UNDER THE FLAK
Originally Published in The Michigan Daily, September 19th, 2001
Time bears culture. Culture defines people. People usually dictate events. Events stir commentary. Commentary thrives on opinion. Opinion is strengthened by the populace. The populace, that last link in this chain of drawn-out logic, needs corrective knowledge, especially so in times of crisis. In effect and essence, the populace needs to know. It also needs to have its say. It seems our turn to contribute has arrived.
This column initiates the effort to grip the realities behind what CNN is cynically calling “America’s New War.” It is not meant to be high-profile commentary involving geo-strategic zeal and military-intelligence punditry. It is meant to be an exercise of opinion — reflective, analytical, interviewed, and of course, free. Experts will be questioned, but their opinion will be held in the same light as others’. There will be no necessity to title arguments as pro and con, or right and wrong, at least as far as social norms go. We will try to facilitate every sort of view. Due to limited space, more noteworthy commentary will be printed. Consider this a call to arms, if you will. I’m laying down the gauntlet of opinion. My personal views, ambivalent at best, might be a starting point for many…
“Declaration of war,” says Bush. But against whom? Twelve year-old rock throwers in the West Bank? Peasants in Kabul? “Faceless coward,” he says again. But was not Osama bin Laden, the globally recognized Mickey Mouse-like icon of international terrorism, involved in facilitating the Arab volunteer effort of the Afghan Mujahideen in the ’80s, against that “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union, all under CIA acquiescence? “Times change,” says Bush, as Congress nods in conformity. Judy Woodruff sheds a tear. Peter Jennings bows those famous eyes. They all agree: This is not justified. Alright guys, then what is? When was geo-politics ever fair? Why do you put together a 33-nation coalition and roll over the Iraqis for invading Kuwait, while you “advise caution” to Israel when it does the same to the Palestinians or the Lebanese? Why do you create, finance and train a standing army of Muslim radicals to fight the Soviets, then leave them to fight each other and then, inevitably, to battle you. I might understand. People with answers have sat me down, opened up case-books, and crunched numbers. They might even have made sense, in some narrow aspects. But where are the real answers for the people who really want them?
There is going to be no extensive dwelling on the short-sighted courses of action America has taken now and again to alienate millions. The University could actually dedicate a semester to U.S. foreign policy blunders and still run out of time. The job at hand is not to deconstruct the U.S. geo-political Harry. It is rather to redirect our views outwards, towards this new faceless and borderless threat to civility. Please note that I did not cite this as a war against “civilization.” The U.S. already declared that war long ago. So did the USSR. So did Great Britain. So did the Ottoman Empire. So did ancient Rome. Every time a global power has connived to gain strength at another nation’s expense, the clash of civilizations has been declared inevitable.
Still, this is not justified. Not in any sense of the word. Not if you pull on a single logical strand and make it bend on the whim of our current predicament. Not even if you label the people who did this brave, or selfless to their cause, or adamant for their goals. If there ever was such a concept, last Tuesday was a moral no-go.
But not a political one. Not even a little bit. People in glass houses should not throw stones. Nor should they have short-term memories. Samuel Huntington writes stridently in The Lonely Superpower:
“In the last few years the United States has, among other things, attempted or been perceived as attempting more or less unilaterally, to do the following: pressure other countries to adopt American values and practices regarding human rights and democracy; prevent other countries from acquiring military capabilities that could counter American conventional superiority; enforce American law extraterritorially in other societies; grade countries according to their adherence to American standards on human rights, drugs, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, missile proliferation, and now religious freedom; apply sanctions against countries that do not meet American standards on these issues; promote American corporate interests under the slogans of free trade and open markets; shape World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies to serve those same corporate interests; intervene in local conflicts in which it has relatively little direct interest; bludgeon other countries to adopt economic and social policies that will benefit American economic interests; promote American arms sales abroad while attempting to prevent comparable sales by other countries; force out one UN secretary-general and dictate the appointment of his successor; expand NATO initially to include Poland, Hungary; and the Czech Republic and no one else; undertake military action against Iraq and later maintain harsh economic sanctions against the regime; and categorize certain countries as “rogue states,” excluding them from global institutions because they refuse to kowtow to American wishes.”
To reiterate: although morally reprehensible, the actions of last Tuesday seem politically inevitable. America has to wake up from the unipolar day-dream its been reveling in since its post-Cold War emergence as the only global hegemon. Kings have to act like kings, not bullies or hypocrites. Sadly though, this song has long been sung. In recent trends, terms like “national interest above everything” from people like Condi Rice have readily become a part of political pop-art. Then some F-14s fly over northern Iraq, cluster-bombing missile sites and/or villages. Tony Blair sends in some Harriers, putting in his ten pence worth. CNN, bored by all of this by now, doesn’t even give this a 15-second segment. Major League Baseball has more precedence. Meanwhile, the people who are a part of the equation, but who don’t necessarily fit in this relative gains network, at least not positively, see their independence compromised. Omnipresent America, which sells global hot-dogs topped by the free-market and liberal democracy relish, doesn’t keep the same prices for all its customers. And then millions of fingers point west, planes get hijacked, and sky scrapers tumble. But what don’t tumble are the human elements of wisdom, reflection, and morality. Let this column be dedicated not just to the many who died, but also to those left behind who strive to bring a solution to this predicament of our time.