El Paso, TX

Our hosts were the parents of a former classmate who is a political activist. She arranged for us to stay with her family and have her father talk with me about his beliefs, although I had the sense that he was not entirely comfortable with doing so. He and his wife are both civilian lawyers who now work for the military hospital representing soldiers seeking medical benefits. They had recently moved from Detroit for this job, in part because the economy in Detroit was hit so hard by the recession.

He described living in El Paso as being like living in a suburb of a foreign city, with a wall dividing the smaller American sector from the giant and volatile Mexican city of Juarez. The El Paso paper had been regularly listing ten to fifteen murders each morning, casualties of the Mexican drug wars. As you drive the main highway that cuts through El Paso you can look across the dividing wall into Juarez at the beat-up cinder-block buildings covering the hills.

In our discussion he focussed on foreign policy as the political issue that had shifted his allegiance from the Democratic beliefs of his union leader father towards his current stance. The occupation of the American Embassy in Iran in the 1970s and Jimmy Carter’s ineffectual response had concerned him deeply and pointed him in a more conservative direction.  He is worried that the US is no longer projecting an image of itself as a strong nation to the world, and that this makes our future as a safe, stable country more vulnerable. He was supportive of the Iraq war because he felt that after 9/11 the US needed to take decisive action to show the rest of the world that we would not allow anyone to get away with attacking us. He felt it was appropriate for the US to attack Iraq at that moment because Saddam Hussein was continuing to defy US diplomatic agreements and the US could not stand for such treatment at that point in history. So, because of his defiance at a critical moment, Saddam deserved what he got, even if he wasn’t responsible for the attacks. For the most part he thinks Obama has done a great job with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by increasing the use of drones and special forces. But he didn’t like when Obama tried to open up diplomatic relations with Iran without getting any promises before hand. This, in his opinion made Obama seem naive and he worries about Obama representing America as if he is conceding that The United States is a declining super power. Never the less he doesn’t feel that positively about any of the Republican candidates at this point, and because he does supports much of how Obama has been handling foreign policy he says he might even consider voting for him this fall.

Since there were many places where his views corresponded with Democratic positions, including being a strong supporter of developing alternative energy, I asked him what he was most concerned by in progressive agendas. He replied that he would be resistant to any cuts to the defense budget and that he questioned the level of optimistic idealism on the left. He said, “there is a lot of risk in the world today.”

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