Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Arundhati Roy's "Public Power in the Age of Empire."

Viruses and spyware may alter the format of this blog, again, so that my profile (which should appear on the right side of the page) may be moved to the bottom of the page. I wish to thank "All Bookstores.com" for including my book in their listings. censorship, harassment and other crimes are always expected from American officials who claim to be defenders of freedom and democracy.
http://www.allbookstores.com/Philosophy/Movements/Phenomenology_p6sd.html and also for the favorable mention at: http://caveatventer.blogspot.com/2005/04/link-changes.html
In the UK, my book is now available at: http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/jsp and a profile has been created at: http://www.writersnet/writers/37159 and http://anotherbookshop.com This essay has been discussed at http://www.desipundit.com/ Unfortunately, my second book is not being distributed to book sellers because of censorship.

Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire (New York: Open Media/Seven Stories Press, 2004), $7.95
Arundhati Roy, Power Politics (Cambridge: South End Press, 2001), $12.00
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), $13.00.


Political controversy is a traditional American passtime, like baseball. Heated exchanges are not only common in a time of war, but a most welcome feature of a free society at any time. Public debate and disagreement are what keep a democracy honest about its values and purposes in the world. It was exactly such a debate, a few decades ago (arguably), that finally brought an end to a pointless and cruel military struggle in Southeast Asia. Now we face a similar situation in the Middle East and South Asia.

The war in Iraq has mobilized the "global" -- a dirty word for some is "global" -- forces of anti-Americanism as nothing else has for several decades. At a visceral level, there is something about the Bush Administration and the currently prevailing "core values" of the people of the United States that many political commentators, including quite a few within the U.S., find infuriating. Respected writers and students at elite universities, both domestically and internationally, now speak of the only remaining superpower in the world as inherently "evil," or as an "empire," or as "the primary source of much of the world's poverty and misery."

Americans are often surprised at the level of hatred directed at them throughout the world; at their reputation for stupidity and arrogance; and at the vilification and ridicule directed at President Bush and his so-called "cabal of thugs" (Arundhati Roy). The history that Americans are taught at schools, like the history taught at most state schools, is nationalistic and jingoistic. On the other hand, the books and historical facts are widely available for all to study. Anyone who wishes to learn the "facts" of history can do so in the U.S. as well or better than anywhere else. Regrettably, the passage of time has proved that "cabal of thugs" may have been an understatement as a description of Bush/Cheney's paranoia and regime.

I believe that it is absurd to relegate the U.S. to the category of Stalin's Soviet Union or Hitler's Germany, and yet those are the comparisons made today by allegedly "serious" persons in criticizing the policies of the current administration (Bush/Cheney), policies which can certainly use some criticism.

Is this fair? How do we account for it? Why are American "pundits" so unprepared to respond to these charges? Why do they seem to devote all of their time and energy to chatting with one another about the minute strategic considerations of politicians of both parties, as they jostle and shove one another in seeking the best seats at the table of power? These sorts of arguments ("How do you think the bill will play out on the Hill?") are absolutely irrelevant and uninteresting to the people of the world, who need to hear from Americans about how they justify -- or even understand -- their nations' actions at this difficult time.

What follows is one ordinary American's response to some of the best expressed and most interesting criticisms of the United States, by one of the world's most articulate and celebrated spokespersons for the "anti-America" or "anti-Bush" campaign, a self-described "enemy combatant" of this alleged U.S. "empire." I do not believe that the U.S. is a military empire or has imperialistic ambitions. I am sure that the only "enemy combatants" who need to worry about the U.S. military are those who terrorize others or who promote terrorism. Hence, I am sure that there will be much room for disagreement between us, despite my experience of torture in an American state and opposition to many policies of this government.

After several years, much of what I feared and hoped was untrue has become, evidently, all-too true in our dirty war in Pakistan, murders in Afghanistan (now captured on video), and increasing disdain for civil rights at home. Compare "We Can't Tell You," (Editorial) in The New York Times, April 4, 2010, at p. 8 with Elizabeth Bumiller, "Video Shows 2007 Air Attack in Baghdad That Killed Photographer," in The New York Times, April 6, 2010, at p. A13.

Who is Arundhati Roy and is she really an "enemy combatant"?

