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Daring to Ask Blasphemous Questions
Published on Wednesday, August 17, 2005 by the Miami Herald
Daring to Ask Blasphemous Questions
by Robert Steinback
 

For more than two years, many Americans have wondered what noble cause our soldiers are fighting for in Iraq. But to dare to ask the question brought certain denunciation from the neo-conservative political power grid: Only a traitorous, subversive, unpatriotic, flag-burning, communist America-hater would question the virtue of a U.S. military venture.

The intimidated media shied away from asking the question. A decorated Vietnam veteran presidential candidate waffled over posing it. The opposition party caved in rather than mount a challenge about it.

And so it went largely unasked, except by a few harmless pundits on the Left.

Meanwhile, the stinking morass of Iraq deepened, claiming military and civilian lives, depleting the U.S. treasury and eviscerating U.S. global prestige.

It took the mother of an American soldier slain in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan, camping outside President Bush's Texas ranch, to ask for an explanation of the noble cause her son died for -- and thereby expose the president's utter lack of a persuasive answer. Sheehan embodies the power grid's worst nightmare: A citizen whose authority to pose the question is close to unassailable (though they've tried) -- and whose personal loss makes her impervious to intimidation.

Sheehan's stand got me thinking about what other legitimate debates have been turned into sacred but dubious axioms. I came up with what I'm calling the Seven Blasphemies None Dare Debate -- concepts neo-conservative Bush loyalists feel must not, should not and cannot be questioned.

Political blasphemies aren't synonymous with conventional wisdom, which are ideas no one bothered to question for so long that they gradually became broadly accepted -- even if inaccurate.

Rather, political blasphemies are highly debatable, complex issues that have been deliberately reduced to simplistic maxims specifically to squelch debate -- which then work to the clear advantage of one side in that debate. Partisans need only express shock that anyone would dare question what everyone knows to be true, and voil! Debate closed.

Herewith, my nominations for the Seven Political Blasphemies of contemporary America, starting with the one Sheehan has challenged.

• Not every deployment of U.S. troops is, by definition, a noble exercise. Premise: Commanders-in-chief make mistakes (and, sometimes, mislead). ''Support the troops'' is not, as clever neo-con partisans imply, the equivalent of ``don't question the president.''

• It is overly simplistic to dismiss all those who resist the American presence in Iraq as ''terrorists.'' Premise: As long as the militants targeting U.S. troops and allied Iraqis are lumped together as ''terrorists'' -- a step or two below ''roaches'' -- there is nothing to debate; they must be crushed. But doing so closes off discussion of their true motivations (which would help us understand what we're up against), as well as the possibility that the U.S. presence in Iraq is provoking the resistance.

• It can be argued that the world is not better off without Saddam Hussein. Premise: Nobody likes a dictator, but sometimes, there is a short-term geopolitical benefit in the presence of a tyrant who keeps rival factions from colliding -- Tito in the old Yugoslavia, for example. This doesn't have to undermine the long-run goal of eliminating all despots.

• Not every society is ready for American-style capitalism and democracy. Premise: Such transitions need time, planning and patience to work. Moving too quickly can create a politically volatile mess, such as in the old Soviet Union.

• The word of God is what one chooses to believe, not a universal truth that unerringly applies to all people. Premise: Your belief in your particular version of God is not sufficient justification for you to impose your will on others.

• The American social model may not be every reasonable person's idea of a perfect society. Premise: Other cultures are not necessarily inferior to ours simply because they are different. We, as Americans, should proudly promote our values, but our aim should be to persuade, not compel, others to embrace them.

• Criticizing the U.S. government is not synonymous with criticizing America. Premise: Nonviolent dissent can be both patriotic and healthy for the nation.

I'm only a harmless pundit on the Left. Still, I find myself hoping more Cindy Sheehans will acquire the courage to demand answers to the questions none dare ask.

© 2005 Miami Herald

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