"Terrorism has no religion" -- rough translation of a common PSA billboard seen throughout Baghdad.
Actually, I can think of one religion in particular...
photo by Buck Sargent
While America's military strength is important, let me add here that I've always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.
That was President Reagan speaking before the National Association of Evangelicals midway through his first term, delivering what would come to be known as the "Evil Empire" speech. It was a telling window into the soul of his winning strategy for defeating the commie red giant by treating it like an exhausted white dwarf. That is, forcing it to collapse under its own immense gravity and inner contradictions through confrontation via oblique ideological warfare rather than chancing mutual annihilation through conventional military action.
Today the Soviet menace is kaput and the communist advance rolled back, and we didn't have to hug our children with nuclear arms after all. I feel it’s safe to say it worked.
Soon after, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down with the Warsaw Pact in fact crumbling to the ground, ding dong the witch is dead, long live the wicked witch. It was the End of History as we knew it (and we felt fine). Global cooling was out, global warming back in.
But the Iron Curtain lifted only to reveal an Islamic Veil that had quietly been descending behind it, which for another decade the West proceeded to ignore like it does all impending matters that don't involve the next election. Why bother tracking the market when you’re already living comfortably off your peace dividends? Black Tuesday? Never heard of it.
Exactly how does globalization promote stability again? For one, it doesn’t. True, you can purchase virtually any model of cellular phone your technological heart desires from any street vendor in Baghdad. But one moment you’re walking away with your state of the Korean art LG camera-phone and five minutes later an Improvised Explosive Daewoo is raining supersonic shards of rear axle down on you for having the temerity to engage in global commerce while wearing a reversed stars & stripes velcro-ed to your right shoulder.
So clearly "It's a Small (minded) World After All" cuts both ways. It means that wherever in the world you travel you’re no longer able to lament: "Y'know, I wish we could just get a dang cheeseburger here." But it also means that an entire culture 7,000 miles away can hate your guts before you even set foot on the tarmac.
So if your conception of "stability" refers to the fin shape on the long range booster rockets that North Korea is likely shipping to Tehran via FedEx next week, then sure, I suppose it does promote it. But ultimately, globalization is to stability what McDonalds is to world hunger. It means your looming humanitarian crisis could soon be obesity rather than famine and still it’ll be "everyone’s problem." (Though I do find it the mother of all ironies that the mid-eighties liberal bleeding heart hunger telethons helped lead to a revitalized generation of Ethiopians more willing and able to confront militant Islam without wetting their pajama pants than we currently seem to be).
We are the world...
We are the children...
We are the ones who spoil al-Qaeda's day, free of handwringing...
Condoleezza Rice prefaced her remarks to the American University in Cairo a few years back that our nation was "founded by individuals who knew that all human beings—and the governments they create—are inherently imperfect."
For sixty years [we] pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East—and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.
A group of prominent intellectuals and dissidents then erupted in wild applause as the Secretary of State triumphantly left the podium, at which point they were promptly led away by agents from the "Mubarakat," aka the Egyptian Ministry of Love
. Condi Rice is, after all, the protégé of Brent Scowcroft, the Dapper Dean of the college of Realist Arts University State, so when she mentions things like "the democratic aspirations of all people" the implied parenthetical is of course "all people (under Middle Eastern governments not already on our payroll)." Cold warriors never die, they just fade away. (With exceptions that prove the rule made for former SecDefs who fight losing uphill battles against bastions of entrenched thinking they once championed and in fact helped seat.)
But I know what you're thinking: Assuming the nation-state is still the effective unit of action in world affairs, where are we today in the life cycle of international political systems?
(These are the type of questions one has to wrestle with as a redeployed postgrad). What, no multiple choice?
The Russians lost the Big Chill and they haven’t forgiven us since. And neither have most of the Middle East client-state beneficiaries of their military-industrial largesse. The Realist World of Ford, Kissinger, Carter, and even Bush père was predicated on the Soviet counterweight in Middle Eastern affairs keeping every sheik in his right place; make sure you tell-em, status quo antebellum. He may be a son of a despot, but he’s our son of a despot.
But a single clear September morning changed all the rules in one fell swoop after nineteen not-so-frequent fliers rotated our nation’s foreign policy completely off its axis of see-no-evil.
If winning the Cold War by forfeit proved anything it's that it sure can be lonely at the top. If the United States is still the "indispensable nation" in world affairs it’s only due to the fact that we’re one of the few remaining Western holdouts to the Eutopian ideal of One World Government whose overriding mission often seems predicated on the coming day new Secretary General Tojo Annan can scold us for not getting with le programme sooner. Panacea-told-you-so…
But is it American primacy that’s the endangered specimen, or is it the United Nations General Assembly that is the Last of the Potemkins? The international community’s vacillation over Iranian nuclear ambitions would seem to suggest the latter.
Iran’s mullahs have plenty of petro-fueled moolah, but what they’re really seeking is the security and venture capital of the radioactive variety. Russia’s ex-coms enjoy dangling their isotopes-on-a-rope over Iran's grubby paws, even if in hindsight the enrichment they'd rather have back is all the rubles spent on them over that blasted septuagenarian cowboy. But the con artists formerly known as Persia have assessed correctly that the barriers to entry in the superpower status club are lessened mightily once you’ve passed your first underground test. Supply, meet demand. A pleasure doing business with you Comrade Ahmadinejadovich. Please give our regards to the 12th Imam, da?
The fifty-year Cold War paradigm simplified American foreign policy into one basic premise: with our guns pointed east and theirs pointed west, mutual security rested on keeping our fingers off the triggers and thumb safeties engaged. Stubborn September 10 mindsets notwithstanding, events of the past five years have proven that the U.S. is hardly a "Reluctant Sheriff
,*" unless by sheriff you mean Gary Cooper in High Noon. If anything we’re a Dirty Harry--one who tries to work within the system as best he can, but at the end of the day doesn’t shy away from doing what has to be done, the system be damned. But to many of our so-called allies not only are we not the antihero, we're the antichrist.
*WARNING: Do not read prior to operating heavy machinery
Still, the $64,000,000,000,000 Question remains. In the decade since the bi-polar ice caps thawed, has the world scene become more or less dangerous? The answer, of course, varies with the individual. Which scenario do you find less appealing: the peril of Mutually Assured Destruction or the threat of Globally Acquiesced Submission? If the Cold War wasn’t the long war, then how long is the Long War really going to take?
A truly inconvenient fact is that there are currently over one billion and counting, and I don’t mean all the Happy Mao's in China
. If even 1% of this billion plus have become radicalized--a process that began long before the War on Terror was even a southeasterly blip on the FAA's radar--that still equals out to as many as ten million angry young Muslims for whom the "religion of peace" means never having to say mecca culpa
By this point our options have become quite limited. We can continue to push back, to stay on offense, to keep spreading the seeds of political and economic liberty to oppressively damp corners of the world that otherwise will remain Petri dishes of cultural backwardness -- violence and hatred their chief exports -- or we can disengage, pull the wool back over our eyes, and start memorizing our suras al-pronto
. But either way, things are going to get worse before they get better.
I miss the Bad Old Days already.