Can America Change the Mindset to War?

Fighting terrorism will not be easy in this age of ours when the superpowers and their allies have all the necessary ammos to justify their terrorization of unarmed civilians while the have-nots have very little to lose through their mindless suicidal acts of vengeance or retribution.

As far as America is concerned, what is needed is thinking outside America’s current paradigm to combat this menace. It is good to see that under a new leadership the Pentagon is realizing this fact. The 2008 National Defense Strategy, approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and released by the Pentagon on July 31 says that while the military’s top priority is to defeat al-Qaeda and other extremists, but winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone will not achieve that. Nor will the use of force alone accomplish the mission. The most important thing the military can do, the report says, is to prepare friends and allied nations to defend and govern themselves. Coming as it does from the Pentagon the report shows that the department is admitting the follies of strong arm tactics alone. Truly, without a combination of political measures that address the underlying root causes and economic incentives, it would be impossible to combat terrorism of the have-nots.

In this age of insecurity, America needs a total reevaluation of her position vis-à-vis the ‘other’ people of our world. And in that evaluation, she must weigh properly her actions in the Dar al-Islam. She must recognize that with the burial of the Caliphate, the Muslim world is fragmented and there is no leadership that speaks for all 1.5 billion Muslims that are spread all over the globe. The current leadership in most Muslim countries is utterly corrupt and spineless to have a meaningful dialogue with its counterparts in the West, especially the USA. It is that vacuum in leadership that has unfortunately brought to the fore individuals like OBL to speak about collective humiliation of Muslims in the post-Caliphate era. While most Muslims share those grievances stoked by OBL and his deputies, only an insignificant segment of the population share either their vision of politics or their ways and means. If American leadership fails to make this distinction between groups like al-Qaeda and nominal religious Muslims, it will only play into the hands of the very nemesis that it purports to defeat.

America must also take into consideration rising anti-American political and religious hostility produced by American unilateralism. As much as she must restrain her trigger-happy fingers from firing on civilians, and getting into uncalled fights with others, she cannot allow herself to be seen as awarding oppressive governments. She cannot allow Israel and other such rogue partners to use American weapons to kill unarmed civilians. She must set a higher standard of morality and fairness for herself in everything she does, including the military trials of rapist and murderous soldiers and the detainees of the Guantanamo Bay prison. She simply can’t afford Pharaohnic arrogance and Hamanic despotism.

So, will American leadership change its mindset that prefers war over negotiation?

In a debate on January 31, 2008, Senator Obama said: “I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” As Kevin Zeese (Director of Democracy Rising) has noted "if this statement is to be taken seriously it would mean a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy away from militarism towards diplomacy, foreign aid and cooperation with other nations. It will also mean shrinking the already too large defense budget creating the ability to invest in the new energy economy, U.S. infrastructure and the basic necessities of the American people. The vast majority of Americans – a growing super majority – opposes continuing keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, bombing Iran and wants a less military-based foreign policy. Now is the time for greater emphasis on negotiation, diplomacy, multilateralism and foreign aid. The people demand it. War is not the answer to any of these conflicts. The U.S. is not made more secure by creating new enemies and draining our treasury."

Zeese is right. By ending the "mindset" that led to the Iraq War, it will allow for a re-prioritization of resources at home and abroad, moving the U.S. away from a military economy toward a civilian one. Now is the time to begin to end the mindset of war. Is Obama ready for that challenge?

In Berlin rally of July 24, 2008, in front of a crowd of some two hundred thousand people, Obama preached the wisdom of true partnership and true progress through trust and cooperation. He called on people to "tear down new walls" between races, countries and religions. He said, "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down. … Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

As America tries to come out of the shadow of Bush-Cheney era of deception, surely Obama’s speech is very refreshing, much like John F. Kennedy’s, offering some nuggets of hope in an otherwise hopeless world of ours. Only time would tell if such high-sounding, and yet not unrealistic, words can be put into practice by removing the curse of perennial war through shared expectations, cooperation and negotiation.

American Politics – the Path Forward – Accountability

As the adage goes – you do the crime, you must serve the time (in prison) – something must be done with accountability. When a criminal absconds from justice that day is a sad day for its victims. And when the most powerful man on earth abuses his authority and misleads his nation into war thus devastating the world, it is catastrophic for all. And that is what President George W. Bush has done in the last eight years of his office. He ruined American economy and destabilized the entire globe. He killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people overseas and brought about the death of thousands of his own countrymen, when it was not necessary. By deliberately overwriting international laws in matters of treatment of prisoners of war (the so-called enemy "unlawful" combatants) and ignoring human rights, he has essentially made all Americans traveling outside vulnerable to similar abuses that were meted out to prisoners in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons.

No President in American history has probably done more harm to America’s image than President Bush. It will take years, if not decades, to wipe that nasty bloody stain he leaves behind when he vacates the White House in January 2009. America ought to hold Bush and his inner circle of advisers accountable for committing the worst mass murder of this century.

By lying to the Congress, Bush violated U.S. Laws related to Fraud and False Statements, Title 18, Chapter 47, Section 1001 and Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Title 18, Chapter 19, Section 371.

