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Web Letter

An important theme of Michael Lind's article is peace. Lind says, "The ideal of liberal internationalism...is a world organized as a peaceful global society of sovereign, self-governing peoples, in which great powers, rather than compete to carve out rival spheres of influence, cooperate to preserve international peace in the face of threats from aggressive states and terrorism."

Throughout the essay Lind returns to the notion of peace; the word itself or the concept of preserving it appears whenever a critical point is being made. Lind reinforces the importance of peace with historical examples, including the League of Nations and the United Nations, which he says are precedents to what may be established today. He calls for America to be the leading member of an international concert of great powers that seeks to secure and maintain, above all else, peace.

An explanation as to why peace is so important to Lind may come from Karl Polanyi, author of The Great Transformation. Writing during World War II, Polanyi maintained that for a hundred years during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at the inception of institutional market economics, "under varying forms and ever-shifting ideologies--sometimes in the name of progress or liberty, sometimes by the authority of the throne and the alter, sometimes by grace of the stock exchange and the check book, sometimes by corruption and bribery, sometimes by moral argument and enlightened appeal, sometimes by the broadside and the bayonet--one and the same result was attained; peace was preserved."

Polanyi speaks of the "emergence of an acute peace interest," and the regular subordination of security and sovereignty to this interest by great powers. These powers sought to establish and maintain "peaceful business as a universal interest," to ensure the flourishing of new economic opportunities. Polanyi uses this situation to argue much larger topics, but he warns that, "The bearers of the new peace interest were, as usual, those who chiefly benefited from it."

Although time has passed and some circumstances have changed, Lind's attitude clearly falls directly in line with what Polanyi cautioned against. Lind's appeal may be found in his saying that, "The United States should rapidly remove its troops from Iraq and minimize its military footprint in Arab countries," but his interest is far removed from what may be implied from such a statement. Hastened withdraw may actually involve an American rejection of and refusal to acknowledge that Operation Iraqi Freedom ever took place. This attitude is common, if unacknowledged, among many that Lind criticizes, but he appears to hold it as well.

Lind's attitude is certainly not antiwar, but it is anti-Iraq, which is a form of peace but should be distinguished from genuine antiwar sentiment. Towards the end of his essay, Lind makes it clear that he supports new concerts of American power, "orchestrated by the United States." He argues for "something like a G-8 for security [that] could serve as an informal great power concert." "The gradual and prudent transformation of America's left-over cold war alliances" would be undertaken by expanding NATO and OSCE (already well underway, at the command and to the pleasure of the American military-industrial-complex, neo-con or not), and the establishment of new Eastern and Central Asian alliances dominated by the United States.

It is peculiar that Lind does not once mention Afghanistan or Pakistan, where some of the most important American foreign policy work is currently being formed. It should come as no surprise that once Americans leave Iraq many will enter Afghanistan. That war has been and is being called "necessary," as opposed to Iraq being a "chosen" war (including by Lind himself, elsewhere).

In the end, Lind appears to be arguing for peace, but he decidedly demonstrates an interest in immediate and long-lasting American war. Peace in Iraq, or at last an American withdrawal, according to Lind, serves the specific purpose of keeping American war respectable enough, quickly enough, so that we can do it again. This development should not be ignored once America does in fact leave Iraq: It is not antiwar; it is prowar with an antiwar foundation.

Joseph Szczekoski

Fairless Hills, PA

Jun 21 2007 - 5:01pm

Web Letter

Karl Marx accused religion of being the "opiate of the people." Certainly, it is an aspect of religion, and one can argue that it is a necessary aspect of a faith-based activity. But, reflecting human needs for certainty and order, this quality is not unknown in politics, economics and history. While closely held beliefs may have their uses, their application often fails when faced by the variety of human experience and the enviornment in which they operate. Seeking to retain certainty, these secular belief systems can take on an "opiate" quality, and sometimes the character of a secular religion.

Similar to religion, these belief systems often have a missionary aspect to them, and universal conversion to the secular belief system is often sought. When there is resistance to this "universal" belief system, force can become the instrument of conversion. When one or more groups rely on the use of force for conversion or dominance, conflict is the result. Closely held belief systems often produce conflicts, and their rigidity reduces the options for conflict resolution.

While these comments may seem dismissive of closely held beliefs, they are "facts on the ground" that must be taken into account in foreign policy. Since there is no uniformity of belief in every part of the world, different facts on the ground will demand different anwsers. These "facts" must be taken into consideration in relationships with other countries. Outside belief system may not be accepted and cannot be imposed. Each country, groupor individual must find their own solutions for their own problems. This is the meaning of "self determination."

As we have seen with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, along with the American experiences in Iraq and Vietnam, any country that has a "missionary" foreign policy supporting a universal belief system, will likely face long-term conflicts with other countries' "missionary belief systems" or national interests. It is therefore more reasonable to conduct a foreign policy based on a county's national interest and not on any "missionary" universal belief system. When we see a picture of Chávez and Ahmadinejad hugging, it does not mean they share the same religious or political viewpoints. It means they view their relationship as in the national interest of their respective countries. The US and Saudi Arabia are another "odd couple."

However, there are other options besides force in the debate over ideas. The best type of leadership is by example, and a success in one country may be considered worthy of imitation by another country.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Jun 20 2007 - 1:54pm

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