Saturday, December 18, 2004

American Cowardice

The reason our best and bravest are experiencing the horror that is Iraq is because American leaders are cowards. I am including leaders in both political parties in this grouping. As bad as that is, it appears that our cowardice will continue to bring insecurity and conflict as long as we let it guide us.

Real security comes from having a strong offense but in only using it where it is completely justified. Anything else brings insecurity. It's not the fact of our strength that provides security but the fear that we will use it if attacked. It's that fear that gives potential attackers pause. It is their fear that keeps us safe. The trick is to keep the shield of that fear in place.

But there also must be a carrot to go along with this stick if security is to be assured. Just as our ability to counter is important, a practice of reticence about loosing the dogs of war gives those who may be sitting on the fence a reason to choose the path of peace. If they are afraid that we may attack for spurious or illegitimate reasons they have little inducement to behave well.

This has been clearly demonstrated in our recent history. There was little opposition in the Muslim mainstream when we went after Al Qaeda and their friends the Taliban. We suffered the first blow and our justification was broadly supported. But when we pulled a preemptive invasion of Iraq, we proved to the rest of the world that we could no longer be trusted to behave with restraint. This has increased the distrust in the rest of the world and withered any inducements for them to play nice with us. As a result we are less secure, not more so.

Many US leaders displayed their cowardice when talk of a smoking gun mushroom cloud came out. Even if it were not as baseless as it patently was, a real mushroom cloud would have removed all legitimacy from our opposition and given it all to us. Only in that sort of environment, with the terrorists being pariahs throughout the world, would we have a decent chance of bringing the terrorism to an end. They would quickly find that there would genuinely be no place to hide.

As it is now, I truely expect that the terrorism threat will go on for at least another generation until more of the country comes to understand it.

We must also understand that those in power now don't have much of an incentive to end the war. As long as they can point to terror as a threat, they can justify their increase in power as a response to that threat. And that's what they really want, more power. Not security. Insecurity furthers their ultimate goal.

So paradoxically, if we are to have greater security, we need to learn to live at greater apparent risk. We need to be like the black belt who has great skill but uses it little. He lives a life of freedom, security, and peace because he is trusted to keep his devastating abilities in check and indeed only use them when every other effort at peace has failed. He can travel in what would otherwise be dangerous places because no one has anything to gain by provoking him and everything to lose. We need to be brave and suffer the first punch. Then make sure the counter punch is the last punch thrown.

No comments: