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What are America’s Ideals?

June 9, 2009

What are our ideals?  As a nation, what do we strive to achieve?  American virtues of liberty, equality, justice and equal opportunity are timeless, and unparalleled throughout the world.  Yet, the debate rages about whether or not the United States is damaging her image, and sullying her reputation as the moral compass the world uses to navigate itself through difficult times.

Consider this quote in Jim Walls’ article in the Huffington Post:

But when one panelist in the first discussion said that the question of “what America stands for” looks very different from inside the United States than from outside, you could see and feel people starting to bristle. From outside our borders in the rest of the world, he suggested, they don’t speak of U.S. liberty and justice but rather of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Another pointed out that American inequality is now greater than any time since the Gilded Age, and everybody talked about the horrible mistake of Iraq. When the suggestion was made that perhaps pride in our ideals sometimes leads us to the sin of hubris, to preaching more than listening, and ultimately to multilateral action in the world that proves disastrous, things got tense. And when he suggested more American humility–well, let’s just say we had some early Fourth of July fireworks right there on the stage…

Seems like a solid argument to me.  It also seems rather cogent to President Barack Obama , as he has centered his foreign policy more on partnership, and less on unilateralism.  The benefits from such a strategy seem vast.  Working more closely with our allies Great Britain, France, Germany, et al, sends a strong message to fascist regimes and extremists that there is strength in unity, and that their brand of tyranny, terror and fear has no place in a civilized world.  World opinion would seem to hold sway, given the unified front that the world powers would present.

Read a counter to this argument by Bob Steinburg in the Chowan River Patriot:

Many Americans unfortunately don’t understand the kind of enemy we’re facing. Terrorists will do whatever necessary to achieve radical world-wide Islamic dominance. Any tactic, no matter how heinous, is acceptable. Yet our military and intelligence agencies are now restricted to the Army Field Manual, which allows us to secure from terrorist captives only their names and country of origin since they have no rank or serial number. Our intelligence gathering capabilities have been diminished, putting all American lives at risk.

Enhanced interrogation techniques have been used since the dark days following 9-11. They include water boarding, sleep deprivation, loud music and other non- life threatening techniques. These tactics have yielded information that has saved American lives. In a perfect world these interrogation methods would be unacceptable. But we are facing an enemy that wants nothing less than to kill us…..

Is it the thought then – that we should abandon our own ideals about who and what we are as a nation – in order to defend and protect ourselves?  Perhaps it is, but we should keep in mind that to do so, we would abrogate our right to be a just, righteous superpower.  America shoulders this burden like no other. Part of our greatness is that we can shoulder it.  It is what makes us what we are.  Our Morality, not our might, should be the envy of the world.

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