Antiques Roadshow was in Boston. Eric was facing heart surgery on 7th Heaven. But I was watching President George Bush on Fox, because ... recently I was part of a panel on NECN's NewsNight. One of the subjects was Mitt Romney's television ad about his courtship of his wife; the other was Iraq.
Now, I am as qualified as you are to judge a TV ad, and pride myself on knowing a lot about state tax policy and maybe state politics in general. But Iraq? So I thought I'd pass.
But then I realized: the important thing about Iraq is, citizens there aren't going to be asked their opinion about anything their government is doing. And American politicians being what they are, at either the state or national level, the decision here to go to war or not will be partly a political decision, based on what the U.S. Congress hears from its constituents. That's me. That's us.
So, drawing on my years of experience as a voting citizen, beginning at the start of the Vietnam War, I thought my way into my opinion, which is: I'd follow the President, because he is a Republican and in my adult lifetime, Republicans have done a better job of dealing with war. Democrats got us into Vietnam without a plan to win, resorted to a military draft, gave the young draftees a minimum of support and leadership, lied to the American people about the nature of the war, and eventually lost it.
Richard Nixon, the Republican who inherited the mess, got us awkwardly out of southeast Asia, and ended the draft.
Democrat Jimmy Carter didn't know what to do about the hostages in Iran. Republican Ronald Reagan rescued them, waged a successful little war in Grenada, ended the Cold War with diplomacy and the threat of Star Wars. Republican George Bush the Elder won Operation Desert Storm quickly and with few casualties. Democrat Bill Clinton learned to salute. On his watch Americans were humiliated in Somalia and our troops went to work for the United Nations in the Balkans.
Of course it's not that simple. Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis, though the Bay of Pigs invasion was a disgrace.
Americans were lied to about Cambodia during the Nixon administration, and strange things were happening during the Reagan Administration concerning "guns for hostages." The UN didn't allow Bush the Elder to finish the job by taking out Saddam Hussein, bringing us to this year's crisis.
When many of us citizens were a lot younger, we created the pressure that ended the Vietnam War; we will also play a role in the decision to go to war against Iraq. So it was important to watch the President's speech. Each of us must balance the risks of war against the risks of ignoring evil and letting it get stronger.
Americans haven't started wars for conquest or expansion in our lifetime, though certainly we look out for our interests regarding oil, fruit and vital military bases. Mostly, I think we care about defending ourselves and our country, but we are also bothered by dictators who murder, terrorize and torture their own citizens. We are idealists who want the world to be a better place, and most of us are also realists who know that this takes more than holding hands and visualizing love.
One thing I know. I don't want to turn on the television some day and learn that Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons, or that another group of terrorists supported by Iraq have killed Americans, or that Israel is gone. I'm no expert on foreign policy, but as an American citizen I get to say this: Mr. President, Senators Kennedy and Kerry, Congressman Tierney, do what you have to do to prevent a catastrophe that we would all regret not having addressed while there was still time.