Saturday, November 29, 2003

Yes! Found!

For several months, I’ve been looking for an assessment that I wrote before the American-Iraq War of 2003 commenced, because I knew that in it I’d anticipated what was to come. That’s no great achievement: only dolts could have failed to expect the things I mention here. I wrote it in the early part of this year, before the attack, perhaps in January or February.

I’d like to give another reason why ‘regime change’ in Iraq is a bad idea.

Let’s assume there are very nasty weapons hidden away deep in the hinterlands of Iraq. At the moment when the US military topples the Iraqi regime – when the US becomes the Iraqi regime and begins to set up its client state – control over those hidden weapons will tumble further away from the US or UN gaze than ever before.

Captured regime leaders will be less forthcoming on the subject of weapons of mass destruction than any other. Meanwhile, field commanders in control of the weapons will suddenly be answerable to no higher authority, and will have little incentive to reveal their deeply hidden secrets.

Most likely, at least some of them will seek a profit by offering their weapons to a newly forming rebel insurgency or to the highest bidder.

I favor containment of Iraq. We contained the Soviet Union for over 40 years, so Iraq should not be a problem. One ‘relic of the cold war’ that I preferred – at least weapons that should not exist at all were held by governments, however despicable they may be, and not passed into private terrorist hands.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Rules of Puctuation

I was taught the formal American “Rules of Puctuation.” But now I find the Brits and some internet journalists using things like “The Period outside of the Quotations”. And I note that when I was first taught “The Comma Inside,” I thought, “Logically, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” The punctuation mark sets the package, which is the “quotation”. So it should be outside!

So I like this trend. Along with it, the European wordification of acronyms like aids and Unicef. I wonder, though, whether everyone who reads the new American rules understands the shift, or whether some see its use as sloppiness? Any thoughts, “let me know”.

Friday, October 17, 2003

My blue haiku
October, 2003

Oh, Red Sox, curses
color my days and keep me
awake in the night.

My "seeing red" haiku
(contributed by B.C)

Full house. Of fifty
thousand souls, just one doesn't know
his pitcher is spent.

(contributed by T.B.)

In a cynical land
the Sox and Cubs restore our faith
in the metaphysical.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

"Twin Towers Bombing," written Sept. 12, 2001

Another anniversary of September 11th has now come and gone. This is what I wrote on the day after the event, September 12, 2001.

Discussing security strategy, tactics and response misses the main point that yesterday showed: ultimately, there is no way of keeping an event such as this from happening except by making the people of the world love us more.

I know it sounds absurd. But in the end, there is no other prevention.

We think we are good and right almost always. Maybe that's so. But we are unable to understand the deeper motivations of the perpetrators.

We are people of the highest privilege; and yet it surprises us to find that others in the world are unimpressed by our statements that we are the world's beacon of freedom. That is not impressive to them? Why not?

Let me suggest that when we walk away from international treaties, when we hold nations captive to debt, and with a thousand other acts less noticed by us, we are causing resentments.

What comes foremost to my mind is that we need to be sweet and highly generous - to a fault. Not to these perpetrators, obviously, but generally to the world at large.

Prior to this event, I've joked that if you take a poverty-wracked enemy of the United States like, say North Korea or Cuba (now add Afghanistan), we'd be better off strategically and financially if we paid every citizen there a personal check for $5,000 from the US taxpayers, rather than spending our money on the perpetual war machine. We'd save so much effort, stress and cash if we just bought the friendship of the populace!

Obviously, I was being facetious. But think about it, ask yourself -- what did we spend yesterday? What will it cost us to remain so long aloof and oblivious to the wretched of the world outside? Trillions?


I have not released this writing before now because frankly it lacks sophistication in the matter of explaining the alchemy of how our conduct in relation to the Arab-Muslim world contributed to the atmosphere of fear and desperation that brought fundamentalist-extremist terrorists into being there. That is, I had felt that what I wrote then was too easily susceptible to the fearmongering charge that the author is justifying the terrorists’ actions or “blaming America first.” A fine rendering of this relationship was recently given by Karen Armstrong (“Our Role in the Terror”, Guardian/UK, September 18, 2003) and I feel that, backed by the reader’s understanding that I am entirely in agreement with the view she expresses, I no longer need to worry that my position is not well-represented.