Arundhati Roy is a magnificent writer, whose work I admire and with whom I agree on many issues, but whose opinion of the United States (I think) is inaccurate and way off the mark. In arguing for this conclusion, I begin with some biographical remarks. I will then express appreciation and agreement with much of what Ms. Roy has to say. Next I focus on her pamphlet Public Power in the Age of Empire, contending that it is fatally flawed -- even as a piece of advocacy -- by overstatement, unsupported generalizations, unqualified invective, along with a failure to consider alternative evidence and arguments. I conclude with some personal opinions and suggestions. It should not be necessary for me to acknowledge that I have learned a great deal from Ms. Roy. I am happy to recommend her books to readers everywhere, especially to those who disagree with her.

I must say, in all honesty, that I have been compelled to move closer to Ms. Roy's position over the past several years due to an unrelenting barrage of disclosures of blatant, unrepentant, cynical as well as unpunished criminality on the part of prominent American officials endorsing torture and indiscriminate killing in our "War on Terror." This is not the America I love or hope to live in for the rest of my life. This is a sad thing to say, but I am deeply concerned about the threat to Americans' civil liberties and our increasing responsibility for great crimes in the world.

Arundhati Roy was born in 1961 in Bengal, India, but was raised in Kerala. She studied architecture (yes, "architecture") in the Delhi School of Architecture, but became a writer instead, opting to design books and scripts, rather than buildings. She now lives in Delhi with her husband, film-maker Pradeep Kishen. Her novel The God of Small Things (1997), won the Booker Prize and has become an international bestseller. Ms. Roy's subject in this essay is the use of public power, "people's power" to oppose the actions of an "empire," the U.S., that she sees as threatening the peace and security of billions of people on the planet. She begins with an unsettling observation:

"... the most powerful nation in the world -- with its unmatchable arsenal of weapons, its history of having waged and sponsored endless wars, and the only nation in history to have actually used nuclear bombs -- is peopled by a terrified citizenry, jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear." (p. 8, emphasis added.)

I am not "bonded to the state by fear," but by a rational decision to accept political principles that I believe are at the heart of the United States of America that transcend the actions of any political leader or elected official, from either party. My loyalty is reserved for the Constitution and the institutions and offices created by that document, rather for any individuals who temporarily occupy them. Among these principles is the concept that freedom of expression -- especially when criticizing the government -- may not be abridged by that government, so that critics, like Arundhati Roy, are welcome to speak in criticism of the U.S. and to publish books arguing that the nation is an "evil empire" ("evil" being a concept which she seems to recognize as valid, unlike some of her supporters).

I say this as a writer who struggles against Internet hackers and censors from New Jersey on a daily basis, whose works are routinely defaced, altered, even destroyed to the indifference of public officials entrusted with enforcing civil rights who look the other way or commission these crimes.

Ms. Roy recognizes that "free speech" is a "good thing" and that the U.S. recognizes this right as belonging to all, equally, including those of its critics who are not citizens, but visitors to the nation. Moreover, such critics are welcome to earn substantial sums based on the books that they sell criticizing the U.S. government, opposing the actions of that government in this war, and also to make a pretty penny in speaking fees, so as to donate those funds to their chosen political "cause," whatever that "cause" may be, or just to invest those profits in "corrupt" (but successful) American businesses, which is even better for the U.S. economy.

To the extent that the U.S. legally protects such a principle of free expression in its organic documents, it cannot be acting as an "empire" or as a totalitarian power, according to Ms. Roy's own principles, only in a "good way." Furthermore, if the U.S. is an evil empire, then neither Ms. Roy nor her publisher will wish to contribute to its coffers. Yet both author and publisher make substantial payments in taxes on their earnings in the U.S. to the national treasury, neither of them have chosen to give away their books so as not to contribute to the war machine, nor have they elected to give up their earnings. These taxes that we have paid, presumably, may go towards the war effort we both oppose. What can one do?

Since Ms. Roy is a business partner of American publishers, for whom she makes money with her books, as she does for herself, and also for the television stations on which she appears -- by allowing them to sell time to advertisers -- it appears that Ms. Roy is a poster child for the very globalization that she deplores in her writings. Her own actions seem to contradict her statements. What forms of capitalism are acceptable?

What is more, if the U.S. is wise and good -- at least with regard to its decision to protect the right to political dissent for one and all, that is, by guaranteeing "freedom of expression" -- then other nations would be right and good to do the same. Furthermore, if we agree that this right to dissent exists and is a matter of universal human entitlement, then each of us and every nation has the obligation to support recognition of this right in all nations and for all people. Thus, Ms. Roy should join President Bush in calling upon nations to allow for political dissent and not to imprison intellectuals or artists for opposing their governments, as so often happens in many nations other than the United States, like Cuba, that (mysteriously) do not seem to receive the passionate criticisms of Ms. Roy. Tragically, this same repression is increasingly happening within the borders of the United States. ("Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.")

