It's hard to read the news. Very hard. Taking in the broad scope of human events around the world, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that things are going seriously wrong. I call myself an optimist, and I believe that I am, but I also have a sense of urgency about things.
Here's the short and sweet: A coherent energy policy is vital to the safety of US citizens, and in its absence we are becoming a brutal and dissipated imperial power. The lack of a such a policy in the US is our greatest security liability, and the lack of an effective message on the issue is our greatest political failur. As it stands, if gasoline prices spiked, Bush would like be able to advance an unvarnished "blood for oil" campaign as a pure kitchen-table pocketbook issue.
Meanwhile, we're beating POWs to death faster than the Communist Vietnamese because no one has any better ideas. This is lunacy. (1,200 words)
It's three and a half years after 9/11, and my country is engaged in an ill advised imperialisic misadventure that it cannot win without resorting to pure barbarism. By my standards, barbarism is in itself be a loss, and unfortunately it's already happening.
In case you didn't hear, we've killed about as many prisoners of war in the past three years as the Communist Vietnamese did in a decade. Yeah, and that's not counting people we turned over to Egypt or Pakistan with a nudge and a wink. Nobody really keeps track of those people. Oh, and the guy who wrote the legal mumbojumbo that made it all possible? He got a promotion, got made the official layer for the Department of Justice.
This kind of specific brutality, torturing prisoners, beating them to death, is part of the bigger picture. At the moment, our United States is spending about a hundred billion borrowed dollarsand near a thousand American lives -- plus maybe 100x that many non-American souls, however much they're all worth -- every year to occupy a couple countries in the Middle Aast in an ill-advised attempt to control the entire region.
This is a criminally stupid waste of life and energy. These wars have been promoted under various auspices, but as the motive of Fear has waned (and "weapons of mass distruction" failed to materialize on cue) they have increasingly been sold as acts of revenge and liberation. These are dangerous illusions.
The people who attacked us were not from or supported by Iraq. In fact, the people who attacked us are flourishing as a result of our invasions. This is a hard fact. If our goal is to neutralize these terrorist networks by reducing their numbers and sapping their base of support, our actions sine 9/11 have been an abject failure. We are not getting revenge. We are giving aid and comfort to our enemy.
Furthermore, the notion of libearation is deeply flawed. US troops were not "greeted as liberators" because this is not what they are. The US has never been in a position to "give" freedom to people halfway around the world. The notion of bringing democracy to a country by force is a nice fantasy, but it is self contradictory and has no grounding in history.
In every historical case, the idea of unilaterally liberating the people of another nation has been a rationalization of empire-building. Just as Stalin had "socialism," the Modern American Empire has "freedom," an ideal which the people at home unquestionably support but which has no real meaning or true moral content.
This is all plainly obvious to anyone who cares to look, but American politics is a total mess. There are no prominant voices of principled opposition to this misguided policy of neo-imperialism, and more importantly no prominant voices advocating smarter alternatives.
And there are alternatives! Anyone who believes that our current allocation of resources is wise should have their head examined. If we are willing to spend $100 Billion and risk killing a few thousand solders, there's quite a lot we could do for standing up to dictators and making ourselves safe without occupying countries. And it would be more effective.
You want a strategy to win peace in the Middle East? Stop buying oil, start supporting civil society and education directly rather than through oppressive regimes set up around petrolium exports (whether that's the Saudi Royals or our own occupation force). This will be incredibly expensive and dangerous, but it's far more likely to succeed and it will make the US safer from attack and more secure in the long run.
Radical Islamic terrorist like Al-Qaeda are not motivated to attack the US because they "hate our freedom" (notice again the use of "freedom" as a meaningless abstract associated with war), but because they want to make significant changes in their own area of the world, and are finding it difficult to engage or topple the power structures which we support. This is a hard fact, and has been clear for more than a decade. If we want to deal with the threats that we face, we need to understand them in real terms and put away childish rhetoric.
Now, Radican Islamic ideas for running a society based on a harsh interperetation of Islamic law are objectionable -- particularly with regards to the role of women -- and we're quite right to oppose this, but it's important to realize that opposing someone else's cultural values (no matter how disagreeable) can only be done effectively through political, cultural and economic engagement or through the rule of law. Using military force to achieve cultural change is a loosing strategy1.
The truth is that our hands are tied in Middle Eastern geopolitics because of the oil question. Not only does it prevent us from standing up to oppressive regimes, it also taints our every move in the eyes of the population. Until we can put this question to rest, we will have no peace.
Currently, we consume 72 billion barrels of oil a year, more than half of it imported. In terms of the energy it takes to "power America," this oil represents more than 10x our total electricity generating capacity, including all coal, nuclear, hydro and natural gas generators. About 70% of all this oil goes to transportation.
Changing this will be an enormous challenge, but this cursory analysis of the numbers shows it is emminently possible. Our oil consumption is way out of step with any other country in the world. Part of this is because of our geography, but mostly it's a matter of the political influence of the petrochemical and auto corporations. It will take significant public investment in research, infrastructure and urban planning to change the nature of US energy consumption, but it's something we're going to have to do sooner or later.
This is a national calling; it requires political will. But it's a damn better step to take for our national security than beating a bunch of Arabs, Pakistanis and Afghans to death. What we're doing right now is literally digging our own grave.
But then, if you think these invasions are really about protecting women in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm afraid you've been taken in by more of that "freedom" rhetoric. While it's true that the Taliban were really awful in their treatment of women and that Saddam's sons were power-mad monsters, the real situation for women in both places has not improved since we bombed, invaded and occupied. In many cases, because of lawlessness and chaos, it's gotten significantly worse.