Thursday, July 07, 2005

London, the G8, and how the hell do we make this world better?

Yesterday, in planning my entry for today, I had thought of writing about the jailing of Judith Miller, the New York Times journalist who has vehemently refused to divulge the name of her anonymous source in the on-going investigation into the leaking of a CIA agent’s identity. This morning, however, I awoke to the news that someone (no finger pointing here, though likely Al Qaeda) had undertaken another coordinated attack on a mass transit system in Europe. This time it was London. I shudder to think that Copenhagen, my home away from home, will eventually feel the sting of such an act of senseless violence.

I got an e-mail today from a friend asking me what I thought about a website that calls for energy independence. The website, that can be found at:, calls for the U.S. to take steps towards energy independence. Advocates of this course of action believe that once we are less dependent on foreign oil (read authoritarian monarchies in the Middle East) that we will be safer. Some also think that this will make us safer as we will not have to send men and women to die in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else.

Curling ourselves into a the fetal position, pulling the covers over our heads and pretending that the rest of the world doesn't exist, though tempting on days like today, will not make us safer. Bin Laden and his cronies hate the way we live. They hate the way Muslims are treated in Europe by anti-immigrant groups. Extremists hate the freedoms that we enjoy because while they sit hiding in rat holes in Pakistan and Iran we live in relative comfort. Even the poorest among us lives relatively well compared to the poverty in the Islamic world. This is a case about former colonial powers (Europe) and current economic powers (the U.S.) and a perceived belief that it is not fair that we should be so comfortable while Muslims suffer under awful leaders. All of this is true. Many, many Muslims yearn for the freedoms that we often take for granted (as evidence, please note the voter turnout in the 2004 election, record turnout and still embarrassingly low).

Proponents of our current foreign policy goals claim that it is a waste of time to try to understand why someone hates us, that the only thing to be done is destroy those people. After days like today it is easy to subscribe to that philosophy, but it does not get us any closer to the solution. Ironically, we react exactly how Al Qaeda anticipates that we will. Our reaction makes their job easier. I would like be dubbed unpatriotic for questioning our current strategy that I don’t support the troops because I don’t support their mission. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, my whole line of think is: how do we ensure that no Americans have to die to achieve our goals.

The question, of course, is; how do we go about this? Is it our responsibility to improve the lives of these people? Some people, for lack of a better name we will call them Neo-conservatives, take the idealistic view that the U.S. and the greater “western civilization” can simply force democracy and freedom around world. Of course it is not bad to desire democracy and freedom around the world, and many neo-conservatives really desire this. Just as, however, simply want more American style consumer societies to which they can sell more useless junk that no one needs, in exchange for cheap oil.

What is becoming clear in the Middle East is that the democracy that is going to evolve there is not going to be the secular style that the west embraces, but rather a democracy that embraces Islam. This is, of course, perfectly natural and totally logical. The Middle East still holds its religious beliefs very close to it. The new Iranian President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was clearly not our first choice, but he was the choice of the Iranian people. We do not get to choose the leaders that we must deal with around the world. We get what we get, and we have to live with that. Some question if President-elect Ahmadinejad may have come to power through election irregularities. It was widely reported in the American and European press that former President Rafsanjani was the favorite to sweep to victory. This was another case of the U.S. looking at the outside world through rose colored lenses. It was wishful thinking. In truth, Rafsanjani was probably harmed by this distinction as much as anything.

Now there are allegations that President-elect Ahmadinejad was involved in the hostage incident in Iran in 1979 and perhaps some murders in Europe. This is part of the natural path that an element in the U.S. takes when they don’t get their way. If we cannot beat you, we will smear you. It is not the first and, I fear, not the last time that we will do this. We have done it with many in the past, including Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. These people are useful to us when we can use them to advance our goals. Truth is, Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were bad all along, it was just easier to tolerate when they were fighting our “enemies”. I put enemies in quote because, in fact, the American people don’t have enemies. I think if you go out into the world people perceive the American people positively. These people are enemies of the American government. They conflict with our interests so they must be demonized and vilified. Well, many are demons and villains, these two, for sure.

Perhaps instead of constantly assessing who our enemies are we should spend some time looking within ourselves. It is always easier, in all thing, to blame someone else. But maybe, just maybe, it is our American interests that are all messed up. Honestly, why do we care about the Middle East? Is it really because we want to spread democracy? That is a way we deflect attention away from the real goal. It is a nice distraction, even a noble one, but alas a foolish one. You cannot spread democracy. Democracy was not spread into the U.S. by anyone. We fought for it. We brought it upon ourselves to force off colonial oppression and bring about democracy, freedom and liberty. Even then our democracy and freedoms continue to evolve. Even the U.S. has not achieved pure freedom and liberty.

No, democracy is not the reason we are in the Middle East, so what else could it be. What drives most, if not all, political thinking in the western world? Money, economics and security is what. What do we rely on more than anything else? What can most easily affect our economies? Oil, no this war, directly or indirectly, is about oil. It may not be about controlling oil directly, but it is most definitely about securing our supply of oil.

So, is Ron Bengston at American Energy Independence dot com right that we need to be energy independent? Maybe, but I am not one of these anti-globalization isolationist people. I think that spreading the money around the world makes people better off everywhere (including here, even if we export some jobs in the short-run). Only an ostrich buries his head in the sand and pretends that his problems do not exist. He may not see the lion, but the lion sees him and it is still hungry. As long as we wield economic might, not cultural and military might, we will be loved and despised by some. It is the price of success. These people don’t hate us, they envy us. They hate our rather success. It calls into question all their beliefs, and people don’t like to question their beliefs.

Instead of energy independence and isolation, the focus should be on fostering economic growth and prosperity around the world. This is one thing that I agree with true neo-conservatives on. We just disagree on the tactics to be employed. I believe it is rather unintelligent to believe that you can bring peace and prosperity through the use of guns. Especially in a place that has known nothing but violence and wars and oppression for generations. Can you blame the Islamic world for not trusting us? They have known nothing but outside invaders throughout their entire history; from the Crusades, to the Ottoman Turks, to European colonialization, to oppressive authoritarian rulers. The Middle East has never known a different way, and we cannot force one upon them. They must find it themselves, and they will.

The sad irony is that Prime Minister Tony Blair was set to go to bat for the Third World at the G8 summit in Scotland. Of course, Al Qaeda and their colleagues have been so overwhelmingly immersed in their “hate philosophy” that they can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m not sure that even they know what they are fighting for, but the reason that it appeals to some young Muslims can be erased with effort. It is not an effort that our military is qualified for. Nor is it an effort that Christian missionaries should be involved. Christians do some good things in Africa, Asia and South America, but in a part of the world that still feels anger over the Crusades, the good intentions of Christians can easily be misconstrued.

The good news is that the world is not a vacuum. We must continue to push for fair trade, sustainable/eco-friendly development, and fair wealth distribution and educational efforts around the world. The first step should be taken at home. We must improve our education system so that kids return to interest in math and science. We must push for technological development that allows us is to reduce are disgusting thirst for oil. I tell you, the minute we do that and the Middle East is no longer a strategic interest, then we will have won a serious battle in the war on terrorism. Our actions will no longer be perceived as selfish and the justification for terrorism will have been dealt a serious blow. Spread the wealth; no longer rely on oil, give the people a hand up and Democracy will flourish the world over.

Until then we will have to get used to waking up periodically to the horror that occurred today in London. My thoughts today dwell on them.

1 comment:

Shanti and Aimee said...

well thought out comments! Good to know i had some input- i'll keep an eye out for more pertinent energy issues you can use.