If there is any doubt about it, let me be clear about my support for political dissidents and prisoners of conscience everywhere, including any who may be so described in the U.S., Cuba, North Korea or anywhere else. Not all nations (or U.S. states) have been so considerate of the right to free speech. Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq certainly was not. North Korea, China and Cuba, as I say, are also not above criticisms on human rights grounds, but then, neither are we.

Trying to suppress Internet speech -- including opinions and accusations found in this blog -- is not compatible with First Amendment values. Hence, all of us and all nations that are "freedom loving," as I am sure that Ms. Roy is, have a de facto obligation to oppose governments that deny such rights to their people. It follows that we must all wish to see free speech and other fundamental rights "exported" to the world. On that one issue, again, it appears that Ms. Roy and President Bush -- on the basis of their public statements alone -- are in agreement, setting aside speculation about the "real" motives of either or both of them. Politics certainly does make for strange bedfellows.

Free speech includes the right to publish one's thoughts on the Internet, without harassment or obstruction. Internet censorship, both official and unofficial (in my experience), comes from the Left just as often as the Right. My struggles in this blog attest to that much. Ms. Roy ought to welcome the first free elections in Iraq that took place on January 31, 2005. These were also the first elections in which women were both eligible as candidates and could vote for candidates. Her statements suggest that she supports such developments, but these developments have only occurred because of the U.S.-led coalition's efforts in that country. Hence, she ought to support those coalition efforts, if only to the degree that they foster greater democracy for Iraquis. Where do we stand on such principles today in Pakistan? At what point does the killing in Iraq vitiate any progress for democracy?

At a time when developments in Pakistan are depressing examples of the fragility of democracy rationalized, as always, with expressed concerns about "security," it will be interesting to see where the U.S. stands in the controversy. Will principle win out over political alliances, so that the U.S. will criticize this alarming departure by Musharaff from the Pakistani Constitution? Things may be worse today with even greater corruption in Pakistan. Or will the U.S. look the other way when a dictator is "one of our guys"? I fear that the latter option will win out in the Bush Administration. People in the world are not stupid. They see these contradictions in American foreign policy. I wonder whether they also see the core values of this great country for which many of us "on the ground" are fighting, every day, often at great personal risk.

At this point, the critics of the U.S. begin to cough a bit nervously and to qualify the right to free speech with talk of the need for education and equittable distribution of food, but those issues (which we can discuss separately and on which we may well agree) do not alter the point that the very people making optimum use of the spoken and written word, often at a profit, within the U.S., are logically bound to support the fostering of such political rights for others, elsewhere in the world. If so, then they should admit that the existence of these rights in the U.S. is a good thing, making the U.S. a good nation and a champion in the world with regard to the defense of freedom of speech.

I am aware that the rationale for the war in Iraq was not to promote free speech, but to contain a murderous dictator -- a dictator who either possessed, or sought to possess, weapons of mass destruction which would certainly have made him a menace to the region and to the entire world. One effect of the invasion that even its critics ought to celebrate and welcome is the possible increase in freedoms for millions of Iraquis, like those who voted on January 31, 2005. I say this as someone who was against the war in Iraq, opposing it publicly, at the time when it was first proposed. In November of 2007 many of those hopes have been dashed. The increasing human cost of this military "effort" in Iraq is making the situation a global catastrophe.

As for "jumping at shadows," I was in New York on 9/11. I can assure the world that the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center were not "shadows," nor were they "illusions manufactured by Hollywood." They were quite real, so was the death and destruction that followed this "event." It is not simply the thousands who were maimed or killed on that day who are the victims of those incidents. It is also the family members and loved-ones of direct victims, particularly those who do not know the ultimate end of their loved-ones, who continue to be victimized and to suffer every day because of the horror of those events and the pain of living with uncertainty. I have experienced similar emotions in my life. If you want to define "evil," 9/11 is a good place to start.

Is a military action to punish those individuals who were directly responsible and the regimes which made it possible for them to act effectively against innocent civilians, a "U.S.-sponsored terrorist war"? (p. 9.) I do not think so. I believe a plausible argument for U.S. action in Afghanistan is available, whatever one may think of the Iraq campaign. The spiraling number of atrocities may deprive us of any moral argument for a continued presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan.

