Some war hawks have defended the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a necessity of national “security” while others promoted the war as a defense of “freedom.” Poppycock, in both cases.
“Values” have real meanings, and when our ideological opponents misuse powerful language, we have to call them on it or lose the debate. (Sadly, since 9/11, we have usually lost this particular debate.)
First, the Iraq war had nothing to do with American “freedom.” Our freedoms as citizens of the United States—to say what we want, practice our religion of choice, associate with anyone, enjoy privacy and due process rights, and have access to protections if accused of a crime—were never jeopardized by Saddam Hussein or al-Qaeda.
Sure, the freedoms of individual Iraqis were affected by the war, not necessarily in a positive way. But, as we know perfectly well, the proponents of the war did not care a whit about the rights of Iraqis. The invasion had nothing to do with “freedom” and when we let neo-cons misuse the word that way, we hand them a powerful weapon and walk away.
Second, while some U.S. military actions might enhance the security of Americans, this one didn’t. It should be obvious to every American that the war destabilized the entire region, and as a result, our national interests are today far less secure. But this is not obvious to most Americans because our side rarely even says the word “security.”
Security is a political value that progressives should never surrender. Understand what it means—where government acts to protect those who cannot reasonably protect themselves, that policy is based on security. The concept of “security” includes protecting Americans from domestic criminals and foreign terrorists, of course, but it also means insuring the sick and the vulnerable, safeguarding the food we eat and products we use, and preserving our environment.
Think about it. There is always a threat that larger or unexpected forces will endanger any one of us. So progressives must advocate for government institutions and programs that help protect us from harm. For example, society has a responsibility to protect the elderly, the disabled, widows, and orphans and that’s why an aptly named federal program has functioned in that role for more than a half-century—Social Security.
Security can be divided into three categories. First, government should secure our personal safety and health. That includes military and police protection, firefighting, health insurance, medical research, and protection from impurities, pollutants, and hazardous waste. Second, government should perform its fiduciary duty to protect individuals who cannot reasonably protect themselves. That includes people who are poor, elderly, children, disabled, and mentally ill. Of course, the weaker the individual, the greater the protection required. Third, government should protect our common future as a nation. That includes building and maintaining infrastructure, using zoning powers to enhance quality of life, and safeguarding the environment.
Progressives support the concept of security, of course. But—as mentioned above—those of us on the left usually detour around the word. Like “freedom,” the word “security” seems to stick in the throats of progressives, perhaps because we’re worried we’ll sound like conservatives.
We tend to jump immediately to the ideas of collaboration and cooperation, rehabilitation and reeducation. That line of thinking is both destructive and unrealistic. Crime and terrorism are issues of security. The proper role of government in these matters is to protect our communities.
By attacking the social safety net that Americans depend upon, by blocking consumer protections that save lives, by keeping Americans from obtaining quality affordable health care, by stopping laws designed to address climate change, by diverting resources from preventing crime to filling up prisons—and especially by taking us into the stupidest and most unnecessary war in American history—the right wingers have made our country far less secure.
Freedom, opportunity and security are all progressive values. This it the key distinction between progressives and conservatives: We seek to extend freedom, opportunity and security to all Americans while they work to limit those fundamental American values to just the rich and powerful. Let’s help voters understand that.