Some friends I know owned land in Florida many years ago. It was swampy, but soon they were offered a chance to sell their land to what would be now part of the Disney World complex. The decision to sell was a no-brainer. They liked the people and the purpose of the purchase. They were offered a ton of money, and they took it and moved north. Another family I know had some land, and they were offered a lot of money to turn that land into a casino. The financial offer was large, and included an opportunity for a share of the profits. The family engaged in many conversations, including selling the land outright with no continuing financial interest, selling the land with a continuing financial interest or just not selling. The entire family was engaged in this conversation and the morality of gambling.
Now, with the crises in Egypt, our American family has reached the same point as the family that was offered riches for selling land for a gambling endeavor, a purpose with which some people have issues. We have had many conversations both in talk radio, television and on the Internet about health care. The Senate and House have debated it endlessly. Now, we have legislation, and some of our citizens support it while others vow to put an end to Obamacare. Most Americans have an opinion, and most of the opinions are based on personal experiences (or lack thereof) with the health-care delivery system in the United States. No one can say that the issues regarding health care in America have been swept under the rug. The end result has been a set of laws. Some people like it, some don’t, but we have well discussed laws concerning health care.
There has also been no dearth of conversation about Egypt. Speculation has risen over the Muslim Brotherhood and whether or not Mubarak will leave before September. Like the Super Bowl, no one knows how the game will end – although there is quite a bit of betting going on. In this endless amount of speculation of what will happen to Egypt, we have forgotten two very important conversations that the American family needs to have.
The first conversation needs to be about our morality as a country and as a world power. We have a very long record of supporting not-so-great world leaders and presidents. From our perch in the mid-century, we installed the shah of Iran, we brought in Papa Doc Duvalier to stabilize Haiti and we oversaw the murder of a legitimately elected Marxist leader in Chile. We have directly intervened in installing leadership in some other countries, and we have looked the other way with despots and dictators.
My cousin, Aaron David Miller, was a Middle East peace negotiator with the State Department for more than 20 years and author of the book, “The Much Too Promised Land.” Aaron is one of the go-to guys on trouble in that part of the world. In a conference call with reporters last week, Aaron talked about the “pact with the devil” that the United States has made. This pact, he said, runs something like (I am paraphrasing), “We won’t ask too much about your internal affairs if you remain our friend.”
Does staying our friend allow countries to trample on human rights, add to personal fortunes of the leadership via corruption, having sham “elections” and keeping women and girls in an apartheid system? Is this something we have continually overlooked with our allies? The first national conversation we need to have is, do we consider that type of “leadership” acceptable? What are the pros and cons of such arrangements, and are they really necessary to our security? Do we just write a blank check on human rights in order to have the support of some president or king?
The role of the CIA is the second conversation we need to have as a country. It has been reported that President Obama has not been happy with the intelligence that the CIA gathered on the happenings in Tunisia and in Egypt. Having witnessed an attempted coup d’état in the Philippines in 1989, it was obvious way back when that often people in the street knew more about what was going on than our own State Department and certainly more than our embassy did. The CIA was blindsided back then, just as it is reported to have been now. Our conversation needs to focus on the role of the CIA. Is it there to gather intelligence, or is its mandate to work for the citizens of the U.S. by intervening? It is an agency that has attempted to do both. It may be time for taxpayers to look at the CIA’s record of world intervention verses intelligence and weigh in on what we really want for our money.
These are not easy conversations, but the government’s declassification of documents, as well as the likes of WikiLeaks, has made the dialogue possible. It is time we all participate in this conversation. It is as important to our individual and collective well being as health care.