As the daily political and military atrocities magnetize our attention, it
does us good now and then to take a step back and try for some longer-range
perspectives on the world situation, and politics in the U.S. of A. So here,
in short takes, are some reflections on four areas that could use some deeper
examination: political despair, Bush's coming downfall, the new face of
warfare, and America's response to Islam.
1. Pendulum Soldiers
Shadow forces have been let loose across the globe. Every so often, it
happens. The center, for a variety of sociologic/spiritual/political reasons,
doesn't hold and suddenly wild, crazy, bad people take over key areas of the
world, wreaking havoc and destruction. For awhile, people of good will and
humanistic tendencies are frightened to death, not being all that familiar
with how to relate to extremist leaders. Invariably, the bad guys, because
they don't operate well within rational boundaries, go too far with their
arrogant, brutal behavior and ambitions, and the pendulum swings back the
other way. The bad guys are gone, or at least are in the descendancy, and the
center begins to hold again. It's the old political/cultural see-saw.
In our time, it's not clear whether Bush is a symbol or cause of this shadow
ascendancy on the world scene. Certainly, his administration's arrogant,
in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, us-vs.-them style, has encouraged other
political leaders to act reprehensibly as well around the globe, be it in
Italy or France or Africa or Arabia or Israel.
We're living in a political world that threatens to increase our sense of
despair, with more than our fair share of horrible news each day. And so we
gird our loins for political battle, knowing we're going to get verbally
pummeled, called names, have our patriotism questioned, maybe even face
violence or official surveillance. But we also keep this long-term knowlege
in our hearts: that tides do change. Keeping the faith during the bad times
is so all-important, laying the foundations, the momentum building, for that
inevitable pendulum-swing later. So, dear reader, think of yourself as a
Pendulum Soldier, actively working to bring peace and justice and proper
balance to this country, this planet, ourselves. We accomplished a lot with
the Civil Rights Movement, helping to stop the Vietnam War, setting up
environmental safeguards; we warned of the dangers of globalization, we
founded institutions to combat the worst of the hardright's plans. We can do
it again. Eyes on the prize. Don't let the bastards drag you down;
falldowngetup -- one word.
2. Cracks in the Facade
For awhile, it looked like the Bush Administration was invincible. In the
wake of the horrific 9/11 crimes against humanity, nobody seemed to have the
courage to put up much of a fight when Bush quickly responded in ways that
never would be accepted in normal circumstances. This band of mean-spirited,
greedy, determined power-seekers ran roughshod over the Constitution, the
institutions of democracy, over real and imagined "enemies" abroad, etc.
Instead of governing from the middle and seeking consensus in this new
struggle -- which would have been appropriate anyway, given that Bush lost
the presidential popular vote by half-a million ballots and reached his
office only through a political maneuver on the Supreme Court -- Bush behaved
as if he had an enormous mandate and didn't need to consult anybody, on
anything. It was full speed ahead in enacting long-range tax cuts for the
wealthy, ignoring Congress, making secret anything that might prove
embarrassing or potentially criminal, freezing out Democrats, retrenching on
environmental progress, behaving like a rampaging cowboy in foreign affairs,
The point here is not to examine the details of Bush's program, but to
indicate, as per #1 above, that such arrogant behavior cannot, and will not,
continue forever. Every action carries within itself an opposite reaction.
Bush&Co. is behaving like a secret corporation, motivated by greed and the
desire for monopoly power, and is so outrageous in its open assaults that
even those normally in support find their mouths hanging open in astonishment
at times, both at the ignorance of the man in charge and in some of the
policies they're expected to champion.
The cracks already are starting to show in domestic policy, with moderate
Republicans and most Democrats joining forces more often these days to stop
some of the more reckless and dangerous policies propounded by Bush&Co. Even
the quiescent Democrats -- forced into silence lest they be considered
unpatriotic during "wartime" -- are starting to locate their spines, and are
beginning to offer more in the way of opposition.
In foreign policy, the veteran team surrounding Bush thought itself
unchallengeable as well, representing the only superpower in the world.
