It may very well be true that every generation, as it ages a bit and sees the world in terms
of the harm it can do, believes it lives in the most dangerous period of time in history. We are unique because we can
see everything that has gone before.
We've hardly seen a time, however, when 19 men can stop the world for a few days. I suppose one man did in 1963 and
3 men did in 1969 but this is different. It is different because it is apparent we are at the beginning of something and not
the end. So we fear.
We fear and express the fear and get free of the fear in order to overcome the fear. I know when I was a young writer wanting
to be a novelist I was stopped in my tracks by the nuclear Armageddon that appeared clearly
probable. There were some simple variables
at play: physical weapons that had been demonstrated to lay waste cities, physical
delivery systems, software programs ready to
execute the deed, a classic geopolitical confrontation between great powers who said, in effect, they couldn't live with the other
one, a generation that had been dehumanized by the most ghastly war in history, in the middle of a hot war that could only
be described as a mad machine rolling over all opinion and thought in the matter.
The pressure of fear often leads to interesting places.
This fear dissipated with time because of Gorbachev and the rapid decline of the Soviet Union. But it sprung up
alive again on 9/11. And this time the scenario was a reverse image. Not huge nation-states with ponderous armies on the ground,
gunfire, air and sea power but groups of angry men ready to
sacrifice themselves while either carrying small nukes, or allowing themselves to get infected with biological weapons, or any
number of hateful scenarios.
Once again we find ourselves in the lala land of "perfect logic creates perfect fear."
- Weapons of mass destruction becoming etherialized.
- Porous borders.
- Dedicated hatred among millions of people.
- Complicit emerging nations hiring terrorists to weaken America.
- Capital migrating from West to East because huge populations are producing intelligent,
skilled, hungry workers as part of the globalization of talent.
- With decline in economy, decline in military
- The delivery of some coup d'grace event that cripples America.
- Newly emerging nation such as China making an alliance with Mexico, gaining a
staging area and convincing Mexico that the southwest and California were unfairly
taken from them.
- The native population pushed past the Mississippi River toward the east coast.
While that scenario is purely a fear, this statement is not: America is facing its most challenging century.
Well, fear is an excellent expression of something we need to be alerted to. We must steer between fear, even panic, and
There is a provocative essay in the London Times Online by David Selborne on why
Islam could very well defeat the West. Some of his conclusions don't ring true but some of his critique of the West certainly do, especially when it comes to
the woeful lack of leadership on the part of the Bush Administration. Off the bat there seems to be too much division within Islam itself to "defeat the West."
Sunni's and Shiites are much more likely to try and defeat themselves as the West.
The hatred of the West on moral grounds amounts to the same thing as our self-hatred as a culture.
The truth of the matter is that any square foot of latitude and longitude is going to see it's fair amount of sleaze, ghastly barbarisms, and
quiet undermining of the purity of a religious creed. The old world must learn that freedom is a wonderful sort of dysfunction. It is not communal piety. It is not
The one huge problem when confronting terrorism is the demonstration five years
ago that a few dedicated people willing to give up their lives can wreak enormous
havoc. That is rightfully, the first consideration. He's quite right in lambasting the Bush Administration attempt to impose anything on the Middle-East.
Islam has, generally, a stereotypical view of the United States and West. That is to their disadvantage. We should learn as much of this region as we can; the peoples, the histories and so on. And
there does seem to be a general cultural effort to do that sort of thing.
No one can expect a country to adapt to these new war tactics right away. The West will eventually catch on about keeping the terrorists a limited threat but it won't be easy.
The West is, once more, fighting an old world that can not tolerate freedom, differentiation, lack of self-discipline, and the rest of it. Nazism and Communism had the same basic complaint against the West.
The one conclusion to be met is this: The world is mutating in a sinister way. And it is unclear to me what role the United States is to play except that it must protect itself.
Posted October 11, 2006
It's hard to come to some easy and fast conclusion about what the "reality of the world" is. It is many things; good, bad, and ugly. It is mostly
good when people leave each other alone to pursue their goals. It is good when there is laughter and the building of good things. One is always cautious about the trends that seem
to sweep through the globe and destroy it or, at least, our portion of it. It's not terribly likely but it's not terribly improbable either. I'm astonished at the fear and loathing the world will bring the mind at any given time.
Yes, the Earth can be destroyed by physical nature. But until
that time let us be the very best we can be. That was the first instinct that ruled me when I first confronted the nature of nuclear war. "Well," I thought to myself, "there's
nothing I can do to stop it. Therefore I will defy the weapons by living as I wish, as I see fit, as I believe life should be lived and thought." After all, a planet threatened with its extinction would
make a leap in the dark, correct?
