It was wholly a pleasure to receive your inquiry -- or was it more of a dare? -- asking if I intend to answer Wesley Clark's guest article in last Wednesday's paper demanding that I apologize for having supported the war in Iraq. ("A stubborn stance," Voices Page, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 27, 2013.)
I have refrained from responding to the general for the same reason sportsmen devised that rule about sitting ducks.
But your question is fair enough, and now that the Lord hath delivered him into my hands, it would seem less than grateful if I didn't respond to the general's personally challenging me by name -- "Paul, what say you?"
I'd say I had no idea the general and I were on a first-name basis.
I'd say I'm grateful to him for giving me so much grist for today's column.
I'd say that over the past decade I must have written tens of thousands of words about Iraq, the war there, its origins and conduct and the burdens of empire in general that America has not sought but has had to shoulder.
I'd say that much of what I wrote about the war in Iraq was surely wrong; I can only hope some of it was right.
I'd say the war in Iraq, or the one in the Persian Gulf before it, is not the first time an innately anti-imperialist, instinctively isolationist country has had to face the realization that this is one world after all. And that what happens in lands once so safely far-away -- in Europe, in the Mideast, on the Korean peninsula -- can affect us all too directly.
Being shaken awake by events can be a sobering experience. But a September 11, 2001 -- much like a December 7, 1941 -- will have that effect. Much like someone turning glaring lights and blaring sirens on a sleeping giant. When he awakens, there may be hell to pay -- all around.
I'd say the late great George F. Kennan, the grand old man of American diplomacy, had a point years ago when he delivered a celebrated address on foreign policy to a large and distinguished gathering. He compared democracy "to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath -- in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such a blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat."
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