In the cloak and dagger, smoke and hall of mirrors that is the CIA, we have more evidence that it's dangerous to be a whistleblower, even if that happens to be your job. The CIA's own inspector general, John Helgerson, is being investigated by CIA Director Michael Hayden regarding his investigations into CIA torture allegations.
According to the New York Times, "The review is particularly focused on complaints that Mr. Helgerson's office has not acted as a fair and impartial judge of agency operations but instead has begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs."
Thus, the investigator into torture is being tortured by an investigation--the bureaucratic equivalent of water boarding--into his crusade against the crusaders. And 'round and 'round we go.
But if Hayden is watching Helgerson who is watching Hayden and the CIA, is anyone watching over this mess? Who would benefit from a cowed CIA? Who needs evidence that Iran is up to no good to justify another war? Dick Cheney, perhaps? Who knows? No one watches over him. Not even Google Maps.
Why is it that when a man leaves his wife and she retains custody of the kids we say, simply, "he is divorced?"
Yet when a woman, say Doris Lessing, leaves her husband and he retains custody of the kids we say "she abandoned her family?"
…just something to mull over as we read the New York Times tribute to Doris Lessing, the fabulous feminist writer and 87-year-old winner of the Nobel prize for Literature....Just something to consider, lest us feminists get too cocky and drift toward any you've-come-a-long-way-baby reflection on The Golden Notebook.
When Ann Coulter remarked on CNBC that Jews should become Christians, it wasn't "a faux pas," and she wasn't being "an idiot," as many commentators suggested. Instead she was playing her game -- provoking her critics to get her into the media spotlight that helps sell her books.
That raises the question: should the Republican candidates be asked whether they agree with Ann Coulter that America would be a better place if we were all Christians? Or is that simply playing Ann Coulter's game?
Many people are playing her game this time around: Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, denounced Coulter for speaking in "the classic language of anti-Semites throughout the millennia." The National Jewish Democratic Council asked broadcast news organizations not to give Coulter airtime. Then right wing talk radio got to yell at liberals for trying to deny Ann Coulter her right to free speech.
So it's happened again: Ann Coulter is controversial. Ann Coulter is important. We all need to take a stand for or against Ann Coulter's right to express her views, no matter how repugnant they may be.
But what if we ignored her latest publicity ploy? What if we didn't play Ann Coulter's game – again?
That would be a mistake, Tim Rutten argued recently in the LA Times. We need to press the issue on the candidates, and others, this time -- because, Rutten writes, "the implications of these latest remarks simply are too threatening to be allowed to stand."
Yes, it's worked for her many times before, propelling her books to the top of the best-seller list. Her readers buy her books precisely because they love the way she provokes liberals to screaming outrage. That's why in the past, when asked about our enemies in the Middle East, she said "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"; that's why she insulted the 9-11widows.
But this time, Rutten argues, it's different. That's because Coulter's argument – that Christianity "perfects" Judaism, and that Jews need "perfecting" -- is the major theological underpinning of anti-Semitism (along with the notion to that the Jews killed Jesus). The Catholic church, and most Protestant denominations, have explicitly broken with that claim. The Republican candidates ought to do the same thing.
"It's a scandal that in this pluralist nation it falls to the voices of organized Jewry to make this case," Rutten writes, "because it is a case whose outcome is of the greatest consequence to us all. For too long we've pretended that the brutal political rhetoric that now characterizes our partisan politics can be quarantined, that it won't inevitably leach over into every other aspect of our lives."
So it would be good to ask Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and their rivals: Ann Coulter is a best-selling Republican pundit; do you agree with her that the ideal America is a Christian America?
I'm recently back from the Green Festival in Washington, DC. Billed as the largest sustainability event in the world, the GF is a two-day extravaganza that started in San Francisco in 2002, took up annual residence in DC as its sort of Second City two years later and has now expanded to Chicago and Seattle with more to come.
Staged by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation among scores of other publications, media outfits, non-profits and NGOs, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, the climate change fight, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more. It's also a great place to buy a gift and get free samples of organic coffee! A massive green fair more than anything, the GF draws tens of thousands of attendees who swamp hundreds of exhibitors hawking the latest in hemp fashion, non-toxic toys, eco-tourist offers, fair trade chocolate, green building supplies, socially responsible investment options and vegan cuisine. And despite the emphasis on buying things, the festival also always manages to present talks and lectures by major progressive figures, and not always on traditionally green topics. In addition to Bill McKibben speaking on the climate change movement, last week's DC fest featured talks by Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, Medea Benjamin and Ralph Nader. What is maybe most striking about the crowd is the tremendous age span. High school and college kids were prevalent but so were old folks. And there was no shortage of Birkenstock-wearing boomers either.