The globe, at any given time, is defined by the wonderful motion of its people, day after day, month after month, year after year. We are amazed at some of the gadgets and new ways of doing things. In fact, we are sacrificed for their benefit, having fun in being the ones who use the gadgets for the first time.
We participate in the future. Our minds are literally absorbed by the present and its things since so many livelihoods depend on it. It makes for a buzzing world and we fly in its midst amused and horrified at turns.
The privileged nation of the United States of America can afford to look at conflict as the focal point of modern history and figure out how to solve the conflict or get out of its way.
After brief exposure to American opinion it is quite evident that the American people need to
take stock of themselves as sentient citizens of a putative free democracy. On the one hand are cries for isolationism. "Oh, American foreign policy causes so much pain for other people. Oh, we are a monster nation not knowing why others hate us so." This crock has been around for at least forty years, if not more. It is meaningless. It actually is a strain of American isolationism that is obsolete, given the facts of the world. America will never go back on the other side of the Rubicund. It exists this way or not at all.
And on the other extreme, "we must conquer the world because it is so ruthless and unforgiving and so forth." Between the two is a truth, perhaps not the truth but something that
approximates it given the reality of the modern world.
And here we must say that one of the great problems is the inability to form a clear and real view of the world. No matter how much there is denial in the matter, the world is divided up into sovereign nation states with their own administrative units and economies; its own identities and currency. We would love to fly free from San Francisco to Santiago, Chile and explore that old town. But, the fact is we must enter Chile on its terms, with its laws and rulers. Therefore, Chile preserves its integrity and sovereignty.
The "idealists" are full of the false assumption that doesn't take into account the reality of the world. It is a nasty place. But, it believes in itself.
It is very apparent that America is poised between the utter ideal and a profound disillusionment because the U.S. is such a huge nation, with enormous responsibilities and self-interest. It's no use to protest against. It is this way and no other.
On the one hand is democratic conscience that doesn't want any harm to come to anyone. And on the other is the reality of actions on the world-scale that alerts the citizen that, perhaps, this world doesn't belong to him after all.
Posted June 4, 2006
Read this article from the Middle East Times that
conveys a letter sent from
Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's number two, to Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi, its chief in Iraq. It reveals several important things, especially in light of the on-going elections.
Al Zawahiri is either a deluded nutcase or the kind of revolutionary guerilla that the left used to admire in the 60's. There's no
question that Al Qaeda has a grand strategy and Iraq is at the core of it. They are very confident that America will leave and wash their hands of the whole
mess. The U.S., however, will not leave this area.
And if I read the
statement by Saudi King Abdullah correctly, there will be a continual alliance
between his country and the U.S. He is described as a moderate and appears a kind of middle-eastern Gorbachev. Time will tell.
The question is not the rightness of a war against terrorism but the risks and rewards in fighting it in this particular way.
We know where good intentions lead. It is a road that would attempt to democratize a nation that has never known it. It would fight a war
fully underestimating the dynamics at play when the tyrant is rousted. Yay, the tyrant is dead! Yet, thousands of new tyrannical lusts are unleashed
and are simply learning the nuance of democracy to secure their own tyrannical fiefdom.
Al Zawahiri is very conscious of the role of the media and chastises Al Zarqawi for the videotaped beheadings that horrified so many people around the world.
He is addressing a post-American presence in Iraq and has a delusion of a vast Caliphate throughout the region. Is this the same impulse as Nazism? Didn't the
Nazi's want to return to some "glorious" moment in the past; the years of Frederick the Great? But what does history show? Every great
empire, including Islam, that is lost in time can never be resurrected.
The worst mistake Al Zawahiri made was to directly attack the U.S. Yes, the people are tired of Iraq and tired of the lack of leadership in the Bush Administration. It
looks like the gang that couldn't shoot straight. But, the vast number of people both in the U.S. and world fear terrorism and want it squashed for good. That
is something Al Qaeda has never faced before and, eventually, it will be smashed. And even though we disagree about the invasion of Iraq, we think valuable lessons will be
learned in the aftermath.
That will happen as long as there is no major conflict the erupts between the U.S. and some other major power.
Or, a nuclear war breaks out between India and Pakistan. These are unlikely.
Now, a cynic may come along and say that the letter was obviously written by the CIA and placed in the media to
make the enemy more real to the folks back home. Time will tell but even if it is a fake, the fakers were pretty good
at fabricating what number two Terrorist is probably thinking.
