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Can America be a serious country?

By Harlan Ullman   |   Aug. 27, 2014 at 9:10 AM   |   Comments

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Over the past few weeks, three stories raised interesting questions about how serious a country the United States is: the Ferguson, Missouri shooting; the legal predicaments of Texas Governor Rick Perry; and the Islamic State (IS).

-In Ferguson, that Michael Brown, a black man, was shot six times by a white police officer and his body left in the street for several hours was, at face value, outrageous.

-In Texas, Governor Perry was twice indicted for abuse of power and threatening an elected official.

-And in Syria, the Islamic State (IS) beheaded an American journalist.

In Ferguson, confrontation between a black majority population and a virtually all white police force reopened deep racial wounds and long-standing questions of whether America can assimilate minorities with equal justice. These are very serious matters that the arrival of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton only made more incendiary.

A thorough investigation of Brown's death is essential. Citizens are entitled to full explanations. Citizens are not however entitled to riot and to loot during the course of a week that brought the public and the police into often violent and dramatic confrontation. Cynically, one wonders what would have happened if Brown had been white.

Nearly 150 years after the Civil War brought an end to slavery, is America serious about race? Or is it a condition that is simply too tough for politicians to address even though the country has a (half) African American president and a black Attorney General? And in this media frenzy, two other important issues were largely ignored.

The first was the effect of scores or more of outside activists and agitators, many of whom came to loot or simply because of the opportunity to generate notoriety through violence. So far this issue has been unaddressed. Second, while cable news magnified outrage over the alleged militarization of police forces, few examined the underlying issues.

Criminals and drug cartels once outgunned police. September 11th and the Patriot Act and subsequent federal directives mandated that police be equipped to deal with acts of terror. Hence, in response, police forces have a distinctively military flavor. If the nation were serious, the key question is how and when should police be allowed to use this capability, not whether it should possess it.

Governor Rick Perry was indicted for demanding that an elected district attorney who was arrested and pleaded guilty to charges of intoxication resign. If she did not, Perry would cancel funding for one of her divisions. Under Texas law, the governor has line item veto authority.

Partisan politics aside, is this indictment serious? Would the same prosecutor think of indicting say a member of Congress who threatened to withhold a nominee, insert a provision to a bill that the White House did not want or threaten a filibuster to force an administration to yield or buckle to a position it did not support? This is the nature of politics. And if Lyndon Johnson could re-emerge today, what would be his reaction to these indictments? Listen to some of the Johnson tapes if you want to hear the Master of the Senate at work doing what Perry did but often on steroids.

Finally is IS's beheading of American journalist James Foley. This is not the first time that terrorists have decapitated American journalists and posted the killings on the Internet. Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg suffered similar fates.

But IS is different from other terrorist organizations. It controls and administers territory as if it were a state. It is also a super cult that gives Nazi Germany a run for its money in evilness. IS is a danger and affront to humanity. And its caliphate ambitions are deadly serious threats to the region and ultimately to much of the world if not checked.

How will America react to these three stories? Regarding Ferguson, the major beneficiaries will be Jackson and Sharpton who will strengthen their credentials as defenders of the black community. No significant laws or social changes are likely to arise. Clearly, the results of the investigation will produce a backlash no matter if the officer in question is absolved or charged with murder.

The Perry indictments will most likely be quashed. But the trend towards criminalizing politics will not blunted especially with Congressional elections pending this fall and a presidential vote two years hence.

Most importantly, will any real action be taken against IS not because of its vile excesses and perverted aspirations but because of the threat it poses? That may be the true mark and measure of how serious a country America is.

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Harlan Ullman is Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book, due out this fall is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces The Peace.

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