Beyond all the free samples of coffee, fair trade chocolate, funky-flavored cliff bars, shea butter-based lotion and Yerba Mate tea, the best part of the GF is being able to connect with and learn about so many visionary projects under one roof in one weekend. The partnering organizations, taken together, represent a kind of alternative, sustainable infrastructure that is growing every day. There are magazines (Ode, Plenty, Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Grist) and media outfits (Air America Radio, Link TV), green businesses (Annie's Homegrown, Stony Field, Kimpton Hotels), an eco-shoemaker (Simple Shoes), green marketing firms (Seven Star Events--which produces the entire GF!, Organic Works) and the world's largest maker of environmentally responsible baby diapers and wipes (Seventh Generation).
I spent an enjoyable 10 minutes talking to the local representative of the Rachel Carson Council, a non-profit organization started the year after Carson's death in 1964 to continue the anti-pesticide and pro-environmental efforts sparked by the publication of Carson's Silent Spring. We talked about Carson's seminal book, what made it so timeless and what can be done to keep Carson's name in the minds of today's youth. The RCC has distilled the great activist and writer's legacy into ten basic points, or commandments, if you will, that people looking to emulate her example can try to adopt.
Though I don't really know him, from what I saw, Doug Moss, the founder and editor of E magazine, is probably as closely aligned with Carson's principles as any successful magazine publisher in the United States can be. I was already familiar with his valuable publication but he told me about a feature called Earth Talk that I didn't know about even though it currently appears in 500 print and online publications! A syndicated weekly reader-generated Q&A column which comes off as a sort of lefty, eco-Dear Abby, Earth Talk offers advice, information, guidance and resources on a range of questions practical, personal and political. It tackles key issues, helps people green their lifestyle, provides tips on how to plug into broader efforts to safeguard the global environment. Click here to receive an emailed version of each week's column and if you have a website or print publication, Moss offers the column for re-posting free of charge.
One of the most impressive projects I saw all weekend is an organization called E+Co. A non-profit that helps local small and medium enterprises supply clean, modern and affordable energy to households, businesses and communities in developing countries, E+Co's efforts have helped supply 3.4 million people with clean energy, have facilitated $140 million of financing for local clean energy initiatives and have led to the creation of 3,000 jobs. Their website offers lots of info about clean energy and how its widespread adoption could both help the environment and provide needed economic opportunities to many currently impoverished places around the world.
Watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival. The next confab takes place in San Francisco this November. After that, the 2008 shows kick off with the inaugural Seattle Green Fest in April, Chicago in May, Washington, DC in October and back to SF in November three days after the 2008 election.
How can we understand our world, if we have hardly a clue about the mini-worlds where planning for our future takes place? Just the other day, the Washington Post had one of the odder reports of the year. According to journalist Rick Weiss, demonstrators at protests in Washington DC and elsewhere have been independently reporting large "dragonflies" (with a bizarre "row of spheres, the size of small berries, attached along the tails") hovering near their rallies. ("'I'd never seen anything like it in my life,' the Washington lawyer said. 'They were large for dragonflies. I thought, is that mechanical, or is that alive?'")
Is this the micro-equivalent of UFO madness? Folie à Philip K. Dick? Are these actual dragonflies, which do look robotic, or advanced "spy drones" loosed by some unnamed agency in search of homeland-security troublemakers?
As a matter of fact, militarized insects have been on the Pentagon's drawing boards for quite a while. Most recently, the British Times reported that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was developing cyborg moths, implanted with computer chips while still in their cocoons, that might someday soon flutter into an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan and beam back video and other information. (The Post's Weiss quotes DARPA program manager Amit Lal as saying: "You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support…. [T]his science fiction vision is within the realm of reality.") And don't forget those Pentagon-funded neural-implant experiments involving blue sharks in hopes that they might someday be turned into stealth spies of the oceans.
