It has to be nurtured, celebrated and protected from its enemies everywhere and always.
AL UDEID, Qatar — I’ve been on the road since the Charlottesville killing. I am traveling around the Arab world and Afghanistan with the chief of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein; his civilian boss, the Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson; and their aides.
With all the news from Charlottesville, I was feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then I looked around me here, and the connection with Charlottesville became obvious. Just one glance at our traveling party and you realize why we are the most powerful country in the world.
It’s not because we own F-22s. It’s because we embrace pluralism. It’s because we can still make out of many, one.
I am a pluralism supremacist.
I look around me and see our Air Force chief, who is of Eastern European Jewish descent, reporting to a woman Air Force secretary, who was among the early women graduates of the Air Force Academy and whose senior aide is an African-American woman lieutenant colonel.
In the control center I’m introduced to the two Russian-speaking U.S. servicemen who 10 to 12 times a day get on the local “hotline” with the Russian command post in Syria to make sure Russian planes don’t collide with ours. One of the servicemen was born in Russia and the other left Kiev, Ukraine, just five years ago, in part, he told me, because he dreamed of joining the U.S. Air Force: “This is the country of opportunity.”
Then we get a briefing from the combat innovation team. I ask the commander about his last name — Ito — and he explains, “My dad is from Cuba and my mother is from Mexico.” The intelligence briefing was delivered by “Capt. Yang.”
The very reason America is the supreme power in this region is that the U.S. military can take all of those different people and make them into a fist. And the very reason we are stuck in this region and can’t get out is that so many of the nation-states and people here are fighting only for their exclusivist dreams of supremacy .
With a few exceptions, they can’t generate self-sustaining power-sharing. Which is why we keep defeating the worst of them and they keep losing the peace, because the best of them can never share power long enough and deep enough to build lasting stability.
None of the U.S. military people here talk U.S. politics. But I do. As a citizen, I say they deserve a commander in chief who does not need three tries to grudgingly denounce violent white supremacists. Pluralism is our true source of strength at home and abroad. It has to be nurtured, celebrated and protected from its enemies everywhere and always.
Now that I got that off my chest, let’s talk strategy. On one recent day you could look up at screens and find a Syrian jet fighter preparing to drop bombs near U.S. Special Forces in Syria. The Syrian jet is about to be blown out of the sky by a U.S. jet fighter, while two Russian fighters watch from a higher altitude and a stealth U.S. F-22 watches the Russians watching the U.S. plane watching the Syrian.
The good news? ISIS, having been largely defeated in Iraq, will most likely be defeated in Syria, too, by Americans, Kurds, Russians, Syrians, Iranians and pro-Iranian militias. The bad news? There is a good chance that ISIS’ territory will ultimately fall under Iran’s sway.
Preventing that would require the Arab-Sunni Muslim world to get its act together, but it is as weak and divided as ever.
So, do we just keep trying? You can’t visit one of these huge U.S. bases built since 9/11, see the dedication of the young men and women, and the sophistication of the systems they have built, and not wonder: What if all of this talent and energy and idealism and pluralism were applied not to propping up a decrepit Arab state system against Iran, but instead fixing the worst neighborhoods of Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit?
We need to have a national discussion about this.