Self-defense is also a fundamental right of individuals and nations. I am sure that among the most important responsibilities of political leaders is the duty to protect populations from the sort of acts that took place on 9/11. After all, the actions of the Bush Administration may have something to do with the absence of any further incidents comparable those that took place on 9/11. An open question is whether those actions have also produced global conditions feeding hatred of Americans to such an extent that a worse attack against the nation is already being planned, as I suspect, probably aimed at one of the nation's great symbols -- like the Statue of Liberty.

I tend to think of terrorists as the people who flew planes into those buildings, not as those who seek to prevent further occurrences of that sort, by the best means available, given the intelligence in their possession within the boundaries of the law. These preventive measures have, so far, apparently succeeded in eliminating further major incidents of terrorism within the U.S. This is not to deny that the methods used may be challenged for inhumanity or ineffectiveness in the long run. It is not -- not at all! -- to excuse the criminal actions of individuals who are being prosecuted, convicted and sent to jail, as I type these words, for the tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. It is not to deny that there is political corruption in the U.S. (New Jersey, which is controlled by Democrats, comes to mind), and that we desperately need campaign fiance reforms, if we want to do something meaningful about ending that corruption in the future. The exoneration of Bush's torture lawyers and doctors is a shameful abdication of legality and decency by America. ("America's Unethical Torture Doctors" and "Is America's Legal Ethics a Lie?")

On all of those issues, I expect that Ms. Roy and I agree, and that we both disagree with President Bush (although I am not so sure about that), in our severe criticisms of practices that currently prevail in the United States. I also deplore and I am disgusted by the complicity of physicians and other therapists in the design of psychological torture techniques to extract information from persons, whose guilt (if any exists) has not been determined by a tribunal. Such practices violate universal human rights guarantees and key provisions of the U.S. Constitution. They are also evil, as are those who engage in them. Ms. Roy goes further, however, dismissing the entire American political system as a "sham." She thinks that Democrats are not better or different from Republicans:

"It's true that if John Kerry becomes president, some of the oil tycoons and Christian fundamentalists in the White House will change. ... But the real concern is that in the new administration their policies will continue. That we will have Bushism without Bush." (p. 16.)

According to Ms. Roy,

"... it's no surprise that you have two Yale University graduates, both members of Skull and Bones, the same secret society, both millionaires, both playing at soldier-soldier, both talking up war, and arguing almost childishly about who will lead the war on terror more effectively." (p. 17.)

There certainly is a difference between John Kerry and George Bush. There are many, very specific and substantive differences in their proposals that made the choice between them meaningful to millions of people, not all of whom are "oil tycoons and Christian fundamentalists" (stereotypes are not fun for anyone). Ordinary people worked for many hours on both campaings. Although I was not a Kerry suporter -- and I am not a Republican or Democrat -- I do feel a responsibility to defend John Kerry at this point.

Setting aside Mr. Bush's military service, Senator Kerry was not someone who was "playing at soldier-soldier" when he put his life on the line to serve his country in Vietnam, regardless of his personal feelings about that war. He was hurt in the presidential election precisely because he was not "talking up war." Instead, he had the strength of character to stand up for his beliefs and oppose a Chief Executive during war time on a very subtle and complex issue of what course of action to follow in the aftermath of the U.S. entry into this conflict, without catering to cheap popularity or vote-getting. I respect him for that.

These are not easy issues. An immediate U.S. withdrawal could well result in a bloodbath in Iraq and the spread of conflict throughout the Middle East. America's political candidates are not merely different brands of "detergent." They are not "owned by" corporations, but their campaign efforts are too often influenced by corporate contributions, so that both Kerry and Bush would probably favor some kind of finance reforms for future elections. I sure do. So does Senator John McCain, whose possible candidacy for the Republican nomination in the next presidential election is welcome by many people who do not think of themselves as Republicans.

American national political battles take place at the center of the political spectrum because that is where most undecided voters are to be found, not because all candidates are bland and boring.
The U.S. is not the place to go for romantic political slogans and charismatic leaders because Americans, thank God, are suspicious of men or women on a white horses promising pie in the sky. The American political order rests on highly intelligent and pragmatic compromises that seek to respect the interest of all factions, to share power, accomodating the competing interests and values of a highly heterogeneous population. It is not glamorous, but it works -- as history demonstrates -- preserving democracy and allowing for the inevitable battles over fundamental issues to take place within the institutions of government, peacefully, with the exception of our one bloody civil war. It was that civil war which confirmed the wisdom in our system of unglamorous compromise and negotiation, of legal rather than military battles. Debate, not violence. That's why we don't -- or shouldn't -- silence people.

