If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And then quit. Don’t make a fool of yourself. That wisecrack has many variations. My favorite is, “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you ever tried!”
The wisecracks never tell us, however, what to do if you succeed monumentally, historically, and you’re thrilled and your heart is full of joy at all the good you’re doing – and many years too late you have to admit to yourself it’s turned rotten and you should not merely quit, but apologize to the world and join the other side. Do you ever stop to appreciate what a blessing it is to live your life “unchanged”? We Americans never had to “change.” We believed in democracy (OK – “representative government”!) back then; and we still do. Can you imagine being a Hitler Youth, a Japanese kamikaze pilot, a professor of Marxism-Leninism in a Communist country, or a jihadist who found Jesus or Judaism – and then later having to sit down and reassess your views?
Believe me; it’s not as simple as deciding you prefer salmon to tuna fish. I know, because I’m tasting a touch of it right now.
So what was so terrible about me until lately? Something there’s no support group for. There’s no church basement I can go to on Wednesday nights and, when it’s my turn, announce, “My name is Barry, and I’m a NATION-BUILDING BELIEVER trying to quit!” Nonetheless, “Nation-Builders Anonymous” begins with me right here and now.
“Understand how I got this way,” I can hear myself saying. “When I was an impressionable teenager, America was the champion nation-builder of all time. Germany and Japan had been the worst countries in the world. When we beat them, instead of committing rape and plunder, we turned them into two of the best countries in the world. They’re both strong, industrial democracies to this day. As a sophomore in college, I hitchhiked from Norway to France using my thumb and the American flag. They loved us for who we were and what we did. I guess I let that get to me.
“When Bobby Kennedy went to Poland under Communist dictatorship, the cheering mobs accidentally smashed cars by standing on top of them to get a better look. They didn’t care about the Kennedys or the Democrats. They wanted to let their Soviet bosses know how they felt about America. When European Communism fell, liberated nations from Estonia to Bulgaria set about imitating America. I guess I let that get to me.
“I cheered when we invaded Somalia in 1992. What other country invades another country just to feed their starving people, and then go home? I never figured out why they shot down our Blackhawk and dragged the bodies of our troops through the streets of Mogadishu. But it didn’t stop me from inhaling great dreams and exhaling nation-building fire.
“Afghanistan in October 2001, a month after 9/11. Righteous and wonderful. I rejoiced. Iraq in 2003. I expected a ‘cakewalk’ followed by a pyrotechnic display of Iraqi gratitude for their liberation. I remember thinking, ‘Now Israel no longer has to be the only democracy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Iraq and Afghanistan are now there to keep it company!’ I am a proud citizen of the country everybody wants to copy. Russia. Ukraine. Egypt. Lebanon. Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. The whole debauched bunch is lining up to register as an America-wannabe! I guess I let that get to me.
“So, why am I now throwing myself on the floor before you? There’s no camel’s back in the world strong enough to take the current straws. Iraq, which America rescued from a Mideast Hitler, is killing Iraqi Christians. That’s not all they’re doing bad, but that’s enough. The new Egypt we fathered by abandoning Mubarak is not only killing Christians, but, in opening its border with Gaza making it easier for Iran to arm Hamas, is now going to be killing Jews. Afghan boss Hamid Karzai sits atop a wretched corruption-belching volcano of warlord-ism, thuggery and drug production and exudes something close to affection for the Taliban, warning us America is one mistake away from being treated as an “occupying” power. We’re allowed to fight and die for them. Doesn’t that give us a credit card or two over there?”
America is courageous when it comes to fighting our enemies, but a flaccid coward when it comes to confronting our allies. And our ungrateful beneficiaries. And the headlines tell us, “U.S. to Lose Billions in Iraq, Afghanistan Projects.” The Washington Post predicts “new waves of waste!”
Lincoln said, “I will say what I believe today though it may contradict everything I said yesterday.”
Mark Twain may take me even closer to my target with his observation that, “If you pick up a starving dog and feed him and make him warm and safe, he will not bite you. And that’s the principal difference between a dog and a man.”