Predator and Prey

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Common Wonders

Predator and Prey

by
Robert C. Koehler

Bad bear!

Within the false outrage coursing through much of mainstream politics and the media, there is a grudging reverence for the brutality of the latest world crisis, if evinced only in the satisfaction that America has found its next enemy. Cold War sentiments stir in their hibernation, the McCain campaign has a bete noir to rail at more ferocious than Paris Hilton, and God's in his heaven once again.

Maybe Russia is the perfect enemy, in that the country is too big and powerful to actually attack directly - not even the most unhinged neocon has so far suggested that - and therefore we can sustain rhetorical hatred and huge defense budgets without fear of a new quagmire.

Oh, what a world it would be if humanity and compassion had a collective presence that wasn't fleeting, if a crisis of aggression somewhere in the world was followed by cries from politicians and ordinary citizens alike to beef up the peace budget.

Consider that the Russian invasion and occupation of Georgia, upon even cursory examination, turns into a veritable fractal - a pattern that replicates itself on an infinite scale - of ethnic hatred and violence. Thus, Russia invaded Georgia after Georgia shelled the pro-Russian province of South Ossetia, which in turn had shelled villages in Georgia. Is this really the human condition, to be perpetually buried in grievances that we occasionally attempt to settle in the one way guaranteed not only to perpetuate but to escalate them?

But of course I'm forgetting about cynical self-interest, to which I offer a toast - here's to Randy Scheunemann, the top foreign policy adviser for John ("We're all Georgians now") McCain, who was a paid lobbyist for the government of Georgia until a few months ago - because without it we really might have to conclude that the human race is stuck in its cycle of perpetual, and now, of course, nuclear-armed violence.

I'm not sure how we extract ourselves from the interests of war, and doubt that a presidential election is going to do it no matter what the outcome, because the war economy owns both parties, but I think a place to start is with some clarity.

Russia's brutal squashing of Bush administration darling Mikheil Saakashvili's provocative and thuggish attack on South Ossetia has so far been far less destructive and "disproportionate," as a number of observers have pointed out, than A) NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 to defend the autonomy of Kosovo; B) Israel's relentless, U.S.-sanctioned attacks on Lebanon in 2006; and C) uh, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, not to mention the ongoing war in Afghanistan that began in 2001.

Interestingly, Saakashvili has been one of the more enthusiastic participants in the Coalition of the Willing, recently deploying 1,700 troops to Iraq. "Thus," writes Stephen Zunes for Foreign Policy in Focus, "Georgia increased its troop strength in Iraq by more than 500 percent even as other countries in the U.S.-led multinational force were pulling out."

Or, in another take on this: "Georgia has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to help others achieve the liberty that they struggled so hard to attain." This was President Bush, eerily stirring his own quagmire. A million dead in Iraq, 4 million displaced.

"Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected."

I suppose the troublemaker-in-chief had to make a statement. He had to utter words of scripted nonsense as though he or his nation had the least shred of moral standing left from which to condemn an act of aggression. Indeed, the Bush administration provoked Russia as much as Saakashvali himself did, by supporting and arming unfriendly governments on its borders - something the U.S. would never, of course, tolerate.

Geopolitics and the organization of the world into "sovereign nations" is a phenomenon whose time is past, at least in terms of humanity's hope not merely for peace but survival. We talk of nations as though they are living beings with their own will and capacity to act, and perhaps they are. The phenomenon of nationalism may be the manifestation of humankind's collective shadow and unacknowledged deepest fears.

"But it is not only the enemy nation which comes to resemble a nonhuman threat to human life," writes Barbara Ehrenreich in her excellent 1997 book, "Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War." "Predatory creatures play a major role in the flags, coats of arms, and less formal symbols that various nations adopt for themselves. . . . What we become, when we merge into that 'something larger than ourselves' that the nation represents, is what our species has most deeply feared and passionately longed to be" - that is to say, a beast of prey.

Human evolution is at a terrifying juncture, as we face, at last, a nightmare that is 2 million years in the making.

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.

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