Posted October 16, 2005
Victor Hansen, a commentator for the conservative magazine National Review,
has an interesting "summing up" of the war on terrorism since 9/11. And he rightly reminds readers that in the period from that awful day to the present
is the same number of years the U.S. was involved in World War II. And at the end of that period were 400,000 American dead and millions of
others extinguished by the conflict. I'm not sure if he's using this as a way to say, "we have hardly started," in the war on terrorism or that the response
to Iraq and terrorism should be more measured; at least the criticism. I hardly believe that the terrorists haven't attacked here since 9/11 because they are terrified of a
"populace (that) has become a collective powder keg ready to go off at the next attack." It's more likely that the terrorists attacked New York and D.C. for the
same reason the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor: To get the U.S. out of a specific region. The Japanese did not attack the U.S. in order to destroy
her. The Japanese had no intention of invading the west coast and bring America or that part of America into its imperial domain. Japan wanted to cripple
American response to its expansion through the far east, with the goal of capturing Australia and controlling all the
sea lanes into that region.
His analysis of the role of oil, especially the fact that oil money filters back to the parasitical terrorist groups is true. The problem with that is that
the United States could stop getting oil from that region tomorrow and it wouldn't change much of the dynamic, considering the way China and India are pouring billions into the region.
It's hard to gauge whether the momentum for terrorism is waning in that region. My impression is that the Wahhabis strain of Islam is growing
just as fundamentalism is growing here in free America right under our noses and is a demanding, pietistic, undemocratic, ignorant form of a great
religion. And that from the Wahhabis schools will come kids indoctrinated with hatred for America and Israel, with the missionary zeal to do
anything to get rid of them; or, at least, get rid of their influence in the region. It's more likely that a new form of bin-Laden will emerge that is far
more dangerous, far more deadly than the present model. That is only an intuition.
Democracy in Iraq.
There are people who want democracy or some form of it. There are responsible voices in Iraq and the Middle-East
concerned about "power to the people." The people, even those under the heel of a dictatorship, are wiser and more resourceful than
we think. They simply can't express the wisdom or resource.
However, it's apparent that those who want the power the most are the least democratic. And that a vacuum was created
when Hussein was toppled, creating an inflammation of power fantasies for every thug, criminal, politico, drug-dealer, religious leader in the region;
those, in other words, who will fight most aggressively for power, with or without a Constitution.
And it is likely that at the end of this process Iraq will look like Russia after the fall
of communism. It will be run by criminal gangs, the country will start to disintegrate, and a big, strong military guy will step up; perhaps
a veteran of the Iraq-Iranian conflict and say, "I'm in control now." He will gather Parliament and tell which members he can work with and the others
will disappear. It is much more likely this will happen, then some form of democracy. Any good-hearted, right thinking person wants democracy but it ain't
easy if there is no habit for it.
And what is disturbing is that for all intents and purposes, the Iraqi people did not fight for their freedom.
Fighting together for a cause allows for a transcendent sense of community that would permit a document to be built that all had allegiance to.
On thing Dr. Hansen does not bring up. Success in war is determined by leadership. President Bush
felt that the U.S. was going to continue with that wonderful mid-90's feeling of "all is right with the world." It was so steeped in
confidence that it didn't ding President Clinton one point during and after the sex scandal and impeachment. It boggles the mind
but it was because the economy was booming, companies were giving out fancy cars to graduates to come work for them, you had the stimulating new
communications medium, there were no conflicts, no wars that America cared about. President Bush fully expected this to continue and that would be the
backdrop for his conservative agenda; most of which the people, so satiated in good times, would ignore. But that ended in September of 2001. He showed flashes
of leadership after that event. In Iraq it's been abysmal for every reason imaginable. And with bad leadership comes failure not success.
A better analysis than Hansen's comes from Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.
writing in this month's Foreign Affairs. In his article Mr. Krepinevich identifies three centers of gravity that the war is being waged over: The Iraqi people, the
American people, and the American soldier. That each of these centers of gravity need to be won or the insurgents will prevail with catastrophic results.
His proposal is to stop fighting the insurgents and instead deploy a strategy of protecting the people. His analysis gets very long and technical and is the
type of idea that works on paper but in reality there is resistance along every step. The American people are practically lost and the Iraqi people want the
U.S. out of there as soon as possible. The author points out that the Iraqi people do not want the insurgents or another repressive regime. So, the dilemma is
convincing the American people, the American volunteer force, and the Iraqi people to stay for at least a decade. What Mr. Krepinevich fails to note is
that the insurgents are like a virus and simply adapt to what is thrown their way. The problem is that the borders with Syria and Iran are very porous and
a whole new generation of insurgents could come in over the decade and become a more confrontational army than a rag-tag of guerilla fighters.
