Fearmongering! This is from the front page of cnn.com today under the headline
Feds warn of 'spectacular attacks':
Amid rising fears of Al Qaeda resurgence, a federal law enforcement bulletin warns the group may be planning "spectacular attacks" in the U.S. that will cause "mass casualties" and "severe damage" to the economy. The warning is not specific and has not prompted an upgrade in the terror threat level. (emphasis mine)
I'm fond of the notion that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and so I tend to look upon those who foster a paranoid or fear-filled environment with more than a little enmity. This is neither responsible law-enforcement or professional journalism. It's fearmongering. I'm simply astounding by the degree to which the major media seem to have embraced the President's tactic of using vauge threats to provoke fear and maintain support for his positions. Is it because the media execs and anchorperson superstars are just as scared, or is it because they're in on the plan?
I'm not positing some vast pro-fear conspiracy between the media and the government, but things like this lead me to believe in cynical news execs battling for market share, playing right into an organic system that developed over years of cold war, dormant for nearly a decade and now coming back to life. I've read accounts by people five to ten years older than I about their fear of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviets, and it seems like the idea these days is to get that same thing rolling, but with Terrorists subbing for the USSR.
If this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, why are we letting ourselves be ruled by fear? Why is fear a reason for dropping freedom like a hot rock? I mean, really, there's not that much to be afraid of. I live in New York City, and the odds that I'll be killed by a terrorist attack are pretty slim. People in AnyTown USA have even less to be concerned with. We don't need to go to war over this. As a nation we're tough, we're big, we can take it. Even if they do hit us again, we're going to be ok.
Hawks will say, "That's just what you want them to do, hit us again. You're a do-nothing anti-American peacenik!" Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no desire to see more Americans die in fiery bombings, but I also have no desire to see hundreds of thousands of other souls extinguished so that we can curl up with an illusion of safety.
Make no mistake, illusion it will be should it ever come. My guess is that if we do Iraq, the fearmongering will only become all the more shrill. Anyone who thinks attacking Iraq will materially increase the safety of your average American in the short term is loony-toons. No one believes that. At best, the War Party sees Operation Smackdown Saddam as part of a long term plan to subdue the entire middle-east, by force if necessary. At worst, the Hawks are cought up in the rush of power, of remaking the world (and turning a tidy profit at that), and don't really give a flying fuck about the safety of their citizenry. In the first case, I would point to the discouraging legacy of colonialism, the lack of truly trustworthy leadership, and the likelyhood of increased attacks on the American homeland as caveats to prosecuting a war of regional domination. In the latter case I don't know what to say. In both cases, I see alternatives.
The Real Basis for Safety
Look, America works as a free country because there aren't enough people here who want badly enough to tear it down. The whole premise of basing our nation on freedom and democracy, if you go back to the founding fathers, is that these freedoms are stabilized by giving the free people a stake in the current order. That's why we took all the land away from the Natives, because we needed to give it to enough of our own poor and huddled masses so they'd have some interest in keeping the current order working. The French didn't follow that part of the American example (no piddly natives to steal land from, only landed aristocracy) and they've had revolution after revolution. America works because Americans have a vested interest in making it work. That's why the state can "trust" its citizens with all the freedoms they do, and that's why individuals who really want to cause trouble (e.g. the DC Sniper Duo) can pretty much do so at their will.
Today we're seeing the same revolutionary watershed process of burgeoning freeom play out, except on a world stage. You can argue that Terroriests hate us because we have freedom, because we know how to have fun, because American women can wear miniskirts, but those are all red herring arguments. Or rather, they all point back to one fundimental fact: we have power and they do not. Terrorists by their very definintion have no stake in the global order because their position has been marginalized in the extreme. Now, like it or not the example of American freedom is spreading around the globe, and suddenly you have the very dangerous reality of a lot of people with a lot of freedom (freedom to move around the world, to broadast their message, to purchase arms, etc) who have no vested interest in maintaining the current order. These free radicals are a real threat. In dealing with this threat, you have two choices: kill all the radicals, remove the freedom or find a way to infranchise more people into global society.
I'm not suggesting that we should bargan with terrorists to give Al-Qaida a seat at the UN. What I am suggesting is that reacting to terrorism by removing freedom is in the long run taking a step backwards, and it's unlikely that removing freedom will ever provide anywhere near the same amount of safety that infranchisement will. Going after criminal perpetrators of a crime and getting serious about watching your own back yard are logical short-term reactions to being attacked, but they are not a long term solution. If we don't see this, if we pump up our short-term solutions to cover for our lack of a long-term strategy, we're going to exacerbate the problem. Witness Israel and the Palestineans. The more checkpoints and fences they build, the more they restrict freedom and remove opportunity, the more suicide bombers they will confront.
What is needed now is a serious change of course for international policy and global capitalism. Today there are far too many virtual colonial states, nations like Saudi Arabia which does not have an economy without colonial patrons to purchase its natural resources. In the worst cases (again, think Saudi Arabia) the customer states are equally reliant upon some key export to drive their economy. These co-dependent relationships must be rehabilitated through policy and trade such that our collective economic activity becomes diversified, more bi-directional, less desperate. We can and must create opportunities for more people, especially those in developing parts of the world. This is the way to give people a stake in our shared success.
However, this is not the message that goes out, because this message would threaten the oligarchy of mega-corporations and cartels that currently skims the cream off the top of the global markets. Power has become concentrated into too few hands, and those hands are beginning to react (out of fear of loosing their opulent positions) by seeking yet more power to control and destroy what theatens them. They seek a fearful body politic, because a fearful public is easily controlled. They seek dependent client states, again because dependents are easily controlled. Our country's leadership is seeking to establish a new era of American dominance. They seek to gain our acquesence by appealing to fear rather than hope precisely because this vision of Pax Americana offers little to no advantages to the common people of this nation, to say nothing of the common people of the rest of the world. This ambition is contrary to the fundimental nature of this country, and it can't go on for too much longer.