Australian journalist Caroline Overington has the single most perceptive piece on America written by a foreign writer I’ve seen in some time. She notes that foreigners have a tought time understanding why Bush and the war both receive the support of a majority of Americans (just north of 50% for Bush and 67% for the war in nearly every poll):
Because I live in New York, I rarely get to hear the voice of this majority. Instead, I get magazines such as Vanity Fair, which last month had a column by the editor angrily listing statistics from the war in Iraq. Such as: number of American soldiers killed: 500. Number of weapons of mass destruction found: 0.
But, as some readers pointed out, there were statistics missing from the list. These include: number of mass graves uncovered in Iraq: around 260, containing as many as 20,000 bodies. Number of people liberated from brutal, murderous leadership: 12 million. And number of times Bush lied about receiving oral sex from a White House intern: 0.
The Iraq war has cost the lives of about 500 American soldiers. Some would have you believe that this makes Iraq a quagmire. But the truth is, if Western nations have come to the point where 500 deaths is an unbearable war-time loss, then we should also say we are no longer prepared to fight wars, because about the same number of soldiers die every year, in peacetime.
I was a bit shocked by this article, as it’s clear that Overington has come to understand American Jacksonianism better than 99.9% of her foreign journalist peers. The rest of the worldwide chattering classes are of the opinion that George W. Bush is worse than Saddam Hussein. Their views on the US are shaped by their singularly anti-American media and they treat people like Michael Moore as accurate commenters on American politics despite the fact that he represents the view of a very small minority. The foreign media tends to be decidedly anti-American in their views, and that influence has consequences for shaping the way many think about this country.
It is still true that at the end of the day, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and the American people instinctively realize this. Iraq has closer to 22 million than 12, and Americans instinctively understand that it is wrong that those people have had to live in tyranny because we failed to finish something we started a decade prior. The issue of weapons of mass destruction was an important one, and Bush has done an entirely inadaquate job of explaining why our (and everyone else’s) intelligence was faulty. Then again, we also realize that Saddam Hussein had 14 months to get rid of them, and just because they haven’t been found isn’t proof they never existed. However, even without WMDs, the majority of the American people understand that the removal of the Hussein regime is a benefit for the region and for the world.
Moreover, Overington also realizes better than her colleagues that while 500 casualties are a tragedy, they’re not a disaster. We lost more than that in 10 minutes in places like Gettysburg or Omaha Beach. We’re not effete Europe or reluctant Canada. We have not allowed our military tradition to wither away to virtually nothing. Despite the pain of each loss of life, we understand that the liberation of 22 million is worth the cost. Our own Thomas Jefferson wrote that the tree of liberty must be watered at time with the blood of patriots, and we’ve never forgotten those words. As Overington puts it quite eloquently:
Any student of history knows that this is true. America saved the Western world from communism. America saved Australia and, for that matter, France from a system that would stop you from reading this newspaper.
Americans support the war in Iraq and, by extension, Bush because they see it as part of a bigger picture. Like everybody, they now know that Saddam was not the threat they thought he was (at least, not to them) but they still think it was a good idea to deal with him, before he became one.
The price of freedom is high. You might think you would not sacrifice your life for it, but maybe you don’t have to. After all, 20-year-old Americans are doing it for you, every day.
It’s thrilling to see that someone in this world gets it, that someone understands that those same people who spit on this country now owe their very freedom to it and currently enjoy the benefits of our actions in Iraq and elsewhere. If only more had such insight, the world would be a very different place.