Until it started to falter again and again, when running up against the
many-layered complexities of the real world, as opposed to Bush&Co.'s
simplistic black-and-white-you're-with-us-or-with-the-terrorists point of
view. They've managed to alienate most of Europe, many of their reluctant
allies in the Muslim world (Cheney batting zero on his recent trip is a good
example), and now, as a result of its unconscionable and sloppy meddling in
the internal affairs of Venezuela, a good share of Latin America as well.
In short, in areas domestic and foreign, Bush&Co. are showing signs of
inconsistency, incompetency and behavior unbefitting the "leader of the free
world." And beginning to suffer some defeats, finally. Consider: No drilling
in the Arctic Refuge, federal and state courts slapping Ashcroft's hands for
over-reaching in his police-state desire to control everything and everyone,
large public rallies in the streets against Bush policies, editorials from
normally-Republican newspapers are starting to get critical; Bush's approval
ratings are slipping fast. When the final unraveling comes, when critical
mass occurs and the whole deck of cards begins to collapse -- fed by the
discovery of all sorts of embarrassing and possibly criminal secrets
currently being hidden by the administration -- the end-slide is going to be
fast and vicious. Resignation or impeachment is not out of the question.
Keep the pressure steady and building.
3. The New Face of War
America doesn't want to fight fullscale, front-on, long-running wars anymore;
too many body bags get shipped back to the States and then there's all hell
to pay politically. So, as we've seen recently, the U.S. prefers a more
high-tech approach: smart bombs dropped from high altitudes, insertion of
special forces for quick missions, unmanned drone aircraft for reconnaisance
and firing of missiles, night-patrol goggles, etc. etc.
So, on one hand, the wealthy, technologically superior U.S. can, and wishes
to, engage in what it laughingly thinks of as a "clean" war, with minimal
casualities and "collateral damage." But the new enemies of the U.S. and the
developed world don't need all that highfalutin', expensive technology. All
they need is some plastique and nails, suicide martyrs, computer skills,
biological agents, chemical compounds, "dirty" radiation bombs, and the like.
We've been given enough visions of the future -- airplanes used as bombs,
young warriors wearing TNT jackets, release of anthrax spores in public,
massive viral attacks delivered by email, missing plutonium from labs, etc.
-- but tend to see them as one-off events. It may not be what many of my
lib-rad comrades want to hear but we'd better get used to the coming world of
large terrorist attacks, and smaller terror happenings -- largely at this
point from Islamic extremists -- and the panic and economic disasters that
So we should know what's coming, but the military expenditures tend still to
go to fighting the last war. Partly, it's ignorance and head-in-the-sandism.
(Bush even CUT funds for beefing up security of nuclear power plants!)
Partly, more money gets made by corporations building large pieces of
machinery -- planes, tanks, missiles (and, of course, missile-defense
boondoggles) -- and that's the green fuel for political campaigns.
It'll probably take another huge terrorist attack, something on the scale of
9/11, or bigger, to serve as our final wake-up call. Then maybe we'll cancel
the "Star Wars" missile-defense shield R&D, maybe we'll even cancel Bush's
huge tax-cut giveaway (mostly to the wealthy, of course)10 years into the
future. If so, we'll be able to use those freed-up monies so that we can pay
for effective anti-terrorist programs -- and a wide variety of human-need and
infrastructure-repair projects -- without robbing Social Security and
Medicare trust funds, as Bush is currently doing.
And, maybe, just maybe, we'll start thinking about revising our foreign
policies so that we can alter the chemistry of the soil in which young
potential terrorists grow. Prevention is always cost-effective in the long
4. The Paucity of Understanding: Islam & the West
Imagine yourself a practitioner of Islam in the Middle East. The mainly
Christian West, especially in Europe and America, demonstrates total
ignorance about your faith, and appears to be engaged in a crusade against
your religion. Partly, that "crusade" (a loaded term employed by Bush, let us
remember) is geopolitical in nature, tied mainly to access to cheap oil&gas.
