About Al-Haifi’s “What American is all about” [Archives:2003/641/Opinion]

June 12 2003

James Willaman
[email protected]

As an American, I would be remise in my duty as a citizen if I did not draw to your attention several factual discrepancies containin the usually bright and penetrating writing I have come to expect from the Yemen Times. What I would mainly take issue with is the list of “good” presidents the editorial, “Is This Really What America Is All About?” contains.
For instance, both Johnson and Clinton are designated as administrations displaying an “important caliber of leadership”. On what, exactly, were these designations earned? For one as obviously versed in American history as the writer of this essay seems to be, I would not think it necessary to bring to his attention that, in the area of foreign policy, neither of these presidents showed the leadership or vision on par with the others that made his list)a list, you may have surmised by now, that I would considerably shorten until it consisted of only Lincoln and (Franklin not Theodore) Roosevelt.
Johnson is probably the most undeserving chief executive that earned his membership into your very exclusive, but not very selective, club. I assume that the writer remembers that it was Johnson who condemned my nation to its most costly, torturous, and divisive conflict, namely the Vietnam War. Vietnam is a war that to this day is the ultimate symbol of maddening futility and gross, meaningless suffering. Johnson, your pardon of American leadership, referred to Vietnam as a “raggedy assed little fourth rate country”. Johnson, the idol and ideal of an American president, drew us into a conflict that ended over 50,000 American lives and, perhaps, over a million Vietnamese'. Personally, I would think that this would include Johnson's name in an entirely different sort of list by this I mean a list diametrically oppressed to the one provided.
Clinton's inclusion is equally baffling. What, I am forced to ask the writer, did Clinton do to be included in your list? I can not think of a single foreign policy victory, outside of the Yugoslavian bombing campaign, that had any positive outcome. I am forced to ask: What about Somalia where Clinton's life costing, or life wasting, decisions about supporting our troops with the correct equipment (specifically helicopter's that carried more armor and firepower) was compounded by his disastrous decision to cower to public before the public opinion polls and remove American forces from that utterly desperate and rapidly imploding country? What about the cruise missiles that wrongly struck the African chemical factory? What about “Desert Fox”, Clinton's almost forgotten attack on Iraq that was, supposedly, in response to Saddam giving the UN inspector's a hard time? Why, simply, was Clinton included when his tenure was almost totally devoid of any semblance of success and thoroughly marred by scandal and debacle?
The biggest single mistake the writer made was in the name he notably excluded. Nixon. Nixon, in the realm of foreign policy, was America's single greatest president since Washington. Setting aside his moral dysfunctions, as seems to have happened automatically with Clinton, he achieved more at less cost than any other president. He ended the Kennedy/Johnson war in Vietnam, he established diplomatic links with China, he was the first president to visit the Soviet Union, he crafted the SALT arms reduction accords, he secured an Egyptian/Israeli peace, and was the first president in two decades to spend more on social programs than the military. Why did Nixon not make your list?
And, to put aside my previous paragraphs which could, I admit, seem almost politically dogmatic, you must understand one thing about America. America, because of its overwhelming resources, has never had to be 'morally compromising'. That is to say, that once America believes it is morally right, it automatically becomes morally absolute. Once America has made up its mind, its choice likewise becomes absolute, black and white, right and wrong (hence you have “you're with us or against us”). This makes America keenly uninterested in half measures like weapons inspections and seriously enchanted with the prospects of “final” or “complete” victory.
I say this not to condemn my nation's psychology, but to suggest that the moral certitude that lead us through our Civil War and World War II and our Revolutionary War, has a dark side. A side that can also condemn us to feats and fits of self inflicted torture and ruin like Vietnam and our dalliances in Latin America in the late 70's and 80's. In short, you can not have the “good” America without the “bad” America. Like all countries, we are a complex nation and can seem to possess duplicitous and diametrically opposed natures. This can make our actions and attitudes difficult to comprehend. All I am asking for is a clear presentation of American history whenever your paper ventures to rest its editorial clout, and, I needlessly add, its reputation, to such an analysis of my nation. The need for analysis, I must add, is undeniable, and conduction of such analysis is ultimately beneficial.
But to see an attempt at such analysis of America so becloud the understanding of my nation is not in my interest as a citizen of the United States nor is it in yours as a citizen of Yemen. And, I believe, it was not your intention to further confuse the subject but to try and bring some light to it. The attempt is admirable and appreciated, but, in this case, mistakenly inaccurate and unintentionally misleading.