Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wes Clark’s World and Bush’s

I had a small epiphany a few years back when Ryutaro Hashimoto, Prime Minister of Japan, was forced out of office in a political scandal and he used these words on television. “I take complete responsibility. I resign.”

Wow. I gathered my children in front of the TV. We have heard that phrase many times before and since, but only the first part of it: “I take full responsibility.”

When we hear it now it means nothing. The last two Presidents have used it and many before. Usually today it means that none of the accomplices in the dastardly deed are going to get fired or go to jail. Even cowardly acts like those of the current President’s Men who publicly revealed the name and cover of a covert American agent and endangered the lives of others – a treasonous act for which they would have been taken out and shot a shot in the Korean War - have virtually no consequences.

Listen to this I told my kids. The Japanese Prime Minister takes full responsibility for his failure. He resigns.

Of course, a hundred years earlier, Hashimoto would have been given the option to throw himself on his sword, to save himself form the disgrace of living in the society he had betrayed. But the code of honor was stronger then and even Japan has pretty much relinquished the Way of the Sword.

Today corruption is an everyday part of life. Sin happens. But in an honorable society a leader takes responsibility for his actions. He acknowledges his failure to himself, to his family, to deity and country. He relinquishes the reins of power.

We are no longer a society which honor’s honor. Recently, I had a conversation with a very decent, intelligent and thoughtful young man who said he didn’t have any idea what I meant by honor. We live in a nation of laws, he pointed out. Honor has nothing to do with it. I think he explains it precisely. It is an American dilemma. Can a country live by laws alone? Our country does, but in each segment of our history laws have ultimately failed us and we have had to call upon men of honor at the hour of desperation: Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower, George Marshall. Very often they were military men.

The high Victorians lived by a code of honor, well expressed in its prelude by Lord Nelson, who said, “England expects that every man will do his duty.” This is the utter essence of honor. The Empress of India’s man of honor, like Japan’s, did not live by a battery of laws. He lived by an ineffable principle embodied more deeply in human nature and perhaps in divine nature; embedded in the notion of the Queen herself. British law reflects it. In the earliest transactions, like those of the Glorious Revolution, the Queen is referred to as “the Body of the Queen.” As a person, she has no rights or being whatsoever. She is honor incarnate and the sacred tradition of England. We have traded that for a body of laws. But listening to the President’s comments last night on this State of the Union address, a question still remains whether we have traded up or down.

The President tells us, “Americans are addicted to oil.” I think we have been telling him that for the last five years, since he hired oil men and car guys from Detroit to run his Cabinet and tell him what to do. But there is an accusatory attitude here, as there often seems to be with this President. It is somehow a weakness on our part. Do I have this right? Was it not Prescott Bush, the President’s grandfather, who brought these people from New England to Texas in the endless search for oil and new wealth? For a minute I thought I had accidentally switched the clicker to the aggi channel and was listening to Willy Nelson at Farm Aid or Neil Young, tooling around Los Angeles in his biodiesel Hummer.

"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline," he said.

How did we become so isolated? As I recall, six years ago we had more friends than we desired, sneaking into our country in tunnels and crashing ashore at Far Rockaway in leaky boats. Now we have new anti-American states again to our South and Russia is again rattling its nukes and cozying alliance with Iran.

Most confusing was the phrase about Iran being captive by a small group of fanatics. They seem rather like endless hordes, no? With more newly hatched in Palestine and democratically elected. To Bush democracy is a talisman. Like a shaman’s turtle shell. Rattle and shake it and you get rich, build good government and go to heaven.

The tenor and tone of the entire speech was to turn away. He seems one foot in Crawford, cutting brush, waiting for the next three years to end. As do so many others.

I turned by contrast to Wesley Clark. Two days before President Bush was to give his annual State of the Union speech, Wesley Clark was invited to deliver a speech at The New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. It was a great speech. And what pervades it is that to which I was drawn to him early on.

General Clark is old school. He lives by the rules, but he also lives by a code of honor. It pervades every utterance and every act. I heard him speak a number of times in the New Hampshire primary and I think it frightened people. And what I thought that meant was this: We admire men like that. But we are not yet ready to turn to a man of honor. Our failure is not yet great enough.

