Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, November 10, 2003  

Whether or not Dennis Kucinich becomes the Democratic nominee, his Department of Peace proposal is worth serious consideration. By the fall of 2004, we'll have had 3 years of a wholly war-based strategy to defeat terror. No matter how well things go over the next year, the results of this strategy will fall far short of the hawks' promises at the outset. What should be clear after these three years is that guns alone can't defeat terrorism. Defense and security measures will remain as important as ever, but there needs to be another dimension in the effort to diffuse terror.

Even at their most successful, wars do nothing but thwart agression. It's like chopping down a blackberry bramble--you may stop the immediate progression of the vine, but if you don't get down to the roots, you'll have a new bramble come spring.

After 9/11, Americans engaged in a serious (albeit brief) debate about what might have led to the conditions that cause the terrorist attack. On the one hand, peace activists and liberals argued that the aggression leading to 9/11 didn't arise in a vacuum: poverty, political insecurity, proto-imperialism from the West, the situation in Israel, and others were all preconditions. On the other side, hawks made the case that the only precondition was the "evil" that occasionally crops up in the world. A population had come under the sway of madmen; the only antidote was to cut out the rot--the cancer view of geopolitics. The argument devolved when the hawks labeled their opposition a Chomsky fringe of America-blamers.

Obviously, the hawks prevailed, but a funny thing happened in the middle of the operation: the cancer metastacized and now a bad situation is raging out of control.

The truth is somewhere between these two extremes. Terrorists are madmen. But the madmen have become politically powerful because of preconditions the US, among others, ignored or inadvertantly encouraged. In 1997, fundamentalist Muslims held only 2 of 272 seats in Pakistan's parliament. Say what you will about Pakistan's tumultuous history, but it's never been a haven for Muslim fundamentalists--its radicals directed their bile across the border toward India. But in 2002, the fundamentalist parties took a stunning 45 seats--17% of the total. Although I can't find the link, I recall hearing that polling for fundamentalists had historically been below 5%; in the 2002 election it was above 20%. So the question is: are the 15% who voted for fundamentalists recently deranged, or were the preconditions set by the US's post-9/11 actions enough to cause them to act rashly?

A Department of Peace is a wonderful solution to the war-based thinking in Washington. Instead of falling sway to the notion that it's somehow possible to cut out the cancer without creating more, a Peace Department would cause us to consider broader ramifications. Had we made all the same strategic decisions and still invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, thinking in terms of long-term effect, of the causes of war and what the wars might cause, we might have handled it very differently. Right about now almost everyone wishes we had.

War is a seductive solution because it seems as sharp and clear as the cut of a scalpel. Thinking about a complex network of conditions and trying to resolve them on many fronts is hard work. But as with anything, you can either do the work up front or pay for it with twice the work later. Peaceful solutions are hard, but they are more stable, longer-lasting, and ultimately more predictable. A Department of Peace is a necessary addition to US foreign policy: I hope the Democrats will seriously consider it.

posted by Jeff | 9:38 AM |
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