If Americans fail (which is a foregone conclusion) to send Bush to the World Court in The Hague for war crimes, the Congress owes it to its own electorates to at least impeach or try him internally per its own laws. [While on July 25, 2008 the House Judiciary Committee has opened up hearings on Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s impeachment resolution, it is highly unlikely that President Bush will be impeached by the Congress because of opposition from Speaker Pelosi.] As has been argued by former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, Bush needs more than impeachment. He said, "For anyone interested in true justice, impeachment alone would be a joke for what Bush did." In all fairness, Bush should be tried for crimes against humanity.

It goes without saying that Bush’s trial would be a solace to millions who lost their loved ones and were directly affected adversely by his criminal actions. It would also help to restore confidence in American leadership and heal the wounds caused by his administration. It would also enable people from outside to look upon the USA favorably with respect and admiration, and help not only to close the Atlantic divide but also along the global fault lines. People would know that no crime, big or small, goes unpunished in this nation we call the USA – the land of the brave (brave enough to put its own highest authority behind the bar for committing crimes against humanity). That trial would also be a sufficient deterrent for any would-be Hulagu Khan from embarking on an imperial trail and committing mass murder.

Is the Congress ready for that task? Or will political expediency sideline this major issue of our time?

What Next? Politics as Usual?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "The strongest is never strong enough to be the master unless he translates strength into right and obedience into duty." However, American democracy and leadership are failing in that measure.

Journalist Jonathan Rauch observed in his book "Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government" that the American government probably has evolved into a sprawling, largely self-organizing structure that is 10% to 20% under the control of the politicians and voters, and 80% to 90% under the control of the countless thousands of client groups. Coming as it does from a veteran observer of American politics, such a prognosis is not a healthy one. Today, an American political candidate must raise millions of dollars to stand a chance in getting elected for a gubernatorial, senatorial or congressional post, let alone the presidential race. The candidates raise money in small increments from tens of thousands of individual contributors and Political Action Committees (PACs), whose agendas are less well publicized and less scrutinized. And it has produced a new group of power brokers: the fundraisers.

Fareed Zakariya has also noted in his book "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" that an American candidate must now spend the all-important year before the primaries winning the support of thousands of affluent contributors. As a result, raising money has become the fundamental activity of a political campaign, and performing well at fundraiser the first, indispensable skill for a modern American politician. Hence the sad spectacle of modern American politics, in which politicians ceaselessly appease lobbies, poll voters, genuflect before special interests, and raise money. Of course this does not produce good government – quite the contrary – and so the search for good government continues in America.

One can well imagine the hideous, devastating influence on politics when a PAC combines with the military industrial complex to push their shared agenda. This is exactly what has happened with the Israeli Lobby, which includes the Neocons, when it allied itself with the Christian Zionists and the war industry to exercise their “unmatched power” over U.S. government policies to push the country to war against Iraq. Such an unholy alliance is very harmful to the national interest of America and must be stopped for the greater good of America and humanity at large.

It is known that legitimacy is the elixir of political power. Most politicians are now lacking that legitimacy. American public dissatisfaction with the effects of politics continues to grow. As duly noted by Zakariya, if these problems grow people will be more inclined to define democracy by what it has become: a system, open and accessible in theory, but ruled in reality by organized or rich or fanatical minorities, protecting themselves for the present and sacrificing the future. This is a very different vision from that of the enthusiasts of direct democracy.

The battle for the soul of American democracy must, therefore, continue. This, according to Professor Cornel West of Princeton University, in large part, is a battle for the soul of American Christianity; because the dominant forms of Christian fundamentalism are a threat to the tolerance and openness necessary for sustaining any democracy. As Americans try to choose their path, they must weigh between their new found fondness (or misadventure) with Constantine Christianity that pushes them toward an imperialistic identity and a Prophetic one that adds a moral fervor by caring for the poor, public service, tolerance and compassion. Which option will they choose?

In this regard, we should not be oblivious of the unpleasant truth that the vast majority of white American Christians supported the evil of slavery – and they did so often in the name of Jesus. And then there were also abolitionists who were Christians. There lies the classic case of American Christian schizophrenic experience!

How ironic it is also to see American Jewish lobby today to fuse with right-wing evangelical Christians whose anti-Semitism, past and present, is notorious and despicable, and whose support for the Jewish state is based on the idea that its existence paves the path for the second coming of Christ, who will slaughter them for their unbelief! As much as the majority Christians in the USA ought to sort their way out of the mess that they got into, the Jewish Americans cannot afford not knowing the danger of playing with the fire. They must distance themselves from the conniving foot soldiers of the Armageddon. The must also avoid being a party to American policy makings that are unjust, shortsighted and harmful in the long run.

As America introspects it is worth remembering that the embrace of communism and fascism in the 1930s did not seem as crazy at the time as it does now. If Americans fail to pick the right choice, signs are too clear to suggest that they may settle for fascism.

As the dust of 9/11 settles down and the bloodstains of Iraq dry up, American people will realize that it is not terrorism that is the greatest threat to their national security. But it is their very democracy – increasingly manipulated by a powerful coterie – that is the greatest threat to their national security.

In closing it is worth noting an observation from an American military historian Victor Davis Hanson: "The real hazard for the future, as it always has been in the past, is not Western moral decline or the threat of the Other now polished with the veneer of sophisticated arms, but the age-old specter a horrendous war inside the West itself, the old Europe and America with its full menu of Western economic, military, and political dynamism." He continued, "Gettysburg in a single day took more Americans than did all the Indian Wars of the nineteenth century."

More Americans have now died from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than all those combined in 9/11. Is there something to learn from this experience?

Habib Siddiqui