September 17, 2014

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Restoring the world's faith in America

July 31, 2008
By Steve Mount

I recently heard on National Public Radio the story of a Billings, Mont. businessman who was in a bind. In his low-unemployment city, he was having a hard time filling an information technology position in his small company.

Driving to work one day, Rob Hunter heard the story of Bahjat, an Iraqi IT specialist who worked with the Americans in his country. Because of his work, Bahjat was targeted by Iraqi insurgents. He applied for and got refugee status, moved his mother and sister with him to Florida, and began looking, in vain, for work.

Hunter contacted Bahjat and offered him the open position. Though unsure why someone from so far away would want to help him, Bahjat eventually accepted the job.

As the family drove a donated car from Florida to Montana, Hunter organized his friends and neighbors to contribute home goods to furnish a small apartment and to ensure that Bahjat and his family would feel welcome when they arrived.

Throughout the world, America is reviled, looked down upon, feared, hated. But in a world where crowds are wont to chant “Death to America!” stories like that of Hunter and Bahjat give me some hope that we can turn this negative perception around.

While hatred of America is nothing new, it is surprising when you look back at where we were in September 2001.

As I'm sure you recall, in the days following the attacks on Washington and New York, we enjoyed an outpouring of support from all corners of the world. The Bush administration, with its arrogant approach to diplomacy, has squandered most of that good will.

We need more Rob Hunters to restore our position in the world.

Locally, we are doing our part. My parents run an employment agency in Burlington, and over the years I've heard many stories of refugees coming here to start over. Be they Vietnamese, Cambodian, Croatian, Bantu, Congolese or Iraqi, desperate to make their own way, they would take any job they could find.

Similar stories dot the pages of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program's online newsletters: Vermonters lending their language skills to newcomers; Vermonters donating gently-used winter gear to Africans seeing snow for the first time; and Vermonters introducing immigrants to the wonders of an American grocery store.

We Americans have big hearts, and it is disheartening when the world reacts only to the negatives.

So it was with some great enthusiasm that I watched Barack Obama visit Europe last week. According to some estimates, the size of the crowd that he addressed in Berlin was even larger than his largest thus far here in the U.S.

Some of the onlookers were spurred by curiosity, to be sure. But I think there is more to it than that. With some exceptions, I think that most of the world wants, desperately, to look up to the United States. It cannot bring itself to do that while Bush is at the helm, and McCain just looks like more of the same.

Obama is bringing ideas to the American people, and, by way of wide media coverage, to the world. Most of them are not new ideas — they are long-held Democratic Party principles — but they seem fresh after eight years of Bush.

But more than restating Democratic Party ideals, more than a return to an America that values conversation, diplomacy and cooperation, Obama is seen as a realization of a classic American ideal, the same ideal that Lincoln's log cabin once evoked.

That's the ideal that anyone, from whatever background, can excel in America. That regardless of our checkered history, even the son of a Kansan and a Kenyan can become our head of state.

Obama is also seeking to restore another classic American ideal — that of John Winthrop's City Upon a Hill. Though Winthrop envisioned an America worthy of almost religious worship, the phrase has evolved to mean an America founded on democratic principles that all nations should aspire to.

Restoring our position of leadership in the world must be a goal of the next president. With people like Barack Obama and Rob Hunter working to that goal, either deliberately or tangentially, we can restore our position, we can be a beacon, we can again be that city upon a hill.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at [email protected] or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.

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Liberally speaking

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July 17, 2008
By Steve Mount

Breaking up the Axis of Evil

 

Technically, the United States is not now, nor has it been since 1945, at war. The Constitution is very specific on the point — for a legal state of war to exist, war must be declared by Congress. No such declaration was made for Korea, nor Vietnam, nor Iraq, nor Afghanistan, nor Iraq the second time around.

But in 2002, just a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush created a new kind of declaration, a declaration that we still live with every day. This declaration was that some nations, and three in particular, were an Axis of Evil.

In his declaration, Bush put these nations and the world on notice: “America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.”

Those three nations, of course, were North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

These nations all seemed to derive perverse pleasure out of goading the United States and the world.

Iraq's Saddam Hussein infamously ordered the use of poison gas against his own people in the 1980s and used “human shields” in 1990. He was dispatched by the most direct of means.

After being told that Hussein had and was ready to use all manner of weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological, nuclear — he was deemed a threat that had to be dealt with harshly.

His nation invaded and overwhelmed by American and British troops, Hussein fled and hid. He was captured by U.S. troops, and was then tried, convicted and hanged by Iraqi courts.

In North Korea, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il is a megalomaniac dictator who sees nuclear weapons and missile development as more pressing needs than the care and feeding of his people.

Here, Kim has had a better fate than Hussein. Much of this likely has to do with the fact that he actually has nuclear weapons — something Hussein could only dream about. Though his tests seemed to fizzle, they were nukes nonetheless, and the United States and four other interested nations have been negotiating with Kim's acolytes for years.

With the symbolic implosion of a cooling tower at North Korea's nuclear fuel processing facility, a potential crisis seems to have been avoided.

The third leg of the Axis is Iran, with which the United States has had poor relations for nearly 30 years. The big question is, what to do with Iran?

Iran has cycled through a procession of leaders, both political and religious, over the last 30 years, and so it is hard to point a finger at a single individual to rally public opinion. Iran, though, seems intent on drawing that attention to itself.

Whether it is direct threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf or the Straits of Hormuz, issuance of threats against the United States and Israel (including banners declaring “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” in military parades), or the recent test-firing of missiles capable of reaching Israel (going so far as to use PhotoShop to make it look like more missiles were fired than actually were), Iran's saber rattling seems designed to provoke a response.

Though the Bush administration correctly says that a military option is always on the table, my sincere hope is that we take the tack that we took with North Korea.

Unfortunately, preventing a conflict is not going to be easy. Iran is deliberately making Israel feel like it is backed into a corner. Iran's unfortunate and irrational animosity toward Israel could be its undoing, and the undoing of any chance for peace in the region.

Equally unfortunate, diplomacy is not seen as one the Bush administration's strong points.

On this one, though, we can't wait for an Obama administration. This is something Bush will have to deal with in his waning time.

If Iraq was the only example we had, I would not be confident that Bush could fix this one without force. But with the example of North Korea added to the picture, I think we have at least even odds of averting crisis.

Our troops, and civilian populations in Israel and Iran, would not be able to tell the difference between a declared war and an undeclared war. The result in either case is invariably death and destruction. For this last leg of the Axis of Evil, hopefully diplomacy will be the weapon of choice.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at [email protected] or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.

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