Sensible people in that era smiled at this suggestion through their fluoride-protected teeth, knowing that America’s moral fiber would rot without artificial inducement, thanks to Elvis Presley having invented sex. But perhaps fluoride had another effect: It produced national amnesia.
Where was I? Oh yes, people everywhere are forgetting important things such as history, even if this history was recent. Clean your teeth, cleanse your memory?
What I am going to say now is serious — in fact, deadly serious — but I intend to say it while smiling bravely through my tears, because without even hollow laughter there can only be tears — and tears are the language of the despairing soul.
There’s reason enough to despair. First came the terrible news that a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 had killed hundreds of civilians, opening a new grim chapter in that tale of frequent horror.
The government of President Bashar Assad is assumed to be responsible, and it may be so. But the assumption ran ahead of a U.N. inspection team sent to find out what happened and how, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government “undeniable.”
So much for proceeding carefully with an open mind. Some of us emerging from the fog of amnesia vaguely recall that the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was assumed with a similar certainty.
But even if the Syrian government is to blame — and it seems entirely capable of such a monstrous crime — it would be wise to remember recent history a little more. In Iraq, U.S. efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein, while successful in the end, hardly delivered the people from their misery. His overthrow merely compounded it.
If the world community decided that the use of chemical weapons was an affront to all humanity, and jointly took action to confront it, then a good argument could be made for the United States to play its part.
Instead, by degrees, forgetful and unknowing, the United States treads deeper into a new quagmire now that old quagmires have been banished from memory.
Egged on by criticism at home that he had appeared weak — forever the fear of America’s leaders — President Barack Obama in June approved some arms shipments to the Syrian rebels, although it’s not clear if any were delivered.
That had the makings of a mistake anyway. A moderate rebel in Syria might be someone who allows you a blindfold before he chops your head off. If amnesia did not have such a national hold, we might remember that arming the mujahedeen when the Russians occupied Afghanistan seemed like a good idea at the time, but the blowback gave us Osama bin Laden and his pals.
While a few allies such as France and Britain have suggested action, it seems probable we will once more play the world’s policeman pretty much by ourselves, at our expense and with little thanks. This time it will likely be a game of whack-a-mole played from a few warships and, when that doesn’t change much, the temptation will be to put U.S. forces on the ground.
The same critics who urge Obama to war now will be urging him to more war later. They are the ones who have been saying that he drew a red line in the sand on chemical weapons and he has to attack because, if he doesn’t, nobody will ever believe his threats again. Apparently the critics who say this are not poker players. Just because you bluff once, doesn’t mean your next hand is a bluff.
It’s time to hold our cards for a while, because the truth is that we can’t afford to play right now. There is the little matter of the large deficit. Yet some of the same crowd that would spend a fortune on shooting off expensive missiles have made a huge issue out of reducing government spending. Some contemplate shutting down the government in October if they can’t defund “Obamacare.”
But when it comes to acting tough, just like with the previous president whose testosterone-laden foreign policy made a mess of the Mideast, all of which we now can’t remember, deficit concerns suddenly go down the rabbit hole of memory. Deficit? What deficit?
Fluoride has done its work well. We can smile with vacant looks and bright teeth and we can forget to cry.
Reg Henry writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.