Veni Vidi ... Vacant

Guest Columnist Andrew Adams is a UC Berkeley student. Respond at [email protected]

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Tomorrow is Loyalty Day, so pack up the kids, take the dog and a cooler out to your favorite park to celebrate your loyalty to the country you live in. Party down, throw your hands up and paint your chest red white and blue, but in between shotgunning beers, remember that for all that it lacks in tradition, being that it's only one year old, Loyalty Day makes up with its gravitas. It may sound like a syrupy-sweet Hallmark holiday, but the fact is, the idea of loyalty has made me think deeply about my beliefs in the United States.

From the presidential executive order that established it, Loyalty Day was created to celebrate that "our founding principles have endured, guiding our nation toward progress and prosperity and allowing the United States to be a leader among nations of the world." We can reasonably assume these principles include self-determination and liberty.

As the current administrator of these founding principles and the defender of the constitution, President Bush enjoys a high level of loyalty. His job is to protect us, and in return he deserves our loyalty, whether we are battling terrorists in Afghanistan or Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah.

But as we also note the one year anniversary of the end of major combat operations tomorrow, I must re-examine my loyalty to the president. Last month was the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, which seems to defy logic. As the June 30 deadline to hand power back to the Iraqis rapidly approaches, one would think the country would be moving toward safety, not chaos.

These problems have arisen because Bush misjudged the resistance they would encounter after the initial invasion, and he wasn't alone. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expected U.S. soldiers to be greeted with roses and cheers-which they were, at first. However, the current reality in Iraq is that any non-Arab looking person runs the risk of being considered an U.S. spy and risks death any time they walk outside.

These complications have led me to wonder how our commander-in-chief was tricked. How could someone who holds the highest office in the United States have fallen prey to the comfortable belief that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators and definitely not occupiers?

The reason these complications were not foreseen is not because of the lack of American loyalty, but that there was too much blind loyalty. There were those within the administration who predicted the anti-American sentiment, but out of loyalty they held their tongues. In his new book, Bob Woodward quotes Secretary of State Colin Powell telling the president, "you will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You will own it all." But Powell swallowed his serious objections and went to the United Nations in February 2003 to present the case for a preemptive strike.

Without any serious objections from within his cabinet, Bush was able to ignore the Americans who took to the streets protesting the upcoming war. Once ground forces were deployed, Americans displayed their venerable loyalty to the troops, if not the president. But Bush is wrong to rely on this wartime loyalty. It has allowed him to lead the United States into a situation that cost 494 American lives in the last year.

So as we approach tomorrow's one-year anniversary of Liberty Day, President Bush's aircraft carrier landing and the supposed end of the Iraq war, my loyalty is in question. I am unsure that I can be loyal to a president who has led us into this mess. Where President Bush is going, I cannot follow.

I am loyal to the belief that George Washington, were he alive, would object to our preemptive strike on Iraq. I am loyal to the belief that a healthy mistrust of our leaders strengthens democracy. Wartime presidents should not mistake support for U.S. troops as an endorsement of all the president's policies.

Loyalty Day may sound like something from an Orwellian short story, but as we celebrate our loyalty tomorrow, we should also remember that loyalty is earned, not given. When considering our loyalty to the current president, we should also keep in mind that Washington, Jefferson and Adams would like us to hold on to our healthy sense of skepticism.


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