Thursday, March 27, 2008

If we have to have an enemy, can we admit it is us?

Retired General Anthony Zinni and retired Admiral Leighton Smith have penned an important op ed piece in today's USAToday: A Smarter Weapon. They call for an expansion of and greater reliance on non-military means to address international problems and issues. They note that they, like most of us, came to age and developed careers during the Cold War. By definition, the United States faced an enemy, the USSR. With collapse of the USSR and thus the end of the Cold War, we were left with no enemy to face...until 9/11.

Since that event, Al Quaeda specifically or extreme jihadists have come to assume that role. Eventually perhaps we could have developed a world view that did not need an enemy to make sense, but if that process was underway it was short circuited by Osama bin Laden and his followers. While this "enemy" has been used to structure our view of the view and to justify national actions that are clearly not in our best interests, the real danger has been a failure to recognize, as the General and the Admiral say, that "today, our 'enemies' are often conditions--poverty, infectious disease, political instability and corruption, global warming--which generate the biggest threats. By addressing them in meaningful way, we can forestall crises."

As I have commented before, the role of the United States in the political and economic sphere often creates or makes those problems worse. Our failure to be part of the Kyoto Treaty, our continued gross overconsumption of energy and food, our failure to act or to lead action to address horrendous human devastation, all these contribute to conditions that breed the anger and resentment that can generate enemies. Does it not make more sense to address the root causes, rather than symptoms fo social and economic stress?

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