Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Challenge to Our Generation (Part I)

If there is one event that would seem to be immune to hype, it would be American elections. They are much too important for anyone to take seriously anymore. That's so 19th century--when suffrage and civil rights were issues.

Yet this election seems terribly important despite the hype. Both campaigns have said that this is the most important election in a generation. The range of important issues facing whoever wins this election is tremendous. Whoever is president must take up the long-postponed task of weaning America off of foreign oil and at the same time minimizing the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere. The president must deal with a world in which America is the only superpower and thus has tremendous responsibilities. Yet during Bush's term, world opinion of the United States has sunk to an all-time low. Whoever wins the presidency must work to restore the world's trust in America. This is essential for many of America's purposes in the world, including stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The entitlement programs must also become a focus for the next president--Social Security and Medicare will soon have to deal with the Baby Boomers retiring en masse. The massive deficits of recent years must be reigned in, or at least minimized in the next term. Chaotic situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are now the responsibility of the US. Although Afghanistan has shown signs of improvement, Iraqi instability seems to be increasing and our foes seem more bold, striking even within the "Green Zone" in Baghdad that is supposed to be entirely secure. And then of course is the increasing divide between the very rich and everyone else in America, that has been growing exponentially since the early 1990s.

Finally, perhaps the key issue of this election, and one which oddly had not gotten much analysis, is how to combat Islamo-fascism and al-Qaeda. This issue is at the base of why energy policy, WMD, and Iraq are now at the top of the national agenda, yet Bush and Kerry have dealt with it mainly by making broad pronouncements and trying to make it an issue of character. There is more to winning the "War on Terror" than words and resolve--there must be first an understanding of the enemy and then a strategy to destroy and isolate this enemy.

Bush has made it clear that his strategy involves attacking nation-states that provide support for terrorists. He has linked this with having weapons of mass destruction as well. I have heard people talk about the need to invade every country that supports Islamic terrorism--Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, and not stopping until these people are wiped off the face of the earth. This is the logical extension of the Bush doctrine. To invade all countries that do not begin moving towards democracy and isolating Islamic extremists, starting with those that have access to weapons of mass destruction.

I think this is one of those ideas that sounds better in theory than it could possibly work in practice. There is no conceivable way this is possible, even given 100 years and America's continued military superiority. Because, simply, the world would not stand for it; quite possibly, we would also become worse than the evil we seek to destroy, becoming an empire and often attacking the innocent along with the guilty. That is always the price of war, even one that tries to minimize civilian casualties. The price of an occupation on innocent lives is even higher. More importantly, it is unclear that this strategy will be successful. Rumsfeld himself has said that he believes we are probably creating more recruits for Al-Qaeda than we are killing with our occupation of Iraq. This is one of the lessons of power--for every action, there is a counter-reaction. Just look at the situation in Palestine and you will see that military action, no matter how decisive and strong, will not breed moderates who want peace, but instead more extremists. The same was true of England in Northern Ireland or the French in Algeria.

I know my great-grandfather was once arrested for being part of the IRA. He wasn't but after his treatment in prison, he quickly joined. Suppression breeds extremism. Occupation breeds extremism.

So what are we to do?


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