"I am always happy to hear that a foreign leader is a politician," one American president said, "that means I can work with that person." Yes, Americans are great at making "fair deals" and I am very pleased and proud of that fact. It is a relief to think that a negotiated solution is always preferred. Yet reason is not persuasive to those who are "unreasonable," as President Kennedy said. The military option is sometimes unavoidable. I say this as one who was against U.S. entry into a war with Iraq, who now wishes to see that conflict end as soon as possible. My concern is that an abrupt departure will have far worse consequences for all -- including Iraquis -- than a continuing U.S. and coalition presence, until some stability is achieved. In April, 2010 it is obvious that our continued presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is enhancing the dangers for all in the region and that we must get out of this conflict.

Is the U.S. an evil empire and the source of poverty in the world?

It borders on the surreal that the U.S., the nation contributing more than any other to the collapse of Left and Right totalitarianisms in the twentieth century, is now described as "evil." An "error" was inserted in the foregoing sentence since my previous review of this essay. This is a daily experience of violation for me. ("Roberto Unger's Revolutionary Legal Theory.")

I am the first to admit that American governments make mistakes, can be unwise (often from seeking instant solutions to complex problems), but the U.S. is not responsible for poverty in the world. Washington does not delight in crushing the economies of developing nations with debt or exploiting people to increase corporate profits. American media products succeed in the world not because they are evil, but because they are better at providing entertainment and amusement, even genuine art on occasion (and sometimes both), than any other communication media in the world. This is especially true of American cinema, which is simply unrivaled in its popularity and will, deservedly, remain so for some time to come. As Noam Chomsky, who would disagree with me on much of this, would say: "Let us examine the facts":

The U.S. spent 15 billion dollars in foreign aid last year. By comparison, the European Union -- with a comparable GDP -- spent about 33% of that sum. More than 3 million lives are saved each year through USAID immunization programs alone. Over the past decade, USAID provided some 15 million dollars in technical assistance for the energy sectors of developing countries. The United Nations Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, in which USAID played a major role, resulted in 1.3 billion people receiving safe drinking water sources, and 750 million people receiving sanitation for the first time.

USAID funds have been directed at literacy efforts with some impressive global results: literacy rates are up 33% worldwide in the last twenty-five years, and primary school enrollment has tripled in that period. Since 1998, USAID's education partnership program has established over 160 partnerships involving more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities from 40 states. These partnerships are building the capacity of 160 developing country higher education, research and training institutions in 58 countries. There are pages and pages of additional statistics establishing beyond any doubt the fundamental role played by U.S. contributions to humanitarian efforts in the world. See http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/education_and_universities/partnerships.htm

This is to say nothing of contributions by individual Americans, who are (by far) the most generous individual contributors in the world. Bill Gates alone will contribute 750 million to 1.2 billion dollars to education and health care efforts in Africa this year, apart from his contributions to American schools. U.S. government contributions to Tsunami relief efforts are now in excess of 500 million dollars and more is on the way from private individuals. This sum exceeds what any other single nation will contribute.

In Ms. Roy's homeland, "agricultural research sponsored by the U.S. sparked the so-called 'Green Revolution.' These breakthroughs in agricultural technology and practices resulted in the most dramatic increase in agricultural yields and production in the history of [humanity], allowing nations like India and Bangladesh to become nearly food self-sufficient." http://www.usaid.gov/about_usaid/accompli.html

These are factors that should be taken into consideration when assessing the moral quality of the American people. They do not seem to be the work of an evil empire. Let us distinguish Americans from government officials in one administration.

I am not a graduate of Yale University. I am no government worker. I am an inhabitant of the bottom of the society in the U.S., a member of its underclass. I see American society at its worst, where it most needs reform. Yet even at its worst, it is preferable to most other places that I have seen or studied. This may even be true of New Jersey, though I am "reserving judgment" on that issue. Ms. Roy writes:

"So when we speak of public power in the age of empire ... the only thing that is worth discussing seriously is dissenting power." (p. 26.)

Only those who agree with Arundhati Roy will count as true wielders of public power. Everyone else, including most Americans, is a deluded "slave." As for the insurgency in Iraq, it does not matter how many innocent civilians they kill, nor how many terrorist acts they perpetrate because:

".. if we are only going to support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity." (p. 33.)