What matters most to me now is the central point that mattered most to me then: not what our government did or didn’t do previously that might make us “responsible”, nor what the hell was/is going on in the minds of the terrorists. The thing that matters is the heart’s measure of what our nation is doing today and tomorrow. Are we serving love?

I’ve seen scant national progress by that measure from September 12, 2001 to today - the national policy is more about fear and dreams of domination. Coming from an unloved, unloving place. Yet if America would bring love, we would get love, and though I suppose it would be better if we were not so selfishly motivated for reciprocity, still that would be a great step forward from the quality of our actions over the past two years. Maybe money can’t buy us love, but love can; would that our only fault were to be that understandably and forgivably self-serving.

The only way to create a safer world is to ensure that it is more just." - Karen Armstrong

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Art of "Strategery"

I would like to share with you a timely bit of Sun Tsu's ancient classic The Art of War, so that we might more richly consider the recent chess moves of our leader, Geo. W. Bush (text excerpted/adapted from a wonderful translation, The Art of Strategy by R.L. Wing).

Leadership is intelligence, credibility, humanity, courage, and discipline.

Foretelling triumph: Much computation prior to a challenge brings triumph. Little computation brings defeat.

Knowing the costs: To raise a corps of a hundred thousand, a thousand pieces of gold will be spent each day.

Those who have supreme skill use strategy to bend others without coming to conflict. Attacking a fortified area is an art of last resort.

Swift strategies: If the force's operations in the field are prolonged, the support of the organization will be insufficient. Those who are not entirely aware of strategies that are advantageous cannot be entirely aware of strategies that are disadvantageous.

Skilled executors do not return again and again to levy taxes or transport provisions. They bring what is useful from the organization, and let their opponents show them the way to provisions. One container of the opponent's food is the same as twenty containers of their own.

Generally, those who occupy the place of conflict early can face their opponent in comfort. Those who occupy the place of conflict late must hasten into conflict troubled. Therefore, when opponents are satisfied, they should be starved; when calm, they should be moved.

Know the other and know yourself, one hundred challenges without danger; know not the other and know yourself, one triumph for one defeat; know not the other and know not yourself, every challenge is certain peril.

Those who destroy the opponent are enraged. Those who take hold of the opponent can take advantage of their resources. This is using a triumph over the opponent to enhance one’s own strength.

In a conflict, the straightforward will lead to engagement and the surprising will lead to triumph. Thus, those who are skilled at producing surprises are as infinitely varied as heaven and earth.

The ultimate positioned strategy is to be without apparent position. Without position even the deepest intelligence is unable to spy. The days may appear long or short; the moon may wax or wane.

Subtle! Intangible! Seemingly without shape. Mysterious! Miraculous! Seemingly without sound. Those who are skilled in conflict master the destiny of their opponents. If we want to challenge an opponent, challenge so the opponent cannot help but engage: attack a location the opponent is compelled to rescue. If we do not want a challenge, challenge so the opponent unable to engage: distort the opponent’s sense of location.

Leaders are those who protect an organization. A ruler brings adversity by calling for an advance when the force is not able; by calling for a retreat when the force is unable; and by not understanding the natural authority and work of the force, and aligning it politically or with officials which make the force doubtful.

Calculating fundamentals: Which view, which leader can affect Nature and the Situation? Which Art, which strategy, has numerous strengths? Retain leaders who heed these calculations.

Those who are skilled in conflict put themselves beyond defeat and await their opponent’s reach for triumph. To secure against defeat depends on oneself; the opportunity for triumph depends on one’s opponent.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Since I have neither written nor posted anything for such a long time, I'm dusting off a dish I wrote back in early Frebruary during the runup to our splendid invasion of Iraq. I didn't post it at the time because I could see I had lost my usually cool head; and because I thought I was perhaps projecting my own feelings too much onto my fellow Americans; and because wars rip by in the blink of an eye and the national mood changes so fast that this testament was obviously going to be short-lived. But now, as the realization slowly unfolds that we were being outrageously lied to during that period to justify the impending war, I figure that this rant serves as a record of what that moment in time was actually like - at least to me.

A moment of dread
(from Feb. 7, 2003)

I do not know how long it has been since millions of ordinary Americans have felt the way we're feeling right now. I don't know if we’ve ever felt anything like this before.

I did not live through a world war, the Korean war, the McCarthy era, the Cuban missile crisis, or the assassinations of the 1960s. I didn't know much about the Vietnam war. So it makes me wonder. I did have a taste of the cold-war horror of nuclear armageddon. But that was always a picture of some moment in the indeterminate future.

But in recent days - I'd place it as since the Space Shuttle ripped apart - I've sensed a misapprehension, a disturbance, an uncertainty, a fear, an outright dread, that I have never witnessed in my friends, neighbors and family before.

How did we get to this point?

A quick and easy answer: September 11th brought on today's dread. But wait: are there any other factors?

Let's look at some of the things that have happened since 9/11, things that did not directly, automatically follow from that event. Things that could have turned differently. I ask you to consider, what is the common denominator of them all?

For starters, the dread-alert-system. The last two times the National Terrorism Alert system has gone to the hot color were right before the November elections and right now. Now, with the war on Iraq scheduled for maybe three weeks out, is a tempting times for terrorists, I suppose; but in moments such as these it would be awfully handy as well for the incumbents to use alerts to turn up our fear and outrage. All the better to rally support. Makes you think.

And it's a funny thing about Congress. They won't even discuss the coming war in Iraq. As a body, they have abdicated. They have given the president the throne. Is it just me? I thought a minimum standard of usefulness for a democracy is a legislative body that deliberates on the most important government decisions. For example, things that cost a quarter-trillion dollars. Things like toppling foreign governments by starting unprovoked wars. That kind of stuff. But Congress implemented its own irrelevance - putting itself on a par of voicelessness with wimpy doubting nations, the United Nations, and dissenting American citizens. They removed themselves just prior to the last elections, when, code orange, they voted to let the President do whatever he wants to Iraq whenever he wants, budget unlimited. That abject display occurred precisely while the President was actively deceiving the 638 (?) losers on the Hill, not telling them that North Korea had just laughingly announced to our diplomats that they were breaking their nuclear arms control agreements. Woulda been nice to know.

Those nutty North Koreans. They've now said that they're considering a pre-emptive war to protect themselves against an imminent threat to their self-defense - the threat of a belligerent nation which is moving a wave of new warplanes into place near its borders. Under the new international order, they're well justified by precedent to strike out and defend themselves. After all, the greatest nation on earth, God bless her, has endorsed the idea of pre-emption and implemented it. Really, it works great. It's shown me without a doubt that several centuries of development of the laws of war had clearly gotten off-track, and I'm glad we've now got it straight.

I just wish our blessed nation would set these new markers with a bit more decorum. Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld recently openly insulted our German allies by saying that Germany, Libya and Cuba were the three countries that were going to be totally unhelpful when we carry this burden of war on our rugged shoulders. Ouch! Never in my life have I heard such a diss of a key ally from an American official. What's up with that?

The icy dread of my friends and loved ones is increased by the universally-held opinion that there will definitely be more terrorism here at home, and that taking out Iraq, for whatever good it will do, will not diminish that expectation even slightly. We're in this for the long haul. Anthrax. Smallpox. Chemical weapons. Suitcase bombs. Warheads. Nuclear. We all know that this will spin out for most of the rest of our lifetimes, right? Like the cold war lasted for half a century, right?

Never before in my lifetime have groups of ordinary women gone outside to take off all their clothes and lie down together to make peace signs with their bodies, or to spell out words, words like "Peace," "No War," "No Bush," in places like New York's Central Park, Texas, Illinois, South Africa, and of course all over California. I know some of the people who organized the first of these strip-offs, it's pretty funny. But has anything like this ever happened in our lifetimes? I ask you, have you ever seen the like? What the hell is going on?

Then there's these truly huge anti-war protests. I've been in two of them, each larger than anything on these streets since the height of the Vietnam War - the last one had an undisputed minimum of 120,000 people at it. And there's not even a war going on yet. What's happening, friends? This is wild stuff!

