It was my birthday party. We were sitting in the hot tub at Dan's place, bathing in warmth, light conversation, candlelight, and the hint of a spring evening. And then it came up.
"I'm wondering what you all think of the war," Hilary said.
"Maybe we should keep the conversation on something more agreeable," I said.
"I'll bet that you're against it -- you seem like you'd be one of those people."
I sighed inwardly, and began to explain. I don't think it's necessarily really about what Bush says it is, I said. You mean you think it's about oil, she asked? No, it's more complex than that, I replied, and then I tried to explain what I knew about the competing visions of American foreign policy. I tried to explain the New American Century Project, the views of the neo-conservatives in the current administration, and the views of pragmatists like Powell as I understood them, and the hopes -- borne out of much political interests as well as some sincere idealism -- of those in Europe for international law and intergovernmental institutions. I didn't get farther than midway through the mexican bus-driver theory. The conversation derailed into non-sequiturs, and eventually, to general social conversation again.
I often worry about the direction the Bush Administration has chosen. I wonder if during attempts at diplomacy, even while using Powell's tactics, the incompatibilities with Wolfowitz' goals showed through and scuttled what could have been a larger coalition. I wonder how much a singular attempt to reshape the world -- and that's what I believe the war with Iraq is in large part about, though it's only a start -- will cost American society. Some of our allies may have been unreasonably stubborn, but then again, our diplomacy hasn't seemed particularly reason-inspiring, and the loss of goodwill capital with many of those who have been aligned with us seems like a high cost for an initial casualty. But I also see the arguments of the neo-conservatives. They might be right. Now that the war has started, I hope they are.
But most of all, the words that lingered with me after that conversation were Hilary's. Those people, she said. Hilary is one of the sweetest people I know, a kind friend who's rarely made me believe anything but the best about myself, and she listened attentively to what I had to say. But those words: those people. Even if the world is indeed a complicated and sometimes dangerous place, with harsh and hungry people for whom graciousness is only another opportunity take advantage, I couldn't help but wonder if the feelings behind those words might, in fact, be the better part of an underlying problem.