America’s real role

The confluence of several recent events—the handover of sovereignty in Iraq, the Fourth of July Independence Day celebration and John Kerry’s choice of John Edwards as his running mate—has us thinking about America and its role in the world.

It would be easy at this point, especially for those of us dismayed by the Bush administration’s reckless and incompetent occupation of Iraq, to want the country to retreat into a kind of neo-isolationism that ignores both America’s ideals as a nation and its role in the world. That would be a mistake.

There are times when intervention is morally demanded and politically feasible. One of Bill Clinton’s greatest failures as president was not intervening in Rwanda when slaughter broke out there; he could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And one of Clinton’s greatest accomplishments was intervening in Bosnia and Kosovo, with NATO’s and the UN’s assistance, to forestall genocide there.

America, as the world’s only superpower, clearly can be a force for good, especially when we stay true to our ideals of freedom and democracy and work cooperatively with other nations. Our experience in Iraq has taught us that democracy can’t easily be spread by force, no matter how much money we spend or our soldiers sacrifice to bring it about. But we know it can be spread by subtler means.

For too long now we have been enveloped in a climate of fear, one that our leaders have exploited rather than sought to assuage. As important as it is to bolster our physical security, it’s far more important to protect our core liberties and values. So we welcome John Edwards to the presidential campaign. He brings a voice of optimism and faith in America’s ideals to the presidential election that should be refreshing.