Well, no wonder. Things are different these days, and it's not just the September 11th effect anymore. Let's return to North Korea for a sec, if you don't mind. Say what you want about that crazy bastard Kim Jong Il and I won't stop you, but we all realize, don't we, that George W. Bush single-handedly created the North Korea crisis? As loathsome and generally annoying as the North Koreans are, they would not have started any of this if Bush had not first, without provocation, labeled them "evil" and spat in their faces at every turn. Was that bit of presidential diplomacy useful to me personally? I don't think so. Oh well. I still think it's really funny that the North Koreans were allowed to deliver ballistic missiles into the Persian Gulf under US Navy escort a couple months ago. Because the missiles were going to our friends the Yemeni dictators, and that's legitimate trade - WTO and all that. Really, it is reassuring that even with all this craziness going on, the arms trade is still a hot economic sector. Because our own economy really depends on it, so it's good to know that we'll always have that pillar to lean on.

And right now we could use an economic injection. Stock market down, what, half a trillion? Two trillion? I've lost count. Not only has the nest egg withered, but what about these deficits we're ringing up? I reckon I'll be paying for them til past the time I retire, 35 years from now. I will always be paying for those blessed deficits. Well, we do get a lot of bang for our borrowed buck, war and all that. Do my part.

But even though the steady arms trade is reassuring, even it can increase our dread in these curious times. Because these crises keep tumbling out so fast that it's really hard to focus on more than two of them at any given time. I mean, at any other time, we might have a moment to consider how we seem to be edging into the next Vietnam down there in Colombia. We're really in deep. They're right there behind Israel and Egypt in foreign aid, and it's all in the form of military goods and services. But we don't really have time to think about how every side in Colombia - the government, the rebels, the right-wing paramilitaries, the business sector, the civil society, everyone - is dealing us our cocaine and, in all likelihood, laundering all of the money through our top banks and blue-chip corporations. We don't have time to think about how we Americans are awash in way more cocaine than ever before. How the drug war is utterly lost and none of us can admit it. We just don't have time to focus on that right now. Let's move on.

I mean, there are things closer to home. Where I live, for example, the plan to protect the great forests of the Sierras is about to be overturned in favor a fairly intensive logging plan - you know, backwoods trees over 30 inches in diameter need to be removed because they’re a heckuva fire danger. Maybe there's something like that brewing in your neck of the woods, too.

But that stuff is nothing, hardly worth my attention. Lately I've been focusing like a laser on more important things. Like the very popular notion in conservative Christian circles that this world ain't worth a plug nickel until God's kingdom arrives - so let's bring it on. You get the concept - you can't get to the kingdom until after the Last Judgment happens, and we'll see the sign of the Last Judgement coming when this poisoned world slides into armageddon. So if the U.S. goes nuclear against its enemies, that's a good sign. I've been thinking about how people who think this way are very, very close to the President. And how we've opened the door wide open to the use of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons.

So I have to admit - it's not just the people around me. I'm feeling pretty uncharacteristically nervous these days myself. Let me give you an example. I'm getting married in June, and people have said to me, we have no idea what the world will look like by then. Well, that's a pretty thought. I wonder, is that what it was like living through World War II, that kind of uncertainty and resignation? Who has lived through such a level of worldwide anxiety and helplessness before?

I ask again, what's the common denominator driving our fear and dread at this moment? Is it not the mind of George W. Bush? I ask you: adding it all up, does his presence at the helm makes you more at ease - or more tight in the chest?

Friends, not all of this can be attributed to September 11th. September 11th is past. The world just keeps on going.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

How the other side lost

Call me crazy...

Is it just me? Many commentators have been harping on about the ineptitude of the Iraqi military command in the conduct of their historic loss. But this analysis seems off-base. I don't know what was going on behind the scenes, and I wouldn't waste a breath defending these ringleaders and their Olympian brutality (Chemical Ali and all that). I don't know what their motives or constraints were in the fight. But let's look at what they did and didn't do in this case.

