Reimbursement from Libya is hypocritical


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I am astonished at how quickly we seem to forget. I am amazed at the rate we auction off our base principles of existence. And yet every time, I am surprised by the murmurs of hypocrisy leaking from the sides of our mouths as we shout democratic values throughout the world.

Not more than a day after Muammar Qaddafi was killed, House Minority Chief Deputy Whip Peter Welch wrote a letter to President Obama demanding Libyan civilians reimburse American taxpayers for liberating their country.

"We believe it is essential that Libya reimburse the American taxpayer for the cost of our participation in the NATO mission," Welch wrote. "While the National Transitional Council needs time and Libyan resources to establish itself and stabilize the country, we believe reimbursement can be structured with realistic terms and over a reasonable time frame so that it does not impair the success of a free and stable Libya."

So Libya can shed the shackles of one dictator to be subject to another — but it's OK because it comes under the veil of democracy. We helped liberate a country from oppression. They called on us, and we liberated them. Tens of thousands of their citizens died in pursuit of freedom from oppression, and we want to cash a check because we helped them? It is an honor to stand up for our principles just as long as we are paid to do so?

The idea that we expect payment for the spread of American values makes us sound like mercenaries, mere guns for hire. Genocide, huh? Oh, you want to be free from a tyrant, do you? Do you have oil? Because I'm not going to scratch your back unless you scratch mine.

You see a woman getting mugged on the street. The attacker beats her and beats her until she cannot stand, and before you get to her, the attacker gets away with her purse. You run after him, tackling him, not thinking of yourself, but of justice and injustice, of right and wrong. You take the purse back to the woman and see her on the ground, bleeding and bruised.

What do you do?

You don't demand she give you the contents of her purse. You take her to the hospital. You take care of her. You make sure she is able to stand. If she wants to give you a reward, then you can accept it, but do not forget the clear sense of right and wrong you felt surging through your veins as you sprinted after the mugger in the first place.

We should be giving more money. We should be building hospitals, government infrastructure, institutions that provide freer access to global information. Who is opposed to building schools in the Middle East? Schools that allow children to have access to literature, to social sciences, and to history: educating children on the West and giving them another view than those of the fundamentalist regimes.

The end game is where we fumbled the ball in Afghanistan after we helped to liberate them from the Soviets. This is where we lose allies that we can help, that we can guide. We are not the police of the world, but when we are called upon and we help, we should not hold a country for ransom because we got dirt on our boots.

Why is a Libyan life worth less than an American life? During Katrina, or the Alabama tornadoes, or the floods in Iowa City, no one flinched when it was time to call in FEMA, the Red Cross, or the National Guard. Why would it be any different for a citizen of Libya? "We hold these truths to be self-evident … the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."

I am astonished how quickly we forget.

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