What is the contemporary definition of American prestige? I know it is a term that is loosely thrown around, mostly by politicians and pundits, but what does it really mean?
I suspect that American prestige post-World War II differs from the post-Cold War period, which unquestionably differs from today. Is American prestige based on our looking out or the world looking in?
It is safe to suggest that American prestige immediately following 9/11 differs from today's global perception.
Can we be content if our current prestige is linked almost exclusively to our military might? That would certainly raise questions about our standing in the world.
Even Machiavelli warns against the dangers of going to the full extent of one's power because you can never go there again.
However one defines prestige, it should be clear to all that the United States no longer has the moral capital to sway governments by its word.
As we examine all the possibilities going forward in Iraq, from additional troops to staying the course to troop withdrawal, gradual or otherwise, there's something about the last option that is always countered with what would happen to American prestige.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who is part of the send-more-troops coalition, co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would increase the overall troop strength, stated: "We can't afford to lose, but we don't know what we're going to win."
Why can't we afford to lose? American safety?
The latest Gallup Poll suggests that only 40 percent of Americans feel the country or the world is safer as the result of our actions on Iraq.
According to ABC News, 10 out of 16 countries questioned in an annual survey on global attitudes have given the United States a less than 50 percent approval rating, with public opinion in Muslim countries and in Europe particularly critical.
How could American prestige not take a global beating given certain realities? Every reason and justification the administration has provided for invading and occupying Iraq has proved to be false.
The current justification de jour -- to bring democracy to Iraq -- remains more a policy concept beholden within the White House than a belief emblazoned on the hearts of Iraqis.
How do we reclaim that which I believe we've lost?
We must address the U.S. torture policy authentically. There is simply no excuse for what happened, given the documents that our government has released.
The voracity with which talk radio, cable television and members of Congress wrongly attacked Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin for suggesting that what went on at Guantanamo Bay was reminiscent of some of the most sadistic regimes in history, must now be matched to uncover the truth.
We must also swallow the bitter pill of reality that there are no good choices when it comes to Iraq -- only the best of a bad lot. This would suggest an immediate troop withdrawal.
We cannot continue to place our troops in harm's way for the sake of prestige. If that is the argument at this late date, then the prestige has already been lost.
These are not overnight solutions, but they begin the process to recapture what has been lost in the war on terror.
I gain no satisfaction suggesting that our global prestige has spiraled downward. If anything, I am disappointed that we have allowed tough talk and stay-the-course rhetoric to trump historical realities. But there can be no disappointment where there is not love.
We have not been honest with the world nor ourselves. How can we expect to maintain global prestige? We have drifted far away from the prestige America once enjoyed in 1962.
President Kennedy dispatched Dean Acheson to Paris to brief Charles de Gaulle about the Cuban Missile Crisis. When Acheson proceeded to show the evidence supporting his claim, de Gaulle made it clear that nothing further was required; the word of the president was enough.
Could anyone imagine an American president being granted such carte blanche today?
Byron Williams writes a weekly political/social commentary at Byronspeaks.com. Byron serves as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, California.
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