All but the most delusional fanatics among them had to know that defeat was unavoidable. We're talking about a country whose defenses had been bombed over and over ever since 1991. When the invaders swept in this March, the Iraqis had no hope of putting a single plane in the air. No position was safe. Everybody knew the US forces couldn't lose, wouldn't lose.

But the Iraqis didn't blow up their bridges. Inept? Maybe, realizing they were screwed either way, they didn't want to be remembered for utterly trashing their own lands. Maybe they wanted the Americans to be the ones responsible for the inevitable destruction of things.

They didn't torch their oil fields with gusto, as predicted. They were excoriated in advance of the war for being so despicable that naturally they would set the fields afire. Now they're inept for failing to do so? Maybe they recognized that their only hope for victory lay in a slim chance of success in the battle of world opinion versus U.S. aggressiveness. Best to leave the oil fields be.

They didn't use chemical weapons as predicted. The only "weapons of mass destruction" they used were a few of the tired and predictably ineffectual conventional missiles remaining in their inventory.

(Whereas the U.S. employed hundreds of times more weapons of mass destruction - thousands of far more highly explosive missiles and bombs. And we've now left the Tigris and Euphrates dusted in our own chemical/nuclear weapon of choice, the remains of our depleted-uranium armaments - you know, the kind of chemical weapon that's acceptable in polite company. Kind of like the steroids that are acceptable in baseball.)

The Iraqis' failure to go chemical, is that why they're inept? Right now, there remains no evidence that that had any such weapons. But even if they did, maybe they recognized that using those weapons would be a bungle.

Not to say the Iraqis were a model of polite, Geneva-convention-approved combat. I guess their treatment of our prisoners was unsurprisingly poor form - predictable for an impotent group fleeing under death from above, unable to get a grip on its invader in any sustained way. And no doubt their tactics using their own civilians as shields was unfair to us, though also expected in such an asymmetrical situation. I ain't here to defend them. But only an agenda-driven gasbag would waste air detailing the tactical incompetence of an army preordained to lose.

The real question is, what choices did they make knowing that every choice must lead to failure? Both sides in this combat chose which rules to break. Perhaps the defeated regime, for once in its unfortunate reign, this time chose its collection of transgressions more wisely than its opponent did.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Give us a boy and it'll all be over

I'm busy. So when I checked the news on the web at work for a couple of minutes this morning and saw this photograph, I had to take a second look, but I didn't linger long. This photograph - of the boy from Baghdad with both his arms blown off, unknown medical goop smeared all over his torso, a bandage on his head, and an astonishing expression of loss, terror, and incomprehension on his face. He was hit IN HIS SLEEP IN HIS BEDROOM IN HIS HOME by an American bomb which, he cried out, killed his parents and virtually all his brothers and sisters.

Wouldn't he be better off living for the next ten years under the despicable Saddam than that? What about you? Wouldn't you rather live under Saddam's rule than lose both your arms and your whole family? Maybe you'd rather be dead than that.

Not much time on my hands. So I didn't think much of anything when I saw that photograph - I just felt a twinge of shame and remorse, and got back to work. Forgot about it until just now.

That face. What have we done? If we were to take an American boy and do this to him as a sacrifice to our god, or a price for our victory, would it be worth it? Just one boy? For a glorious victory? For everything we hold most dear? What if we could make a deal: give the judge one American boy's arms and his family, and in return, no more terrorism against Americans ever again. Are we willing to make that deal? Just one boy?

Why are we doing this to hundreds, maybe thousands, of children? Are they worth a few of our tears? Are they worth our looking at them? Ten years from now, will you seek out this boy and explain to him why you think it was necessary?

We're all busy.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Oops, the UN is broken

In a sense, Bush is right: the United Nations is broken. And it's not just because he picked it up and dropped it. It's the Security Council. Five permanent members with veto power, left over from World War II, will not do. They will not get us out of this decade, forget about this century.

Here's what I propose: the Security Council should be composed of seven semi-permanent member states: one each from North America, South America, Europe, and Africa; two from Asia and the Pacific (a group that includes Russia, China, India, Japan and Australia); and one other nation voted on once every ten years by all the member states of the General Assembly collectively.