The first robobug, the "insectothopter," was developed by the CIA back in the 1970s. It "looked just like a dragonfly and contained a tiny gasoline engine to make the four wings flap," but it couldn't handle the crosswinds. Three decades later, no agency will fess up to siccing robobugs on crowds of American demonstrators (as the Cleveland Indians sicced gnats on the Yankee's Joba Chamberlain in a crucial recent playoff game). And some experts agree with Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, former head of the Naval Air Systems Command, who claims: "I'll be seriously dead before that program deploys,"
Whatever the truth of the hovering "dragonflies," planning for new weaponry and supportive technologies no less strange, no less futuristic, no less implausible (if it weren't actually happening) is indeed underway -- and the number of Americans who know anything about it, or the uses to which such new militarized technology is likely to be put, runs to the vanishing point. The other week Tomdispatch.com's Pentagon correspondent, Nick Turse--whose new book, The Complex, on the military-industrial-academic-entertainment-everything complex, will be out in the spring--spent time behind the closed doors of a Pentagon-approved conference that had in mind nothing less than planning weaponry, strategy, and policy for the next hundred years--yours, mine, and our children's.
For two days, he hobnobbed with key players and planners in "Urban Operations," or more familiarly UO, as well as Pentagon power-brokers, active duty and retired US military personnel, foreign coalition partners, representatives of big and small defense contractors, and academics who support their work, all gathered at the "Joint Urban Operations, 2007" conference to discuss weaponry so futuristic that you last encountered it in science fiction films.
While noshing on burnt eggrolls and chocolate-chip cookies, these Pentagon-supported planners are also considering hand-launched tiny spy drones, "sense through walls" technology, weaponry so "precise" that it can take a floor out of a building, leaving the floors above and below largely intact, and the far reaches of "non-lethal weaponry." For these men, the fighting in Baghdad today is the future of American warfare in the burgeoning slum cities of the developing world over the next century.
As Turse concludes in his piece "The Pentagon's 100-Year War": "With their surprisingly bloodless language, antiseptic PowerPoint presentations, and calm tones, these men are planning Iraq-style wars of tomorrow. What makes this chilling is not only that they envision a future of endless urban warfare, but that they have the power to drive such a war-fighting doctrine into that future; that they have the power to mold strategy and advance weaponry that can, in the end, lock Americans into policies that are unlikely to make it beyond these conference-room doors, no less into public debate, before they are unleashed."
So buckle your seat belt, prepare for G-force, and blast off into a future only a military planner could possibly love.
For years, the rightwing has used divisive anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-fear-of-the-day ballot initiatives to boost voter turnout on Election Day and squeak out wins over Democratic candidates. But now Ballotground.org, a grassroots group that kicked off a couple weeks ago, is taking a page from that playbook – minus the divisive ugliness – and working to place antiwar ballot initiatives in the battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.
"The right has been using turnout initiatives for years," Executive Director Dylan Loewe told me. "This is the left's response. We're going to work with the states to craft language that captures what more than two-thirds of the country already believes – that it's time to bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible."
Loewe was pursuing law and public policy degrees at Columbia Law School and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government when he came up with the "vague idea" that led to Ballotground.
"Like most Americans, I'd grown increasingly frustrated with the direction of the war and the impotence of Congress to change it," Loewe said. "I felt like we had to take the issue out of DC, into the states and to the people. People have a right – at the ballot box, on election day – to express that in a democracy our opinion is not irrelevant and that it's time to bring the troops home."
Loewe took a leave of absence from grad school and reached out to an experienced team of colleagues. Together, they looked at the 24 states that have a ballot initiative process and narrowed it down to states that either were battlegrounds in 2004 or could be in 2008. Of the five selected, Arizona is the only one that was decided by more than five percentage points in the 2004 presidential election, and it had been considered "in play" until the final weeks when the Kerry campaign made a controversial decision to pull out. Ballotground is now working closely with civic leaders, state elected officials, antiwar organizations, and the citizens of the targeted states to determine the ballot language and build coalitions.
"Our goal is to literally make the 2008 election a referendum on the war," Loewe said. "These ballot initiatives will boost antiwar turnout, and the greater turnout, the greater the antiwar mandate for the new Congress and president. To end this war, we need a change in the White House and a clear mandate for the new president."
Ballotground will be on the ground in each of the five states sometime between December and March, depending on the states' initiative deadlines. The organization will then spend 30 to 45 days training volunteers, and 100 to 120 days gathering signatures to get on the ballot. It hopes to raise a budget of $6.2 million – about half of which would be used to qualify for the ballot and build a database of antiwar voters, with the remainder going towards voter turnout.
Loewe also hopes in the coming months that Ballotground's success at the grassroots will translate to increasing pressure on the current Congress as 2008 shapes up as a direct referendum on the war.
"I think 2006 definitely showed us that an implied mandate is insufficient," Loewe said. "But more importantly, when it comes to military policy, if you're not sending a mandate directly to the Commander in Chief, you end up with an uphill climb."
George Bush won by a margin of just seventeen electoral votes in 2004. If Ballotground is successful in its effort, citizens will be in a better place to hold the new Commander in Chief accountable.
Having now won the Norwegian Primary, it is reasonable to ask why Al Gore would want to slog his way through the snows of New Hampshire.
But the inconvenient truth is that never has the man who might yet be president needed to more seriously consider his personal legacy--not to mention the small matter of his potential to make the world anew--than now.
There is, after all, the matter of the open space at the end of what is now the most remarkable resume of anyone seeking – or considering seeking – the presidency.
This is how Al Gore's resumé reads as of this morning:
Son of a great senator.
Harvard graduate, with honors.
Award-winning investigative journalist.
Winner of the popular vote for President of the United States.
Academy Award winner.
And, now, Nobel Peace Prize winner--he shares the prize with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--for "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."
As resumés go, that is one for the top of the pile.
But it begs the question: Shouldn't a man who has gotten this far be thinking about how to finish the journey?
And isn't the last stop the Oval Office?
To think that Gore is not pondering these questions today would be absurd.
Of course, the former vice president says, "The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."
No doubt about that.
But Gore cannot feign ignorance of his own "political issue." When he appeared in San Francisco on the eve of Friday morning's announcement, at a fundraising event for California Senator Barbara Boxer, the man of the hour tried to deliver an earnest address about climate change. But when he concluded his remarks, the crowd burst into chants of "Run Al Run!"
That message echoed the full-page ad that was placed by the burgeoning "Draft Gore for President" movement in the front section of Wednesday's New York Times. The advertisement bluntly suggested that the announced contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination lack Gore's ``vision, standing in the world, and political courage" -- not just with regard to climate change, but in his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, his defenses of civil liberties and his advocacy for a renewed commitment to science and reason.
"There are times for politicians and times for heroes. America and the Earth need a hero right now," read the Draft Gore movement's open letter to the soon-to-be Nobel man. "Please rise to this challenge, or you and millions of us will live forever wondering what might have been."
Now, that's pressure. But it is a velvet grip in which the peace prize winner finds himself.
Al Gore has arrived at the point that most politicians can only imagine in their wildest dreams. The entire world is asking him to be not merely a candidate but an ecological--not to mention, ideological --savior. And there is simply no question that he is viable. In fact, he is more viable than he has ever been.
Can Gore resist? Probably.
Should he resist? Probably not.
Sure, it will be said that Gore can do more to address climate change as a private citizen. But no one who as been so close to the presidency as he will miss the point that the most powerful official on the planet has some sway in matters involving the planet.
The last serious presidential prospect to win a Nobel Peace Prize was Teddy Roosevelt, who got the award when he was serving as president in 1906. (The Norwegians were impressed that he had convinced Japanese and Russian representatives to come to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and that he had then gotten them to negotiate an end to a nasty little war they had been waging.)
Roosevelt exited the presidency in 1908 and almost immediately began to regret the decision. The peace prize was not enough to get Republicans to ditch his successor, the hapless William Howard Taft, and put Roosevelt at the head of their 1912 ticket. But TR did run the most successful third-party presidential campaign of the 20th century that year – as a "Bull Moose" Progressive.
Roosevelt never got over his belief that, had he just won the Republican nomination in 1912, he would again have been president. And, eight years later, at a point after the horrors of World War I when people were taking peace prizes rather more seriously, he was widely encouraged to make a run for the Republican nomination that probably would have secured him not just the party line but the presidency.
Roosevelt did not need much encouragement. Barely 60 -- the age Gore will turn next March -- the Rough Rider was ready for one more charge; indeed, family members and friends reported that he was raring to go.
Only the coronary embolism that did him in on January 6, 1919, was powerful enough to cure TR's case of presidency lust. And there is no reason to believe that Al Gore, a man who bid first for the presidency in 1988, considered running in 1992, spent eight years as an understudy, then bid again in 2000 – winning the Democratic nomination and the popular vote, but losing the job on a 5-4 technical call by the Supreme Court -- is any less inclined that Roosevelt was to give it another try.
There will be a lot of "fire-in-the-belly" talk over the next few days.
But Al Gore should not be worrying about checking his gut.
