Suddenly, the U.S. policy of disengagement became not merely questionable, but inconceivable.

Throughout its history, America has had an on-again, off-again relationship with world events. We've flexed our military and economic muscle for brief periods (the Spanish-American War, World War I), then retreated back to the safety of our homes, protected by two oceans from the messiness of the world.

After the end of World War II, that was no longer possible. A superpower, we were engaged in a decades long Cold War with the Soviet Union. All too often in that struggle, however, our government turned away from the nation's highest ideals in the name of expedience. In many parts of the world -- Asia, Central America and, yes, the Middle East -- we supported tyrants who oppressed their own people, simply because they opposed communism.

Now, we're the sole superpower. The Soviet Union disintegrated a decade ago, hastened in no small way by its disastrous invasion of Afghanistan.

But when the Red Army retreated, the United States turned its back on the Afghans we had supported and armed in their fight for freedom. That contributed to the creation of a power vacuum, a devastating civil war and the eventual emergence of the Taliban, our new enemies.

If we're going to be the world's superpower, we have to do something quite different than simply march in to world crises when it suits our needs and impose our will. We have to strive to understand the forces that drive the conflicts and actively work to create opportunities for the parties to find humanitarian solutions.

Above all, we have to maintain a sense of our own moral authority. That can only happen if our foreign policy remains in keeping with the principles enshrined in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

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