Arrangements for rotating non-permanent members could stay the same as they are today.

No single semi-permanent member nation would have veto power; rather, two semi-vetoes combined would be required to quash any resolution. That is, a resolution that passes 6 of the 7 semi-permanent members would be equivalent to a unanimous vote today.

Selection to semi-permanent status would depend on leading one's region in certain key measures of societal advancement and global leadership. Here's where we can be creative and, in the grand-historical sense, progressive in our choices. I would lobby for the highest scoring nations by some combination of national wealth and an index of social development (like the Human Development Index used by the UN, which de-emphasized standard measures of economic growth and national wealth and instead focuses on those factors that (quoting from the UN website) create “an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests… expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value.” To continue with this kind of benchmark, “Fundamental to enlarging these choices is building human capabilities —the range of things that people can do or be in life. The most basic capabilities for human development are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community.”

Realistically, military power would certainly also need to be a factor in the selection of semi-permanent members. Some would undoubtedly argue for other criteria such as degrees of democratization or freedom. The dreamer in me imagines throwing in such qualities as national creativity, wisdom, peacefulness and environmental stewardship, but I'm prepared to be pragmatic and abandon any such hope until the 22nd century. In any case, re-measurement and re-appointment of nations might occur, say, every 20 years. The measures chosen would, in the end, represent the global consensus of what is valued in a nation's character, and would come to act as a lowest-common denominator guide for the further development of all nations and peoples.

The United Nations is a wonderful institution with a brilliant history, the necessary product of wise minds, but it is flawed at its core, not sufficiently democratic for the 21st century. This flaw is understandable and we should treat it with sympathy, because the institution was scorched by the fires of war in its birth room.

Now one Security Council member has used its own unaccountable power to destroy the institution from within. But you know what? That may actually be okay if wise minds again take over briefly at some point in the crisis of the coming years, and purify this traumatized toddler for a new century. Soon this day will come: the time to reform the United Nations for the better, lest we all descend into ashes. The key will be the collective participation of all the world’s people, dragging our governments along by the nose.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

"Let everyone be subject to his neighbor." - I Clement

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Dear friend:

Please send the following message with all due haste. And pass it on!

The key to avoiding a war against Iraq is the united efforts of those nations with votes on the UN Security Council to push through a viable alternative to war.

Our own government is an unbending obstacle to this outcome, so those of us Americans who prefer peace must go directly to these other nations. If we American patriots for peace can help steel these leaders to do the right thing, we can change the course of history right now. As soon as these foreign leaders start making the right signals forcefully enough, more of our own Congresspeople will be able to come out from under cover to support the plan for peace.

Please copy the letter below and send it to the following addresses. These are the email addresses of the Ambassadors to the UN of those nations with current seats on the Security Council. Do it now!

To the Ambassador:

I speak to you as a very concerned American citizen.

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately unite with other nations to enact any responsible plan for the disarmament of Iraq that avoids war and enhances peace in the Middle East. For example, an increased weapons inspections team coupled with United Nations forces in Iraq could enforce the process of disarmament and avert an unnecessary war.

You must overcome the opposition of my own government. I hope that, as many of my fellow American citizens unite with me in sending you this same message, you will recognize the strength within the United States of the anti-war viewpoint that I believe you and we share in common.

Our shared democratic values allow me to speak to you with collegial directness. As long as my own government pursues a strategy of war not peace, I call upon you to act in concert with the will of the American people in partnership for peace. Let our nations together strengthen the rule of law over the twisted logic of war.


United States of America

Thursday, February 13, 2003

If it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
- Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, 2002

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Put a piece of your heart into each thing that you do.
And be ever ready to give each of your gains away.

Friday, February 07, 2003

I have a couple of thoughts following the 1/30/03 open letter by several European leaders in support of Bush’s planned Iraq war, as published in the Wall Street Journal. The big problem I have is with its thesis statement, coming at the end of the first paragraph: “Today [our shared values of democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law] are under greater threat than ever.”

I could be cheeky and ask, “Under threat from whom – Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush?” But I must take the authors’ intent at face value and accept that they actually do believe that Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and by extension Saddam Hussein – whom some suspect either is supporting these terrorists or would like to – pose the greatest threat ever to our democratic values.