At any rate, it's well worth reading this article to understand some of the essential dynamics of the conflict.
Posted September 16, 2005
The American citizen comes face to face with an interesting dilemma. Am I the citizen of an Empire or
just a big, nation-state that is, now, the leading edge of history?
Do I have to be conscious of the manipulations of power in all the nooks and crannies of the world or can I simply do my job,
pay my taxes, enjoy my life, and prepare for the worst? Am I condemned to get pessimistic to the core as I age? Am I in the middle of the end of
the Roman Empire and will Atilla, then, sweep through sometime in the 21st or early 22nd century? Sometimes it is easy to see why people watch football
It serves no purpose to call America an empire. What does that mean? It does serve to understand how large and powerful she is and how
hated and resented she is throughout the world. The world now knows that it's past is behind it; there is no going back. Even the terrorists
understand this and are a kind of last ditch effort to make the past influence the present and future. It is forever gone. It is all a remnant of what
we ventured through as peoples, what habits we had, how we were conditioned by low levels of technology and economy. Gone. And if not gone, soon to be gone or to be
pitied and changed.
America is what its citizens make it to be. It can be a nightmare or a kind of pleasant dream. It is no better or worse than the summation of its
Posted September 9, 2005
The most dangerous statement I've heard yet comes from the House Chair of the Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, who said
today on a national news program, "America must change the world, or the world will change America." And I think this statement
goes a long way to explaining the Bush Administration.
It's one of these moral statements that has always gotten this country into hot water. It's the typical American ignorance of the world and history, generally.
It's the grandiose statement that always comes back to haunt the nation. It says, in a frightening way, that the world is now our enemy. It is "us" against
the rest of "them."
You would have thought that the
difficulty in Iraq would have sobered the administration in seeing how difficult it is to change anything, or do anything on the scale
that this statement implies.
It's dangerous because the fix America could get into is that classic one of "overreach," where the arrogant power thinks it can
do anything, gets entangled beyond belief, and then can't respond when it's deepest interests are threatened. And instead of going down this
terrible road you'd think we would start producing that wisdom and prudence that can only come from a nation as strong, free, and powerful
as this one.
"Bombs go off, they will always go off in Iraq..." So said Chairman Hunter. Again, this is tantamount to saying, "we have
saved the village by destroying it." If the final legacy of Iraq is that it is worse off, in every measure possible,
than it was previous to American intervention, then what?
I could see the isolationist strain starting to emerge again.
Every realistic post out of Iraq tells of a variety of people maneuvering their way into power through killing, threats, manipulation,
and everything that would defeat a democracy from the get-go. A freelance writer was recently slain by police in Basra who didn't
like his reports on infiltration of the Iraqi police by insurgents.
It is not "America against the rest of the world." If it is we are finished as a nation-state. It is adapting to a world
that has produced terrorists ready to give up their lives to achieve some sick and ill-advised end. If they succeed, however, in isolating America
from the rest of the world, then they will have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Posted August 17, 2005
The majority of American citizens now believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake and has
not led to further security at home. This is according to a
story in the Washington Post that reviews the book "America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism," by Stephen Flynn.
Flynn's major theme is that the war in Iraq continues to squander precious resources that prevent the U.S. from
protecting its vulnerable borders, especially seaports. The article says that Al-Queda has moved from being a mid-eastern
terrorist organization to being a world-wide movement. And as we learned in London, three or four people with an agenda,
know-how, and fanatical zeal can shut down a city.
The Bush Administration tries to convince the people that by confronting terrorists in the streets of Iraq, Americans
will not have to confront them here at home. This is old world thinking if ever there was one. For one thing we know that the
authentic terrorists in Iraq move around when the fighting gets fierce, ala Fallujuah. It wouldn't shock me if terrorists
are routinely cycled out of Iraq and put with cells in other countries, making Iraq a kind of training ground. The Americans
are killing off, if that's the word, remnants of forces loyal to Saddam who most assuredly hate America but are not Al-Queda.
The majority of people don't believe in Iraq. Even Karl Rove will have to eat that one and realize, perhaps in the wee hours
of the morning, that they made a horrific mistake. They will never own up to it, blame everyone but themselves, pull as many
dirty tricks to stay in power, and go down as one of the most inept, inexperienced administrations in history. The historians will
have the last word on that one. And even at this late date we want a successful policy. It is not good that the president fails. It
doesn't help in any way, shape, or form. It is simply very troubling that this administration ignored so many signs and plunged the
country is a very costly adventure.
