A line in a song from the 1952 film Moulin Rouge ran, “It’s always like this, I worry and wonder, you’re close to me here, but where is your heart?” I would like to know just where America’s heart is now? Where did it go?
One issue that raises the question is the dispute over some 57,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived at America’s border since last October from Central America.
I get it, we can’t just let every poor country in the world flood us with its children with the expectation that we will take care of them. It is obvious that we have to increase both our controls on who crosses our borders and our encouragement to people in these countries not to put their children’s lives at risk by letting them go on the perilous journey from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras through Mexico to America’s Southwest.
On the other hand, these are children, not murderous louts. The idea that America, with a population of 318 million, can’t absorb them easily is just silly. Even worse, when Americans spend $61 billion per year taking care of pets, the suggestion that we can’t afford to take in children fleeing danger and miserable poverty to the profit of unscrupulous child traffickers is a lot worse than silly. It is shameful.
Taking them in is opposed by people who don’t want to pay another few cents a year in taxes to cover the social costs these children may incur for a few years of their lives. What about the fact that many Americans’ forbearers came here — some not even that long ago — in abject poverty or as indentured servants or slaves and were taken in by America? Where has our heart gone?
Let’s try another one, the greedy-guts executives who move their American companies overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. Their argument is that they need to remain competitive with foreign companies and must pay their shareholders the high dividends they expect or “have a right to.” Of course, if the executives don’t deliver those high dividends, the shareholders will get rid of them.
The people who make these decisions obviously don’t give a sigh about the other results of their actions.
First, because of what they do, Americans lose jobs.
Second, their legal evasion of American taxes means that there is less money for federal, state and local governments to pay for schools, infrastructure, health care, safety nets — including for those whom the companies’ actions have made unemployed. Americans losing jobs also means there is less money going into our economy, which depends 70 percent on consumption, so these companies’ actions help keep economic growth sluggish. Poverty in this country just increases.
So where are these people’s hearts? Do they not care about unemployment in America? Do they not care about governments’ ability to provide for the needs of our people, including employment? Is all they care about their shareholders’ dividends and capital gains and their own ability to squeeze profits out of their companies? Their heart’s blood is certainly not red, white and blue; it isn’t even red.
Then there’s this one: Who is not tormented by what is occurring between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza? Again, it is the fate of the children which wrings our hearts, whether it be the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed hitchhiking, or the Palestinian boy burned alive, or the four children playing soccer on the beach who were killed by Israeli shelling. The toll at the time of this writing is 570 Palestinians and 27 Israelis. The Israelis are continuing their offensive; the Palestinians continue firing rockets into Israel. Both are being supplicated to stop the carnage.
It’s bad enough that it is going on but, for Americans, it is even worse because we do, in fact, have the means to bring the fighting to a halt. The United States provides each year about $3 billion in military and other aid to Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which is keeping the Palestinian rockets off most Israelis, is American. So are its F-16 aircraft, which are bombing Gaza into the Stone Age. On the other side, the United States provides each year about $500 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. That doesn’t sound like much, but there are only 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza.
Where is our heart in taking on this crisis? Sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Cairo is one thing. Telling both the Israelis and the Palestinians that all U.S. money will stop immediately if they don’t stop killing each other would be an effective way of persuading them to cut it out.
President Barack Obama’s mantra about Israel having a right to defend itself by assaulting Gaza is about to sound considerably more hollow when Hezbollah in Lebanon joins the fight against Israel from the north, throwing its fighters, with experience from the Syrian civil war, into the fray. (The only reason it hasn’t yet is because Hezbollah is Shiite and the Gazans are Sunni.)
Finally, it is worth looking at the tragedy in Eastern Ukraine, the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, from the point of view of American “heart.” It is not easy to say which party in the Ukrainian tangle — the Kiev government, Moscow or the Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels — shows less conscience in what is going on there. In assessing America’s part in the affair it is worth looking at our motives and the values they imply.
First of all, why in 2014 is it any of our affair if Ukraine leans closer to Moscow or to the European Union? Yet we weighed into that fray high and hard. Could our interest have anything to do with American companies’ desire to see the origin of Western Europe’s and Ukraine’s natural gas imports, quite a bundle, change from Russia to the United States, now swollen with capacity from shale fracking?
I am glad that we continue to talk about economic sanctions against Russia, as opposed to drifting further into cold and possibly hot war. But the price, in terms of deaths, stands at 298 from a downed Boeing civilian passenger plane alone. Isn’t it a pity we can’t just work on the problem with Russia, absent all the threats and blustering? Where is the heart in our policy posture?
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org,412-263-1976).