What I have to ask is, why do these leaders suffer such a profound crisis of confidence in the sturdiness of our fundamental values? I would probably be more assured if I thought that this was mere posturing, scare-mongering – but I’m going to take them at their word. Do they think that our militaries cannot stand up to the onslaught of Muslim hordes, that the streets of Europe and America will soon be overrun by actual invasion? Probably not. But do they think that a future of relentless fundamentalist terrorist strikes in the heart of Europe and America will chip away at our citizens’ resolve to defend and uphold the values of democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law? If that’s what they think, then I’m very disappointed in them.

Our societies are too strong and dominant to be overrun by force. And acts of terror alone do not destroy the will to democracy once it’s planted. There’s only one way for these values to erode, and that’s by decay from within: a willful, power-hungry, manipulative leadership combined with a weary, flabby, clueless, brainwashed populace.

In this sense, these commentators may be right: our values may be under threat. If so, then that danger is the measure of our own failures in the way that we respond to fundamentalist violence. Yes, we must be resolute, and we must protect each other. But as is always the case, we must defend our liberties from within as well as from without. The terrorists will succeed only to the extent that they warp us to give up our values out of fear and in the name of defense.

The good news is, religious fundamentalisms of all kinds are in their death throes. The bad news is, this process could go on for several more centuries yet. I have no fear that Islamic fundamentalism from outside can by itself threaten the triumph of our values. But I do fear that it can trigger us to respond foolishly to its provocation so as to cheapen our values, weaken ourselves from within, give the fundamentalist enemy one last injection of lifeblood, and extend this tug-of-war for many decades beyond its natural lifespan.

I’m afraid that such expressions of panic by our leadership are taking us in the wrong direction.

The other objection I have is to the leaders’ assertion that “the Security Council must maintain its credibility by ensuring full compliance with its resolutions.” On the face of it, that might seem like a difficult statement to refute. But the recent shuttle disaster reminds me that there are limits to the control we can exercise over the things of this world, and this is never more true than in the case of states and leaders. I look at post-WWII international relations under the aegis of the UN as a long, slow historical process of incremental improvement – very much analogous to the slow growth of our own celebrated democratic values over recent centuries. It takes time to build compliance through the slow growth of consensus values. That’s why I put greater stress on the long-term efficacy of multilateral institutions like the International Criminal Court and war crimes tribunals than on military interventions.

The imminent invasion of Iraq is the outcome of a massive failure of policy: beheading the monster whom we created and found that we could not control. But the sheer bluster of the operation allows us to forever avoid admitting this fact. I say, it’s better to take our lumps, admit our mistakes, and pull a long-term success out of the mucky hat by working through this crisis under the framework of the rule of law, thus strengthening our shared values of justice for future days.

(In this context, I have to laugh at the proposal of exile for Saddam. We would save face and avoid war, but at what cost to the credibility of the nascent International Criminal Court? I guess that’s just another reason for the administration to like the idea of exile: anything to pour dirt on the ICC. But really, long-term, Pinochet’s near-miss and Milisovic’s trial are better signals to be sending to bloody dictators than we-will-kill-you-in-your-bunker.)

What has actually happened is that by playing a high-stakes game of chicken while simultaneously denigrating the institutions of the UN and international justice at every turn, it is we who have brought the credibility of the Security Council under severe, possibly irreparable, strain. Whereas a reasonable tolerance for dissonance and bad-boy dictators’ games, combined with an implacable but steady and level-headed will to see justice win in the end, would build the credibility of the Security Council over the long term, we instead have willfully and unnecessarily thrown that precious credibility into great danger. We have made war the only viable solution to save the Council’s bacon. And even war might not do the trick, because, once we come out the other end of this mess, unless it’s a smashing success by all accounts, world opinion may still find the Security Council’s judgment wanting. Then a crisis of credibility of a very different sort will ensue.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

"It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, 'Let justice roll down like mighty waters,' and quite another to work out the irrigation system. Clearly there is more certainty in the recognition of wrongs than there is in the prescription for their cure." -- William Sloane Coffin