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The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Ourselves

By Richard Reeves

TOULOUSE, France -- "We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed."

The words are by Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, in an extraordinary essay in the June 11 issue of the magazine. Such direct words and Zakaria's brutal attack on Republican candidates for president are unusually strong fare for the weekly newsmagazines. The title is "Beyond Bush," without the question mark those magazines usually use to soften harsh words.

No question this time. The piece is not what Fox News would call "fair and balanced," but it happens to be true and straightforward. Fundamentally, Zakaria, who emigrated to the United States in 1982 as an 18-year-old student, is repeating the message delivered by an American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 30 years before Newsweek's star was born in India.

"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," said FDR in his first inaugural address in 1933, "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

What exactly are we afraid of now? Yes, we have been hurt by a small group of crazed international criminals, but we ourselves, particularly President Bush, have unilaterally raised that threat to worldwide ideological warfare threatening all civilization. Yes, many poor Mexicans want to work in the United States, but so did English, Germans, Irish, Italians and brilliant young Indians before them. Yes, China is finally becoming a modern country, but is that bad news or good?

Zakaria slips in a couple of statistics. When he came to America, the United States was rich, accounting for 20 percent of the world's gross domestic product. That figure today is 29 percent. In little more than five years we have increased military spending by $187 billion. That increase alone is more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Great Britain.

Zakaria, generally considered conservative, seems to be afraid of Republican candidates, whose national security and foreign policy ideas, he writes, "range from bad to insane." He is especially hard on the man he calls "fearmonger in chief," Rudy Giuliani, who has been talking of enemies planning to "come here and kill us." Responds Zakaria: "The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. ... How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?"

The subtitle of the Newsweek piece is "How to Restore America's Place in the World." Zakaria says, quite correctly, "We have managed in six years to destroy decades of international goodwill, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face."

What now? "Confidence," he says in the Rooseveltian way. "America first needs to recover its confidence."

I agree with that as a medium-range goal. I do not agree with his conclusion that the first step in that process is to "stop bashing Bush." He views the 19 months Bush has left in office as a short time.

The good news, to me at least, is that work like Newsweek's indicates that the press has finally found its legs -- or voice -- in evaluating what we have done over these years and are still doing. I see 19 more months of Bush as a long and dangerous time. I have no doubt that this president will soon begin announcing the withdrawal of "combat troops" from Iraq, at the same time establishing permanent military bases there.

That won't change much. The Americans will still be both targets and recruiting posters for al-Qaida and other stateless criminal enemies. The Iraqi civil war will continue whether we are there or not. And our position in Afghanistan will almost certainly continue to deteriorate, as the Soviets and British lost their positions there before we came in with flags flying and thought we could stay forever.

Do they want to kill us? Yes, as long as we are occupying their countries -- and we, or our weary young military personnel, are easy local targets. We have finally got to understand that if they want to kill each other in their own lands, there is little we can do to stop them. But should we duck and cover at home? No, we should restore ourselves and our real ideals.

Zakaria is right about that, and Newsweek deserves credit for bringing his ideas to a wide audience of Americans and people inclined to admire America.

COPYRIGHT 2007 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE


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