There was an interesting contrast between two prominent American figures who support the war in Iraq over the weekend. On Meet the Press, former House Republican Majority leader Tom DeLay took the position that during times of war, like now, there should be no opposition. And demonstrations of the kind that occurred during the last few days in Washington and elsewhere were “aiding and abetting the enemy.” All Americans have a duty to stand by their “commander-in-chief” he asserted. On Face the Nation, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believed that everyone involved in the debate about the war is “patriotic” and looking for the best solution. One man is scrambling to come out of a retirement forced by ethical scandal and get back into politics. The other gave up the prestigious post of president of Texas A&M University to serve his country again. One appears to have forgotten that America was forged in dissent and born in opposition to the status quo and entrenched power. The other writes personal letters to the families of fallen military personnel who perform the ultimate act of sacrifice to preserve America’s constitutional freedoms.
Is it not interesting how the styles of leaders say so much about their character and how philosophies of governance are often measures of one’s tolerance, fairness and decency as a civilized person? I disagree with almost every aspect of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq, which began four years ago today. But I am heartened that America can still summon people like Bob Gates, who answer that call with humility, a knowledge of history and a sense of personal responsibility for the trust they hold.
It is going to take some very rare leadership skills on both sides of the political aisle in Washington to respond to the increasing opposition to the war at home and, at the same time, manage the Pandora’s box of civil war, sectarian violence, corruption and instability that was opened with the first volley in the campaign of shock and awe four years ago. If ever there were words that will stand as testimonial to the folly of overconfident leaders who are guided only by information that corresponds with their pre-determined views, it is the phrase shock and awe.