Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

It’s Time to Renew America’s Message

The war in Iraq has probably done more to recruit potential terrorists worldwide that any event since the first Arab-Israeli war. America’s war on drugs has had a similarly reverse effect of what was intended. It has created some of the world’s most powerful criminal organizations. I remember seeing William Bennet, the self-righteous former “Drug Czar,” on a TV talk show during his tenure combating drugs. He was asked to point to a single thing that proved that America was winning the “war on drugs,” a terrifically expensive campaign that was, by then, already decades old. He started reciting seizures and arrests when he was stopped by the host who said that this didn’t illustrate that we were winning. It was hard to tell if Bennet was being stupid or mendacious in his response.

Conservatives continue to see drugs as a law and order issue. Their solution has always been to lock up drug offenders. That certainly has worked well for us over the past 40 years or so as a stroll through most American inner cities will show.

Our belligerency against Cuba has kept Castro in power for over 50 years in a very unstable region of the world. America’s strategy in the Cold War enabled some of the worst abuses in human rights in Latin America, simply because those regimes claimed to be anti-communist—most never claimed to be democratic. Our support of military dictators in the region probably did more to recruit potential communist sympathizers than the writings of Mao, Lenin, and Che Guevarra put together.

With the invasion of Iraq, America has replaced Israel on the Islamic world’s shit list. Now the Muslim world has an even more formidable enemy, now they are the David against the U.S. Goliath. They were humiliated continuously when these roles were reversed in their wars with Israel. Israel is still targeted for destruction by the Muslim extremists, but Israel will now have to wait in line as they take out their frustrations on America. In fact, now the Muslim extremists target the entire Western world in their diatribes. Even cartoonists are singled out as targets for the wrath of the followers of Mohammed.

I guess America’s leaders just feel that it is important for us to be at war with someone or something. After arming to the teeth half of all of the half-assed nations on earth during the Cold War, and with our Soviet rivals arming the other half, we now live in a world that has ostensibly been without a world war in 60 years, yet is full of regional conflicts, each with a seemingly endless supply of weapons. We are now talking about a war with Iran, a country that was one of the biggest buyers of U.S. arms for a generation. This wasn’t the only of our Cold War strategies that came back to bite us in the ass.

During the height of the Iraq-Iran War, Henry Kissinger said, “The only pity is that only one side can lose.” America was an ally to Iraq in this war, true to our Kissinger strategy of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend no matter how loathsome they may be.” So we armed all of the enemies of our enemies. As another famous man once said, “The chickens are coming home to roost.” Kissinger was wrong about only one side losing; more than one side has lost in our disastrous policies in the Middle East. We have lost.

Just like our war against communism, the war on terrorism is a battle against an idea. Just like communism, you cannot really wage a war against terrorism and the elements we associate with it. Bush has made a disastrously valiant attempt to use our military to defeat an idea. People talk about “winning” and “losing” in Iraq, as if we will even know if either happens (although I think we lost the day we invaded). Those involved in dreaming up the war in Iraq have conveniently changed every definition of success there to reflect their own failures in policy. It is impossible for me to look at our policy in Iraq and see anything but failure, and a failure we will feel for a generation.

After shying away from the myth that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the neo-cons pushed for a new reality. They said that we were in Iraq to create a new state that would be a “bulwark against terrorism and beachhead of democracy in the Middle East” (I am borrowing their words—they sicken me as well). It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to convince our allies in the region to adopt the principles of democracy than to impose it upon our enemies. Saudi Arabia is about as far from being a democracy as you can get, yet they are supposedly one of our main allies in the region. If the idea America wishes to project to the Middle East can’t even take root in an allied nation, what hope do we have of it being accepted in enemy territory?

At the beginning of the Iraq war the neo-cons lambasted anyone who tried to compare the situation there to our failed policy in Viet Nam. Five years later President Bush wanted to link the two conflicts by laying the blame for our losses in both theaters on those who opposed the wars, saying that those Americans lack the resolve to win. First of all, I fail to see how resolve on this issue will insure success. Resolve is blowing yourself up among women and children for your cause, something I hope no American would consider for any reason. What failed us in Viet Nam and is failing us in Iraq is the lack of resolve in the idea we are trying to impose on the regions.

I don’t know too many people who think that complete pacifism is the way to effect policy, but warfare has had more than its share of disastrous outcomes. It is impossible for me to imagine how Iraq could be worse off, how the entire arena of Islamic extremism could be worse had we not invaded Iraq. The issue of America’s crumbling economy under the staggering cost of the war, and the human casualties is another matter altogether.

For the past 25 years or so America has been failing in its message to the world. We are slipping in our stature as the beacon of democracy, equality, and opportunity. Our idea is less compelling, less convincing to the world than it once was. We need to work on our idea here at home. This means we need to stop exporting it abroad by force.

Islamic extremism presents a challenge to America’s ideas of freedom and democracy. It is a feeble challenge and one that would quickly die under the light of casual scrutiny but a challenge that cannot be faced through warfare. Warfare has strengthened the position of the extremists in Islam and has made their voices heard from Morocco to Afghanistan, while America’s message has been lost in our heavy-handed approach to terrorism.

Here in Spain, it is easy to see the stark contrast between the Muslim world and the West. On the one hand, you have oppressive religious states that seek to control every aspect of human life. Religious police roam the streets in many countries punishing women for showing a bit of hair or for wearing make-up. The sexes are almost completely segregated. Alcohol is prohibited. Spain has nude beaches and has more bars than any country on earth. Which idea do you think will win out in the end?

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you can't say something nice, say it here.