Who Moved Our Cheese?

The Thinker by Rodin

I can’t seem to escape this talk of war, war, war. I try not to think about. But I am a federal employee and I work in DC. It’s hard not to think about it, particularly when less than two years ago I was here when a jet roared into the Pentagon. Now, pushed on by our Department of Homeland Insecurity, we can spend most of our days fretting about whether today is the day something catastrophic happens. I could use some plastic sheeting and duct tape here in the office. Shouldn’t someone issue me chemical warfare garments and a gas mask? How do we go about life as usual when talk of our demise is omnipresent?

Some people do get by. Every six weeks or so I do lunch with my friend Sokhama. She is from Cambodia and grew up there at a time when Pol Pot and his lunatics were running around, and when Nixon’s air force was dropping not so secret bombs on her fellow citizens. She managed to deal with it, although it helped that her father joined the diplomatic corps and she eventually spent much of her life overseas. On 9/11 she was quite calm, figured there was nothing she could do, worked as usual, took a late bus home figuring it was pointless to leave too early because it would be too jammed.

Lots of things are bothering me about of war on terrorism. But today what is bothering me is that no one realizes our cheese has been moved. Paradigms have shifted but we are still treating terrorism as if it is something we can win on the battlefield. We’re about to send over a hundred thousand troops into Iraq to make it safer for us. We will eliminate any biological, chemical and (unlikely) nuclear weapons we find. And we will be safer, right? Umm, no. The paradigm has shifted. We can’t ever be safe from these sorts of threats again through the application of military force. It’s like our pointless war on drugs: if we plug one place, it will pop up some place else.

There are two real problems here that our administration is working hard to ignore. Problem number one is that nuclear (as well as chemical and biological) non-proliferation is a failure. The price of entry into the nuclear club has gone way, way down. It’s a game any country not in the third world can play if they want to, and many of them feel they have to because their traditional enemy across the river is starting to play it. It is a fiction that we can contain the spread of WMD through the application of military force.

Problem number two is that conventional war is obsolete. That’s not to say it won’t crop up now and then. We’ve seen it in the Balkans, and might see it in regional fights like those between Pakistan and India. The whole nation metaphor is really obsolete. A lot of the reason we are being hated, loathed and targeted is because we insist we are a nation. But we’re not. We’re an interconnected world. As much as we declare we shall go it alone all nations are part of the same soup pot. We have no choice but to get along together or die together. The US Army can’t do much to protect us from some disgruntled Islamic extremist with visions of having a dozen virgins to himself in the hereafter. Borders are too porous. Weapons are easier to make miniaturize.

There are possible solutions to international terrorism but this administration doesn’t want to hear them. It the prism of its lens everything is in black and white. President Bush has said as much: “You are either for us or against us.” (I guess we can add France and Germany to our “Axis of Evil”, right?) It doesn’t want to hear that maybe having so many of our troops and airplanes in a region like the Middle East actually adds to the instability. It doesn’t want to hear that maybe the $6B plus we give Israel every year to oppress the Palestinians is one of the reasons so many people over there hate us. It doesn’t want to hear that although we claim to love democracy we support governments like Saudi Arabia, which runs a feudalistic, anti-feminist state, or Egypt, which we bribe to be our friend while it ruthlessly oppresses dissent. No wonder we are seen as the great Satan. We are keeping generations of Arabs from having normal lives, participating in the political process, and having much hope of a future. Naturally we are a tempting target.

I can see the future and it is not pretty. I can only hope that within six months after our invasion of Iraq, after enough Americans come home in body bags, after hundreds of guerilla attacks on our troops over there, we finally come to our senses, bring home our troops and scale back our presence over there. Maybe, if we haven’t had too many new terrorist attacks in the interim, we can let those people sort out their own problems. Maybe we can stop lecturing the world and throwing temper tantrums when nations don’t agree with us. Maybe we can act a whole lot more like Switzerland. Then maybe I will live to bounce a grandchild on my knee.

God had better bless America. We seem incapable of seeing the new world order. This war is about changing hearts and minds. Invading Iraq will not do that at all, it will only make us more vulnerable.

Where do we need to go as a planet? The solution is out there, but you can bet it is the last place the Bush Administration wants to go. But you can learn more about the World Federalist Society. It’s our only real hope.

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