We live in a nation of vast good fortune. Its sanctioned protection of free, diversely creative thinking is its genius, and its most potent strength. Yet our precious creativity, and the wisdom and human fulfillment those ever-evolving ideas may offer, are being slowly, ever so imperceptibly, overrun by a one-dimensional train. Corporate, profit-centered thinking is laying its gagging track deeper into the nation’s psyche: in health care, old-age security, the environment and education, to name a few.
But in the deadly serious game of foreign policy (i.e., terrorist prevention) our profit-based imbalance may tragically taint posterity’s fortunes. Yet, blinded on those tunneled tracks, we’ll see only other villains blocking and sabotaging our path, and never perceive the initial enemy—the tracks themselves.
The United States is a great country, operating in a complex world with overwhelmingly good motives; yet we make mistakes. Poor judgments are unavoidable by an evolving, democratic government loaded to the gills with the management of a huge, diverse nation, tied to every corner of the globe. But if we are to remain great, safe and strong, our patriotism must lead us also to honest self-evaluation. We did not cause the vile atrocity of Sept. 11. In a world that strives for civilized relationships among peoples, nothing can ever justify terrorism on any scale. Having all agreed to that, we now need to consider that perhaps many of our policies in the Arab world are dangerously shortsighted and self-defeating, and inconsistent with our professed values.
Frankly, they stink of oil. Most of our Arab allies are non-democratic monarchies, whose oil revenues primarily feed a wealthy minority, or have been squandered away through mismanagement. Saudi Arabia, for example, is still an oil welfare state, where less than 5 percent of its youth attend secondary schools. Militant Islamic ideologues exploit our support of these regimes. We didn’t create the poisonous snakes. But we should be wise enough not to stir them to biting by stomping loudly and unnecessarily through their pits of economic and political instability. Is our military presence on Saudi soil, for example, which angers and offends even moderate Muslims (and perhaps was the final trigger to Osama’s anti-American insanity), necessary? Even if we need their oil (which we wouldn’t if we adopted but a mildly progressive, renewable based energy plan), we ought not be there. The potential benefits of our presence do not remotely justify the risk of further radicalization of an already shaky region. We’ll yield no productive influence in the region as long as our one hand is deep in their petrol purses while a club is poised and rising in the other.
Our dangerously intimate involvement in the Middle East has always been resource driven, but corporate whipped.
We, the citizenry, must become the perceptive, wise and forceful parent who says no to big oil’s adolescently self-centered, yet patronizing (to us and them) love affair with this volatile region. It is a relationship with immature, myopic parties on both sides. We, like spoiled children, are convinced we can’t live without that oil, and thus have the right to intervene—while their minority elite take our money, yet encourage the others to blaspheme our culture. It is a relationship which breeds hatred, mistrust and self-righteous anger, destined to bring perpetual strife, destructiveness and insecurity across both our families.
Our military attempts to chase, destroy or oust today’s operating bad guys will always force nothing more than an illusory calm between discharges. Our overt presence in the region merely hot-wires the current of hatred and scapegoating, which cranks up untold engines of extremist causes who steal away into the darkness to plot, with unyielding zeal, infinite ways to undermine our extravagantly expensive false security.
The greatest tragedy of our ill-advised meddling in the Arab world is that, for many years, we’ve had the technology and know-how to thrive without their oil. If we want to be patriotic, we should support our brave fighting men and women who help us destroy the current nest of vipers. But patriots should also invest in the alternative energy development, and lobby our representatives to wake up from under the cozy blanket of corporate influence and into the 21st century of sustainable energy science, economics and ecology. The second front on the war against terror should be a battle against energy dependence—by applying the armaments of present technology to produce clean, alternative sources to foreign oil. And the final front should be the hard walk to mutual understanding and true respect, onward to a destination of viable relationships among all cultures and peoples.
What we need is less defensive-minded homeland security and more offensive, mind-unifying, homeland exchanges. It’s time to move quickly to the final answer to terrorism: the forging of a worldwide, overpoweringly dominant, law-loving and diversity-tolerant citizenry—which slowly inoculates the world against isolationist, ignorance bred, regional bigotries and hatred. Let our first and primary entry into strife-ridden regions be offerings of understanding and guileless, motive-free assistance—not self-righteous finger-pointing, or worse, from behind the barrel of a smoking gun.
It’s time, finally, to spend a meaningful portion of our incredibly abundant human and economic resources on behalf of understanding, unity-building, ethnic and religious tolerance, and social and economic improvement—especially in the Middle East. If the focus is constant and unyielding, it can be done. In national crises we see clearly the power of a re-harmonized citizenry. This force can just as easily be harnessed at the world level. Humanity is craving to be unified. Faith in action breeds powerfully, and once the threshold to doubt and cynicism is broken, the world will see new runaway trains, heading in many different directions, but one destination—prosperity through respectful, diversified unity.
In wise, open recognition of our many imperfections, let us jump the tracks to reappraise and redirect our domestic and international goals in line with our values.