Dissent is one thing that keeps free people honest. It's not that the dissenters
are always honest. Many times their motives are suspect. But, the ability to contradict
the official message and do so with intelligence and imagination ensures that the
official message has to account for its own shadows. In the case with Iraq those shadows
would include the bloody aftermath, the unclear picture of what our intention in Iraq
truly is, the use of insider companies to build Iraq and their own bottom-lines through
taxpayer money, among other shadows of the policy.
The dissent won't get too far as long as people are convinced the threat of terror
is immanent. And who is to tell them that it is not? And who can be trusted with such information?
It appears an open-ended question with one bottom-line fact: People who hate, who
are willing to sacrifice themselves, and who have access or want access to very
dangerous weapons need to be paid attention to. And the mad among them visualize a
total collapse to the global system. It would create the sort of vacuum that initiated
the rise of Islam a few hundred years after the fall of Rome. And the fact that two
fallen buildings could wreak the havoc it did on the economy is very sobering. The new
wars will be conducted against the economies of the world and not the military.
Whether rag-tag soldiers can pull it off is another question. The attack on New
York and the Pentagon needed years of planning, utmost secrecy, and the element of
surprise. The ability to do it again with the world watching is very difficult to
imagine. Limited, even deadly attacks such as what is happening in Iraq now, may
be more likely.
We need to revivify the notion of self-determination.
This is another way of saying that it's up to the American people to understand the
world with a great deal more precision. An inexperienced and ignorant people have a
caricatured view of another nation. In fact, the inexperienced and ignorant people of
the world can come up with a very distorted view of the United States. We are strong enough to accept
it and quickly pass it out of our lower extremities.
However, our views of the individual countries in Africa or the Middle-east or Asia
can be just as distorted. And those views can make their way into policy or non-policy.
We have one successful model for the maintenance of a huge, nation-state system.
It consists of a strong federalism, anchored by a Constitution that most people have
respect and loyalty for. But, the strength of the U.S. is the distinctive regions
that have access to the strength of all other regions. Silicon Valley may be in northern
California and help define that region but it is a boon to Nebraska, Florida, and South
Carolina as well.
Is it fair, then, to expect other countries that are less resourceful, to come up to
the level of the United States? I believe it is not fair and we need to account for a lot
of the differences before making judgements about other parts of the world. We live in a
privileged nation that is always balanced by its shadows like poverty. It is not a perfect
nation but one that advances on its own leverages in ways that are astounding. It's true
that some of the obsessions of the free Americans seem very paltry, even evidence of a
corrupted spirit and the acts and celebrations of other parts of the world seem utterly
rooted to actual human experience through the ages. The American model is a structural
one in which the people, generally, have not caught up with the advancement. Blubbery
self-congratulations and drunken grins in sweet-smelling city streets aren't much
of an advance in the cause of freedom.
And one question lingers in the air, very general but one close to a thinking man's
heart: Has America exhausted its freedoms? Is this all there is? Where are the new,
authentic freedoms? That is the place the real American spirit heads for, not the simple
keeping of the status quo which belongs to the old world.
Posted January 12, 2004
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March 27, 2003