It is like Vietnam in that we can't "get out," at least with a quick retreat. So we slog it out with
the attendant problems that come with a protracted war; and who can forget the inflation that wrecked the
sterling 60's economy as military spending washed through in the 70's? Or, the terrible dissension that is just below
the surface here?
One can always hope for the quick turn-around; that the insurgents have been weakened, that the Iraqi effort
to govern and police itself will win out and America can deal with this terrorist threat in a more substantial manner.
We hope for that because the alternative is not good to think on.
Posted July 19, 2005
Eventually, the terrorists will be defeated. They can strike, as they did in London, but every strike divides
people between good and evil. And while human nature may be a mixture of the two, people of all regions, all religions,
want to do the right thing. The terrorists are like the pirates of old who did a good deal of damage, sometimes for
ideological reasons but mostly for selfish reasons. Bandits always exist. If not the roads, the sea. If not the sea,
The terrorists are not even a quarter a threat that the communists were or the nazi's or Japanese militarists.
However, there is one terrible caveat in that judgement. The weapons that are available to any group determined enough to
get them. Ten lonely, dedicated men assembling a nuclear device in mid-town Manhattan could forever change the history
of this planet. This is the horrific chapter in human history we are now facing. And we will face it through the 21st century
What all good-willed people must address is the question, "how can democracy, freedom, dignity of the individual, et" survive
the development of science, technology, and collective craziness? This still appears the central theme of our time, sounded as it has for many decades.
The qualities necessary for a good society vanish when the future vanishes in probable scenarios that are destructive. The average
citizen will be so blocked, psychologically, that he or she will think any new idea or change in the culture a kind of
madness and absolutely shut it down.
And the people shutting down thoughts of the future is tantamount to bringing in a new age of barbarism where the hope
is that one can get all they need NOW and not worry for the future. And, by the by, we will destroy the past too. Who needs
it? We are the past and future! The barbarian, like the terrorists, see it that way and see the past as leading to their
acts of terror and the future leading out to their eventual triumph.
Posted July 9, 2005
The problem in Iraq and generally, the "war on terrorism," comes down to one central point: Leadership.
President Bush said a lot of things in his speech but he didn't say the one very obvious thing that is becoming
more and more apparent. The terrorists are winning this war. And they are winning because of the complete lack
of leadership on the part of the president, his office, his party, and all those people who benefit most from
living in a great country like this. Yet, when you look at the terrorists, the Vietnamese, the Afghans against
the Soviet, you find a very well-defined group who are fully committed and are fighting as they did in the
old days; all or nothing. Even the leaders have to get out there and put their rear-ends on the line.
As we've noted before, how many of the elite's in this country: NBA players, NFL players, actors, actresses,
wealthy entrepreneurs, NHL players, baseball players, these sniveling conservative types who edit their journals
and lick every powerful asshole they can, have joined in the fight? After all, if this country is really under
threat they have the most to lose. One brave and honorable football player who gave his life; that's all I see.
Leadership. If the people who benefit the most from a society won't fight for it, why should anyone
else? And by the way, you are being led by a president who didn't want to put his rear on the line in
So, what we have today is a society disconnected with what is going on in Iraq. Against a foe fully
connected to what is going on.
It doesn't matter what your intentions are or what your rationale is; it only matters the quality of
leadership that connects the society to the effort. And even though September 11th is still a powerful
reminder of the threat, it is not enough to engage the interest of the people.
By doing so the people have effectively wrecked President Bush's second term. Bad leadership always
pays a heavy price.
Posted June 30, 2005
The citizen is faced with a two-pronged responsibility. On the one hand he or she must
fully support men and women in uniform who are sacrificing and putting themselves in harms
way. There's no doubt that is a necessity. Therefore we are against those who would do them harm.
On the other hand, the citizen has to have a bit
of intelligence and conscience in relation to geo-politics and try to get a fix on whether a conflict,
never a good thing for a free democracy, must be fought.
That is a test of leadership and we believe President Bush has failed. He failed at some distinctive
points. One, certainly, the two main reasons for attacking Iraq were false. Had those reasons
proven out, the president and the people would have been connected to the conflict and supported it. Once
those reasons were gone he went down the list and there was, "Hussein is a bad guy," and "Let's make Iraq a sterling
democracy." He didn't believe it and disconnected at that point. And the American people have disconnected and it's
eerily like Vietnam. At least in this one fact: Everyone wants it to go away as quickly as possible.
Leadership is always the key. Not the people ignoring facts in the belief
that it's patriotic to do so. Not the right-wing commentators. Not the eternal critics for that matter. But leadership.
Lincoln was successful because he connected the people to the cause. FDR was successful for the same reason. LBJ, Nixon, and now George
Bush have failed because they did not.