This is some of what Wes Clark said in his State of the World:

“Today, billions of people abroad believe that America's beacon is fading, our star is dimming, and that America's time is passing. Why?

“Because four years after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden remains on the loose in the fastness of western Pakistan, and Al Qaeda remains a potent force among millions of Muslims.

“Because the threat of terrorism has actually increased, partly as a result of the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, where after almost three years, we find ourselves enmeshed in an intensifying sectarian struggle that is drawing in jihadi terrorists like a magnet and creating a new cadre of hardened opponents to America and our friends.

“Because, despite our tough talk, Iran is discarding its international obligations in the apparent pursuit of nuclear weaponry, while simultaneously questioning Israel's existence and raising the specter of wider conflict in the Mideast.

“Because, North Korea, with a standing army of more than 1 million men, armed with chemical and biological weapons as well as long-range missiles, is defying US efforts to contain its threat of nuclear proliferation.

“Because, in the process of this struggle against insurgents and terrorists and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we are in danger of losing the very principles we are fighting for as revelations of torture and degrading treatment of those detained confound our long standing commitment to human rights and undercut our moral strength and leadership.

“Because America's long-standing commitment to assisting democracy abroad was recklessly transformed into hot rhetoric and direct action in Iraq— and it has not only offended cultural and national sensitivities in the Middle East, but it is also contributing to the anger and violence in the region.

“Because while we are distracted by the war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan, rising global competitors like China are taking advantage of the security umbrella we have created to lock in their own access to the resources needed to fuel their stupendous growth.

“Because the United States has stood silently while the historic opportunity of a democratic Russia is systematically crushed and other new democracies threatened by the same power ministries and entrenched authorities that enslaved hundreds of millions during Communism's long reign.

“Because our oldest friends and Allies, in Europe and Asia, are questioning America's commitment to the dialogue, institutions, and principles that kept us safe throughout the Cold War and even helped end ethnic cleansing in Europe during the 1990's.

“The plain truth is, in America's rhetoric and conduct since 9/11, we've made more enemies than friends in the world - and that's no way to protect the American people!”

As our nation opened, New England’s greatest visionary, Ralph Waldo Emerson, made the auspicious observation that we saw ourselves ascending a stairs. We have to ask ourselves now if we are descending that same set of stairs.

How deep must we descend? How great must our failure be until we turn in panic and disgrace to a Man of Honor?


k said...

Bush’s State of the Union speech gave more excuses than solutions to the problems in the Middle East. I’ve got to tell you the film The War Within totally opened my eyes about how the mistreatment of those suspected of terrorist activities can actually turn them into what we fear most—terrorists.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece, Bernie. I think you hit the nail sqaurely on the head. Wes Clark is a man of honor and that scares some people. Would that our current President had just a little bit of that sense of honor himself.

Anonymous said...

Why hasn't the media picked up on Clark's speech? America needs ann honorable leader and all we get is politicians who can't answer a question directly and care more about their power than our country. Thanks for sharing some of Clark's words.

Anonymous said...

Wes Clark's speech was stunning. The man is "authentic", a rare and wonderful trait. Clearly the General has the solutions to this country's problems - the electorate deserves to hear them. Likewise, the General deserves to be heard.

Anonymous said...

During the last election I want General Clark to be the Democratic nominee very badly. If he was I think he could have beaten President Bush. I want him to be President but I don't think the Democratic Party does, even if he can win. General Clark is a natural, logical choice but today the majority of people of this country are not logical and most lack common sense.

Anonymous said...

Last year I attended a event in Chicago that Wes Clark was the main event speaker he was well spoken, clear and concise. He seemed a bit tight however. I have met the General in different events since his run for the Whitehouse, he is his best when he is himself, I think one of his issues is that he cares so much for this country that he gets frustrated that no one is willing to stick their head out the window and scream "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more." Hopefully we can see Gen Clark one day making decisions that add luster to the star..

Jeff Jenkins

Anonymous said...