He should be thinking about the resume he has spent a lifetime preparing.
It is more impressive than ever.
Unfortunately, the suddenly more impressive character of Gore's resume only serves to emphasize that it remains incomplete.
A Nobel Prize for Peace is a fine honor. But take it from a man who won the presidency and the prize but could not leave the political arena.
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better," Teddy Roosevelt said as he prepared another run for the White House. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Some years ago Nation patriarch Victor Navasky and his sometime collaborator in mischief Chris Cerf published The Experts Speak: The Definitive Guide to Authoritative Misinformation, a sort of Guinness Book of World Records of experts who were wrong in every field.
Now the duo is back and have embarked on a sequel -- experts who were wrong about Iraq. They're interested in exact quotations (the shorter the better) from politicians, professors, pundits, the military, whomever and they've asked for help from Nation online readers.
Here are a few examples of what they're looking for:
"We shall be greeted, I think, in Baghdad and Basra, with kites and boom boxes."
Fouad Ajami, Professor of Middle East Studies at John Hopkins University in the Washington Post on the likely outcome of an American invasion of Iraq.
"I will bet you the best dinner in the Gaslight district of San Diego that military action will not last more than a week."
Bill O'Reilly, Fox News
"Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries."
Colin Powell offering "proof," before the United Nations Security Council, to back up his claims about Iraq's possession of WMD.
As Nation readers know, this is just a very short sampling. The experts were wrong about the future, the past, and the present of Iraq. The goal of this new book is to document the errors, the arrogance and the mendacity with short, pungent quotes that speak for themselves.
Any help you can provide will be much appreciated. Please send suggested quotes to Navasky and Cerf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With soldiers being endlessly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the system that is supposed to provide the injured with disability benefits is broken. So says an independent commission report released this week. The report, put out by the Veteran's Disability Benefits Commission notes that there is inadequate information-sharing between government departments and there is little communication between doctors and government officials dealing with veterans claims. Worse, the information that needs to be shared is apparently often not very reliable in the first place.
A House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday reviewed the 544-page commission report which details how unresponsive the executive branch and military are to veteran's medical needs. James Terry Scott, chairman of the independent commission, said at the hearing that there is a lack of expertise among clinicians in army hospitals and that veterans frequently receive inadequate medical advice, especially concerning posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The report chronicled the stunning backlog in processing claims, which the Government Accountability Office first documented two weeks ago. The GAO report found disability payments were delayed an average of six months after the claim was made.
Committee members and Terry spent much of the hearing agreeing that the military needs more doctors who can identify and competently address PTSD. Joshua Kors has chronicled for The Nation has how some military doctors avoid dealing with PTSD by falsely diagnosing veterans with a pre-existing personality disorder instead.
As Kors reported, if the military diagnoses a personality disorder as a pre-existing condition, then it does not have to pay for medical benefits. According to the commission's report, in the mid-1980s, the Pentagon, as a cost-cutting measure, encouraged military doctors to diagnose veterans with only one condition. That means that if a military doctor can diagnose a veteran suffering from PTSD with another pre-existing condition, the pentagon does not have to provide treatment for PTSD.
Committee chair Bob Filner, a California Democrat, said he hoped he could add an amendment to this year's military spending bill that would deny the Pentagon this dodge. What about overhauling the entire dysfunctional veterans' health care system? Filner said that while he strongly agrees with the commission's recommendations for fundamental change he doubts Congress can take up this matter until next year.
Of course, if Congress continues to fund the wars, the problem will be even more massive next year then it is now.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of Congress's vote to authorize the Bush Administration to overthrow the government of Iraq by military force. The Nation opposed the war authorization. In "An Open Letter to Congress," which we published on the magazine's cover on the eve of the vote, we argued that it would have "a significance that goes far beyond the war." Our opposition has been fully, tragically confirmed by the human and political disasters of these last few years.
As we mark this anniversary, it is time to consider the longterm damage the grievously misconceived "war on terrorism" has inflicted on our security and relationship with the world. Eventually US troops will leave Iraq because the brutal facts on the ground will compel it. But even as we struggle for an exit strategy, our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from the "war on terror." At a time when we need a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine and an alternative vision of what this country's role in the world should be, we see both parties calling for intensifying the "war on terror" --even for increasing the size of the military, and for expanding its ability to go places and do things. But who is asking the fundamental question: Won't a war without end do more to weaken our security and democracy than seriously address the threats and challenges ahead?
Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. This Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty and condoning torture.
The Administration has also justified the expansion of America's military capacity--over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets nearing 700 billion dollars--as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism. What too few politicians are willing to say is that combating terrorism--a brutal, horrifying tactic--is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Illegality and immorality aside, it simply doesn't succeed. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world. Indeed, the failed Iraq war demonstrated anew the limits of military power.
Fighting terror requires genuine cooperation with other nations in policing and lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; withdrawal of support for oppressive regimes that generate hatred of the US; and real pressure to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and justice and a secure state for the Palestinians.
It is also worth remembering as we mark this anniversary that military invasion and occupation, and crusades masquerading as foreign policy, divert precious resources from real security. Five years ago, the doubts and warnings about military action in Iraq were brushed aside (including those clearly and consistently expressed by the Nation). Now that reality has confirmed the argument, isn't it time to act on the knowledge?
Alongside the get-out-of-Iraq debate, the political system needs a parallel debate that lays out how we will exit this "long war" -- which is a formula for unlimited militarization and recurring military conflicts. (As an industrial project for the arms industry, it could be even more open-ended than the Cold War.) We need a debate that confronts the danger of inflating a very real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war, to be fought simultaneously on countless obscure battle fronts, large and small, visible and secret.
Major political leaders in both parties continue to buy into a view of US global supremacy--the "indispensable nation" scenario. They were silent when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" to hunt down Islamists on that continent. Nor they did object when CIA gunships bombed villages earlier this year in Somalia. When Bush announced intentions to increase Army troop strength by 90,000, many Democrats boasted it was their idea first.
To what end? These new troops won't be available for Iraq. Are they for the next war or occupation? The delusion of military power is deeply rooted.
We would do better--both in addressing the danger of a wider sectarian war with failing regimes in the Middle East, and in combating terrorism--to reduce the heavy US military and geopolitical footprint in the region. That means withdrawing US forces from Iraq and organizing regional diplomacy, including with Iran and Syria, to contain the civil war from spreading. It would mean addressing the legitimate grievances of many in the Islamic world, especially Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And it would mean changing the conversation with the people of the Arab and Islamic worlds from the danger of extremism to the economic opportunity that peace and cooperation could bring.
A purposeful opposition must form to rethink America's role in the world. There are large and fateful questions to confront: What kind of country does the US want to be in the 21st century? Republic or Empire? Global leader or global cop? Where, as Sherle Schwenninger asked in the Nation's pages a few years ago, "is the America that is less one of warrior and preacher/proselytizer and more one of architect and builder?" How can America act like an imperial power in a post-imperial world? Much can be accomplished by focusing on the questions that conventional opinion ignores. And starting the discussion now can help establish new terms and limits for the next president elected in 2008.
Concretely, Congress should be pushed to take legislative action to renounce the Bush doctrine of "preventive war." As The Nation warned on the eve of the 2002 war resolution vote, "the decision to go to war has a significance that goes far beyond the war....It declares a policy of military supremacy over the entire earth-- an objective never attained by any power....The new policy [of preventive war] reverses a long American tradition of contempt for unprovoked attacks. It gives the United States the unrestricted right to attack nations even when it has not been attacked by them and is not about to be attacked by them...It accords the US the right to overthrow any regime--like the one in Iraq--it decided should be overthrown...It declares that the defense of the US and the world against nuclear proliferation is military force." Declaring the Bush doctrine of endless war defunct will not solve the problems posed by Iraq, but it will reduce the likelihood that we will see more Iraqs in our future.
With the 2008 elections upon us, it is unlikely that the Democrats (with a few honorable exceptions) will rethink their official national security strategy in any significant way. But citizens committed to a vision of real security can launch a debate framed by our own concerns and values. If we have learned anything in the past six years, it is that even overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the 21st century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.
A real security plan would widen the definition of security to include all threats to human life, whether they stem from terrorism, disease, environmental degradation, natural disasters or global poverty--a definition that makes it clear that the military is only one of many tools that can be used to address urgent threats. A last resort. This alternative security strategy would also reconfigure the US presence in the world -- reducing the footprint of American military power, pulling back the forward deployments drastically and reducing the bloated Pentagon budget by as much as half.
Yes, at home, all this will take time and will have to overcome the fiercest kind of political resistance. Yet this is not an impossible political goal, now that Americans have seen where the military option leads. Dealing intelligently with reality is not retreat. It is the first wise step toward restoring genuine national security.