Free people naturally resist war. War is not something a good, free, liberal, democratic people should want to engage in.
War is for the losers. War is for the discontented and lost. It's for the devils. And, as I have remarked, America is in this
special place where it can afford to be wise and prudent, inasmuch as you can be in a geo-political world.
There is a time when a country must defend itself, no question. But then if it rushes into dubious battle, what then?
How does it regain its stature? How does it undo the damage?
And what confidence has been extended to the terrorists and others seeing that a great superpower
can not subdue the uprising?
Sometimes the threat of force is more useful than the use of force.
Posted May 30, 2005
President Bush has every right to glow in the recent news
that seems, in some circles, to vindicate his Mid-East policy;
his jihad on behalf of American style democracy. It appears
to us somewhat hollow for these reasons. One is that a democracy
is more than people in the street. People came out into the street
during the ascension of the Ayatollah. I'll never forget the
scene in Berkeley when the Shah fell and out of this house along
Telegraph Avenue came Iranian nationals, all piling out of this
house like the keystone cops from a car, and leaping into the back of
a flatbed truck to go to a demonstration in San Francisco. So, people
demonstrate for all kinds of reasons.
Democracy is more than the simple vote. It is nothing if there
is no mutual respect between antagonists. It is nothing if the people
do not put law above men; even religious men. It is nothing if the press
can not print anything that it sees fit to print, in relation to a
fledgling democracy. Personally, I see none of this going on. What President
Bush projects as "democracy" could very well be mob rule by people who have
known nothing but deprivation and oppression.
Obviously, any good-willed person wants democracy to flourish in
all lands, among all people. And we'll leave it to the scholars to explain
why it flourishes one place and not another. History teaches us that
this region is the most treacherous in the world. Motives are suspect.
Loyalties, outside of ones tribe, are questionable. The people are inured
to the brutality of government. The people, themselves, must be free
and have that beautiful sense of "self-reliance" so evident in America
and other places. This takes generations.
Since the deed has been done we say, "good speed and fair sailing," and hope
for the best. A good democratic people is taught how to deal with the complexity of
state and society while maintaining a simple spirit able to tell truth from lies.
The people have to be as knowledgeable as those who rule them to prevent corruption
from occurring. It simply pays to have a knowledgeable people who know the systems
running through them and are not afraid or paranoid or angry at the fact.
What democracy needs more than anything is an idea of progress. It is necessary
to say, "we will be better in the future." The people must view it that way and the
institutions must view it that way. The totalitarians want stasis. Progress governed
by intelligent husbandry of resources we should add. In fact, a good deal of politics comes
out of the struggle with competing visions of progress.
The one victim to progress
is fundamentalist belief.
It still seems insane to us that a person could believe that the Middle-East
will simply embrace democracy and restructure itself without any
deep fight or deep division within its spirit.
The one huge obstacle the Bush Administration is going to face is
that the cry will go up, "this is a ploy on the part of the imperialist
west to gain control over our resources and our nations!" And that would
spark a enormous and dangerous rise of nationalism in this area.
We hope not. It will play itself out and President Bush will be given
all the credit in the world if it works out OK. It's not a political
issue at all.
If you study the statements of the President carefully you see that his intention
has nothing to do with the Middle-East. The motive for getting democracy in that
region is to "decrease the threat of terrorism." Democracy, then, not as a philosophy
of being that jets from the spirit of the people, upward, to structure the form
of government but an expedient form to enlist young people in democratic pursuits
rather than terrorist ones. But terrorism will last as long as the United States has
any presence in the region. And it appears to me that President Bush is quite willing
to leave the region at the first sign it's OK and safe to do so.
Terrorism is an irrationality that grasps at any excuse to break out. It is a
condition of poverty, rage, cultural deprivation or the belief that one's innate
culture has been robbed from him or decimated by some other power. The lead terrorists
may not come from poverty but the followers certainly do. The lead terrorists are
fighting for a place in history, something that wouldn't be permitted through normal
Certainly, when we revisit 9/11 we feel that all terrorists must be brought to
account and destroyed. We want revenge for the act. We want someone or some group
to be accountable. We don't want to make our own group, our President, accountable.
But that is a mistake. If the goal is to rid ourselves of terrorists we are going
about it the wrong way. In fact, we will have to support regimes that practice
a good deal of repression to hold down the terrorists who, in all likelihood, will
migrate to another region. And then what?
I totally agree that President Bush had a very difficult decision to make about
Iraq. I still, at this late date, hope he's right. But, the worst thing an American
can do is bury his or her head in the sand and pretend that all is right. He will
have four years to make it right. Let us hope that he does.
Posted March 24, 2005
No one who loves democracy can be unmoved by the sight and sound of the vote in Iraq.
It is dramatic, it is impressive, it is heart-warming. It always reminds me of conversations
with people from other countries who have chastised Americans.
"You guys don't know how lucky you have it here." And we take it all for granted.
Whether it justifies the war effort; cost to civilian Iraqi and American lives, taxpayer
money, prestige, etc. time will tell. As we've said before, we want the policy to be successful.
There would be nothing better than a sterling democracy in place in the Middle-East. We have
always been of the opinion that regardless of the intention, the decisive factor is the quality
of leadership. And that includes what will pop up in Iraq to form its Parliament, as well as American
and allied leadership.
There is talk of the vote making Iraq much more secure, giving the insurgents notice that
the people are not with them. And it is the hearts and minds of the people that make the difference.
I don't believe the insurgents will go away anytime soon. The reasons are multiplied many ways.
For one thing, the argument is now being sounded through Middle-Eastern media that any government in
Iraq will simply be a puppet regime put in by the U.S. so America can have a staging area and oil.
That will fuel the sense among the dissident groups that the government has no legitimacy and needs to be
overthrown. Plus, the terrorists, the Israeli/American-hating factions in the middle-east see Iraq as
"up for grabs." They must wait out the American phase. I'm certain that is in their thinking.
Now will come a long period of education; the learning curves will be steep and painful and,
in the final analysis, determine whether the war in Iraq was successful or not.
Attention will soon turn to Iran. The New York Times of January 31st had a detailed report
on the types of scenarios being developed with Iran. The overwhelming consensus is that both
Europe and America will play large roles, there will be no unilateralism, and that negotiation
and incentives will be far superior to military action. There is always the wild card of Israel
who, as many might remember, bombed the Iraqi nuclear plant in the early 80's.
It's too early to call Iraq a success or failure. The pictures yesterday of women voting and
old men proudly holding up their purple-inked finger is the most positive thing to come out of
Iraq in years and years. Far more real, for instance, and uplifting than the President of the United States
landing on the carrier and declaring victory.
Posted February 1, 2005
"Why do you even think along these lines? Don't you have a life? Is
this all it is? Rather boring, objective comments on the world? A world, by the
way, that is passing quickly and will soon be totally out of whatever shape you
put it in.....you and your high and mighty words."
"It seems like we must choose the characters we will be in this life. This is one of
them I suppose. I enjoy the benefits of freedom. I love being my own man. I love, even,
many of the obligations I have. And I must, to be free or even to act as though I'm
free, have some orientation. Isn't culture about orientation? That's mainly what it's about.
So I am a man, in this body, surrounded by this region which I have lived in and traveled
in. And that region is connected to many other regions grown up, let us say, from the
founding document. I am connected then to all of it as a free man. I must orientate myself.
I don't agree or hate or believe in everything I see. But, I do see and listen. And at the
pinnacle of this Constitution is the government. Now, that government can do many things I can't
do. I call that power. And when the government acts on the world stage I must, again, orientate
myself. What is it doing? Why is it doing it?"
"Fine, fine I get all of this. I watch the media too. For you, though, it is something
personal, something you have taken on as a cause."
"Let me explain. I was influenced by three events when I was a young man. One of
those was the World War my father and uncles had fought in. The second was the cold
war and nuclear threat, and the third was the catastrophe of Vietnam that would have done
a lesser nation in. All of those things orientated me to the world as a staging area for
powerful entities, good and evil. The world as a potential and real holocaust. The world as a colliding
beast. What my power did, the power I had loyalty to was uppermost. And when I started to
be aware of it I understood that the world had known power from the beginning of time. Ah, a kind of
orientation takes place! And I began to understand that the power I had loyalty to was more
powerful than any other entity on the Earth. For every move France could make, America could
make 100 moves. For every move that Italy made, America could make 150 moves. Is that not power?"
"Of course that is power and it's beyond you or I to know. It is, it will succeed us, it
will go along its pathway regardless of your tiring thoughts about it."
"But it is us and we move with it as it moves along the pathways it does. So now it is at the
center of world power, even the center of world history. Isn't that a rare place? Isn't that a brief
shadow that makes its way across the planet in fits and starts? It's not something to be
complacent about I don't think. And so for orientation we need to study the others who have
been there before; Rome, dynasties of China, Islamic empire, Aztec and Inca, Spain, England,
They are the mothers of us now."
"And you know all about these things? About Rome, Islam, Aztecs and all the rest?"
"I know some but much should be rediscovered."
"We are Americans, a happy and sloppy breed! We have no need of all this past, this
"We are there, we are there, we are there..."