But partly that crusade seems to grow out of a hearty disdain for the
religion itself, based on prejudice and ignorance of Islam.
Western leaders are constantly getting caught with their religious blinders
on. Italy's premiere Burlusconi blurting out that European civilization is
far superior to any other in the world; Bush's "crusade" remark; House
Republican Whip Tom DeLay's inflammatory statement that only Christianity
"offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought,
every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response
to the realities that we find in this world -- only Christianity."
There's such a paucity of understanding of Islam in the West, and perhaps
much the same is true about Christianity/Judaism in much of the Islamic
world. I know this lack of knowledge about Islam is true for me and many of
my friends, though we are quickly trying to catch up. When our elected
leaders make disparaging remarks about the religion, openly, you know that
anti-Islam bigotry and ignorance runs deep in our Western societies. (At
least, Nixon and Rev. Billy Graham tried to hide their anti-Jewish bigotry.)
Now, having said that, it is also true, as many Moslem commentators have
pointed out, that contemporary Islam is greatly divided and troubled, not
quite deciding how to incorporate its old, revered religious teachings into
the modern world of democracy and free-markets. Many Moslem societies are in
the process of making the transition -- such moderate states as Egypt,
Jordon, Indonesia, et al. -- but others are still not sure how much, or in
some cases even whether, to relate to the non-Islamic world. And that
division runs deep in individual societies, Iran being one clear example,
with its more worldly younger population anxious for reform and more open
access to the outside world but the conservative mullahs constantly standing
in the way with prohibitive restrictions.
Given this conflicted point of view, which reflects the chaos and confusion
of modern life, it is no wonder that Islamic fundamentalism has risen more
and more to the fore, bringing with it not only answers to the seeming chaos
of life but, concomitantly, an antagonism to the forces regarded as bringing
moral impurity into the healthy spiritual body of Islam: Western values
derived from non-Islamic cultures, which threaten to confuse and tempt
practitioners of Islam. Of course, there will be Osama bin Ladens, and
fatwas, and calls to jihad in such a culture clash.
Not all Moslems, of course, are extremists. Most are, or would be, content
being allowed to practice their faith, much as their forefathers did, while
interacting with the non-Islamic world in minor but pleasant-enough ways:
buying products from the West, enjoying Hollywood movies, listening to
hip-hop, etc. But the East/West conflicts, and the seemingly intractable
Israel/Palestine dispute, keep intruding -- as do the inane comments about
Islam from Western leaders like Bush and Burlusconi and DeLay -- and thus the
pot continues to boil. (I haven't even mentioned how Arab-Americans consider
themselves put upon by the general U.S. population, but in particular by the
Bush Administration, which seems intent on targeting them for "special
consideration," which further isolates them and puts them at risk.)
Also forcing Moslems into a united front of suspicion against the U.S. is
America's clear support of the current Israeli government's terror campaign.
Granted that there are good and decent reasons why the U.S. might want to
support Israel's right to exist in a hostile Arab environment -- the only
democracy in the region, affinity and familiarity with the main religion
practiced there, Israel supports U.S. policies, etc. -- but there is no
excuse, especially after the recent horrors associated with Israel's invasion
of the West Bank, for Bush referring to Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace."
What has Bush been smoking?
If the U.S. wants to maintain good relations with the Arab Moslem countries,
it must mobilize a global peace coalition -- with the same dedication and
passion with which it has organized its "war on terrorism" coalition -- to
work mightily to bring about a peace settlement between the Israelis and
Palestinians. If the U.S. isn't willing to do this, and there is no evidence
to date that Bush is even considering it, all we can expect is a slide into
more slaughter, more regional instability, more terrorists fluorishing, more
disasters. Israel and the U.S. will have "won" the battle, but risk losing
the war. And the gap between the Christian/Jewish West and the world of Islam
will grow wider and wider, and ever more dangerous.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government and international relations, has taught
at Western Washington University and San Diego State University. He was with
the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years, and has published in The
Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive and widely on the internet.