Murder of Iraqui civilians and Americans by the heroic Iraqui "resistance" is O.K., while any action by Americans in response must be deplored. Yet Ms. Roy had previously written:

"Nothing can excuse or justify an act of terrorism, whether it is committed by religious fundamentalists, private militias, people's resistance movements -- or whether it's dressed up as a war of retribution by a recognized government." Power Politics, p. 126.

When did she change her mind? Was she right then, so that she is wrong now (as I believe)? Or is she right now, so that she was wrong then? Shall we leave it to Arundhati Roy to decide when and by whom murder or terrorism is acceptable? When "resistance fighters" kill Americans it's always hunky-dory? I hope not. I sure don't think so. No so-called "resistance" that is guilty of killing the innocent, as a matter of policy, merits any moral person's support. No resistance which makes use of terror -- as a routine tactic -- is good or justified. The U.S. and other coalition forces do not behave as the insurgents in Iraq do, do not target civilians, do not seek chaos and violence for their own sakes. This is the sort of difference that makes a for a significant moral distinction. Our use of robot bombs in Pakistan is criminal and may place us on the same level with the people we are fighting in the Taliban. ("Civilization and Terrorism.")

Conclusion: Between Hope and Despair.

Arundhati Roy is a great writer. She is highly intelligent, lyrical, with depth of feeling and insight. Her bitter denunciations of America and her view of the United States government as a malignant force, comparable to fascism, strikes those of us who live here as much more unreal -- with all of the faults of the government granted -- than anything produced by Hollywood. The tone of outrage and anger in her prose certainly seems appropriate to what she describes, but not to the reality that we see and experience every day. It is as though the world described by Ms.Roy and her "American Empire" belong in a novel. Perhaps her next great epic will be called "Empire and Slaves."

The United States is mostly ruled by well-meaning and energetic persons of average intelligence (and sometimes much more than that), doing their best, to make the world safer and more prosperous. Often they make mistakes -- sometimes due to ignorance or stupidity -- usually with the best intentions. Wealth is not good or evil in itself, as Marx acknowledged. It is better when people are fed and clothed, sheltered and educated, than when they are not. And all of those "good" things cost money. Hence, the people who are adept at getting and spending money, like Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg and many other Americans, are usually helpful in solving the world's economic problems.

In addition to his 750 million dollar contribution to African relief and education efforts, Bill Gates is one of the foremost forces for technical education in the world, doing more than many nations to assist with computer literacy and science training in poor nations. Whatever you may think about Microsoft or even if you hate computers, for his charitable contributions alone, the world is much better with than without Bill Gates. Besides, any time a man with several pens in his pocket marries a supermodel I find new reason to hope that there is a just God in the universe.

Americans are not paranoid, do not jump at shadows, do not hate everyone else (for one thing, "everyone else" can be found right here in the U.S., usually in any neighborhood in New York). The primary U.S. objectives in foreign policy are stability and peace, which are good for prosperity and "for people too," as the politicians say. Any presidential administration is made more bearable by the thought that "soon there will be a new pack of rats in the White House." The U.S. really does hope to foster human rights, including the right to free expression of its critics, democracy, free trade (and no, that is not a bad thing), improved medical and educational care for all persons in the world. Are we naive or idealistic? Maybe. Evil? No.

Never count out American idealism and "know how." These qualities are on display, at their best, when humans find themselves playing golf on the moon, witnessing the collapse of the walls of totalitarianism in the twentieth century, or in the eyes of African children in a refugee camp invited to a screening of "The Wizard of Oz" by those "evil" Americans, flying in food and medicine from the "mid-west," often at their own expense or as volunteers. What have you done lately for the poor?

In the great film "Casablanca," we are reminded not to "underestimate American bungling." After all, American efforts may yet leave the Middle East and the world safer, better fed, more stable, better educated, more prosperous and healthier than it has ever been before. Admittedly, the chances for a good outcome in Iraq seem to be disappearing. Yet there is still hope. I suggest that we work to make those hopes a reality. I always love a happy ending. Don't you?

What little chance exists for a happy ending in our struggles in life will be gone at the instant when we decide that "nothing matters" or that "we have seen through it all." Cynicism and nihilism are ways of embracing death. Hopefulness and optimism are as American as Sweedish apple pies or my favorite Indian bread, nan, from the restaurant at 178th Street.

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