Posted January 27, 2005
"And what good is all of your doom-saying?"
"You believe I'm a doom-sayer?"
"Certainly, you have no faith in anything good happening in the future."
"It's quite probable that many good things will happen in the future. Will not
good red wines be produced in the future? Will not there be singing and baseball
and good women?"
"Well, why don't you extol these things? Why don't you celebrate the unique
He had been chastised and knew it. The mind must be honest, he thought. Never lie
to the deepest aspect of your nature. The pessimism was a warning to get past a few
of the convenient prophylactics, to the heart of our fears, and beyond out into the
undiscovered places. The route is through the darkest fears. The darkest fears are not
the final destination.
He could say these things but they scarcely understood what he was saying. "Keep your
damn fear away from me!" That's what he got most of the time.
He had listened to the scholar speak about the future and the scholar had raised the specter of China.
And China will be this and China will be that. He had heard it said about Japan 15 years earlier.
Won't China have to pass through a long period of bust, a deep recession before it understands
what "capitalism" means? The biggest test for China will come in two related areas. One will be
"recovery" out of a deep recession. In the West this is usually led by entrepreneurs. China leadership
will be tested as to how well they know this fact. As China becomes richer and more powerful it will not
be able to look to its communist past or classic past for models on how to act and be. It will look to the United States and West. And
Chinese leadership, like Islamic leadership, fears that model more than anything. To adopt that model
will mean the end to many structures and privileges in China. So, when the deep recession occurs and the economic plaything taken away and the people subdued
isn't it more likely that the Chinese government will clamp down harder than ever? And won't that, then, destroy its ability to grow as an
The other interesting thesis by the scholar was that the United States and Western Europe had much more common than difference. For
this reason there would be a renewal of the Atlantic Alliance to fight off Asia and the growing rift between
North and South.
What then is the shape of the world? What is the reality firmly on the surface? What sort of dense
history is blowing through at this time? We are certainly in the middle of something noticeable through the
20th Century and noted in more than one place. The convergence of global cultures; and this convergence is doing good, bad,
and ugly things to the population of the Earth. For one thing it is making people much more aware of difference
and the tolerance of difference. But, it also makes them more skittish and paranoid as new values are scattered like seeds across the face of the globe.
More people are developing a supple mind able to deal with all the things thrust in front of it. But, many more
people are running scared under the protection of religion, state, party and so forth.
And instinct, if not intuition says that it means more conflict in the future, not less. That human
beings will have to learn to live with each other, happily and bountifully, and it will take
Posted January 15, 2005
I invite comments on this column. Use
the convenient form below and thanks!
Previous impressions on the war on Terrorism:
"The old man and the son watched the news together. Increasingly the old man
looked at the son and laughed half-heartily. "I won't be around to see it but you or your
kids are going to see the end of this civilization..."
"We live in the present; it comes us at with an array of problems and structures.
Disembodied voices speak to us. Our loyalties are tested at every moment."
"Why are we in the Middle-east? I've been reading a wonderful book by the famed
Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis."
"Niall Ferguson has an interesting and speculative piece in
Foreign Policy, "A World Without Powers,"
There's a very interesting interview with an intelligence guy
who calls himself "anonymous" for the benefit of his employer, the CIA"
"What then, for the future? What then, for the first half of the 21 st century?"
"What is unfathomable, when looking at Iraq, is that no one in the Bush Administration
took seriously how those states fabricated by empire would disintegrate..."
"Most reasonable accounts and analysis see Iraq, now, as a slogging, painful,
impossible sort of conflict in which the U.S. can't possibly win."
"If you are a poet, a madman even, certainly a thinking person, the last place
you want to be is in the backwaters of history."
"We are patriots and for the good that America can produce..."
"We are neither fear-mongers or prophets..."
"Dissent is one thing that keeps free people honest..."
"The first question to ask is, "Is it worth the killing?"
"The core issue still remains this: How real is the threat of terrorism?"
"Can a good citizen agonize over the policy but love the country and still believe in its future?"
"President Bush's credibility wanes for some simple, clear-cut reasons..."
"The idea that the U.S. can "rule the world," is an absurd notion..."
"Common intuition says that the U.S. is at a cross-roads, a threshold point..."
"The most fascinating and awful thing to confront is this..."
"Our fears did not start in September of 2001..."
"In foreign affairs, the citizen is sucked into the final drop of calculation the
state is capable of..."
"The loyal opposition of the Democrats may have disintegrated in Iraq..."
"Listening to the good, heart-felt discussion about diversity and affirmative action..."
"We have two perspectives..."
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