COLUMBIA — Over the past three years, my curiosity has lead to me explore morality, the study of ethics and secular versus sectarian human values. It is a question of good versus evil, and what happens when we must choose the lesser of two evils instead of taking the road to a higher moral plain.
1979 — For those of you who are too young to remember, did not listen in your world history classes or just did not care, the time was filled with fear, both real and imagined. Fear of the USSR, China, Cuba and the growing influence of communism in our hemisphere and around the world. It was also fear of the possibility of an all-out nuclear war. MAD — mutual assured destruction — was at hand.
There were dictators, many supported by the United States because they opposed communism. Two of the dictators, the shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein, were staunchly anti-communist and, thusly, allies of Uncle Sam. Both made unkept promises to establish democracies and were corrupt, iron-fisted, ruthless rulers who would have made Josef Stalin proud. Fortunately, the rule of these two men did not overlap.
1998 — India and Pakistan were both established nuclear powers. One year later, Pervez Musharraf gained political power in Pakistan after a “bloodless” coup and, by default, became the newest nuclear power player. He named himself president to solidify his rule, threatened his neighbors and made false promises to build a road to a democracy. He is corrupt, iron-fisted and ruthless. Sound familiar?
But then came September 11, 2001, and Pakistan’s role in world politics changed.
We needed Pakistan and Musharraf as an important “ally” to the united front that was fighting the Taliban and “Muslim extremists” in Afghanistan. Even with his finger on a nuclear trigger, an unstable government and his threats against nuclear rival India, Musharraf’s status changed. The general/president continued to be wooed by the United States. We gave them arms, money and technical support, just as we did with the dictators of Iran and Iraq decades earlier. It is history repeating itself.
Last weekend, the president of Pakistan suspended the country’s constitution and declared martial law. It is a Muslim country halfway around the planet, accused of supporting various factions of terrorist groups, including the Taliban. So why should we here in the middle of Middle America care? If history repeats itself, if the United States and its government does nothing, it could be the start of World War III. Now I’m sounding like President Bush.
With the shah and Hussein, we chose the lesser of the two evils. The United States rarely chooses “good,” the high road of morality, over the lesser of two evils. We did not when President Roosevelt refused the entry of 900 German Jews as refugees, returning them to Germany where they all met their deaths in concentration camps. We did not concern ourselves with the deaths of thousands of innocents in Darfur, Uganda, East Timor and other ethnic conflicts. Nor have we stood up for organizations struggling to attain democracy, in hopes of attaining “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
There have been exceptions. President Clinton took the high road by ending the genocide in the Balkans, using Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” policy. Jimmy Carter took the high road, bringing peace to the Middle East through negotiations. We can do the same today.
When an “ally” takes away personal freedoms, closes the free press and denies the right of democracy to its citizens, the United States needs to take swift, decisive and direct diplomatic action, all the while showing its big stick. We need to stand up for the high moral principles we hold so close to our hearts. We need to take the high road to say, “We are a moral people and we will act!” It is the right thing to do.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.