For years, our distance from other countries provided us with security. We were an Island Nation. Once our manifest destiny was completed, there was no significant threat left in our hemisphere, and we were too far from the nations of the old world for them to threaten us. Even the attack on Pearl Harbor was far away: Hawaii was not a state, just an island protectorate in the middle of the Pacific. Since WWII, we have grown more and more used to the concept of global threat. We were in a staring contest with Russia, half a world away. The threat of ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads made the end of the world seem plausible, but it was abstract. Mutually Assured Destruction was the word of the day: If they try to take us out, they will take themselves out, and they are not going to do that. We fought proxy wars and ran tank maneuvers at NTC and in Germany.
With the rise of terrorism in the 1980s, the threat got a little more real. With the attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993 it got a little more real. With the Oklahoma City bombing it got a lot more real, but he was an American. We we know about threats at home had a Civil war, we had the Watt’s riot.
Iraq has been at the heart of many wars throughout history, from Babylonian expansion, to the Persian Empire, Alexander, Rome, the rise of Islam, the Mongols, and the Ottoman empire. Iraq has never had the illusion of safety or isolation that we had here. Most of these encompassed Afghanistan, too. These places were at the crossroads of the world, and suffered from it. The West likes to blame Islam for being a violent religion, but the real reason that part of the world is unstable is geography.
I find it somewhat Ironic that the technologies that brought the threat to our doorstep were developed here in the United States. We are proud of the Wright Brothers, but the descendants of their small plane brought down the twin towers. The gasoline produced from the oil of the Middle East was developed at the bequest of our industrial complex. No one would suggest that Wilbur and Orville are responsible for modern terrorism, but technology has made the world smaller, and with that the reach of violence has grown.
Now that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are no longer a safe buffer between us and the people that wish to do us harm, how do we keep safe? We’ve identified that jet airplanes are fairly dangerous weapons, so getting them a little bit more secured has been a smart step. But the most dangerous part of that weapon, the guidance system that was willing to give his life to steer the plane into the building cannot be secured just by locking a door. We can’t track down everyone that is willing to give their life to end an American life. There are too many people that feel that way. But we can reduce their number. Not by killing or imprisoning them. Think how many attachments you have: Parents, siblings, offspring, uncles aunts and cousins, and the wide swath of attachments we make as we travel through life. For each person removed from the pool, we risk turning some portion of their network against us. Violence must be used only when no other means will do.
When I was in high school, some friends of mine and I were in an abandoned parking lot, when we were confronted by someone. I don’t remember all of the circumstances, save that we were in my car, he was out on his feet, and he got enraged enough to life a large boulder above his head. As we sped off, avoiding the confrontation, one of my friends remarked, “Never pick a fight with someone who has nothing to loose.” While it is rare that few people have absolutely nothing to lose, many people have so little to look forward to in their life, have suffered so much, and have lost so much, that a martyrs death no longer seems so heinous, and may even seem desirable. We live in such a technologically advanced realm that we’ve lost touch with how hard life can truly be. The farmer and the hunter in America know that they and their families won’t starve if they fail at their daily tasks to produce food. The same is not true in much of the world. This we can affect.
When I was in Haiti in 1995, I saw the effect of security on the economy in the City of Cap Hatien. When people were no longer afraid that the FAD-H soldiers were going to pull them from their homes, or that someone was going to hack them apart with Machetes, they got to the business of survival with a gusto. The means of production in Haiti were scarce. but they made do with what they had, building houses out of mud and making bed frames out of the pickets stolen from our barbed wire fences. People want to succeed, to make something for themselves and their families. This motivating factor, so often quoted in support of our capitalist system, is also the strongest tool in our toolbox in securing our country.
Our border with our neighbor to the south could be called best be called porous. And yet, we have not had any significant terrorist threat from Mexico. The people that sneak over the borders to work in our fields, in our restaurants, in our factories and in our houses don’t come here with the plan to wreck our economy, they do it to reap the benefits of our economy. Reciprocally, we reap the benefit of a cheap labor pool that is willing to accept less than minimum wage. This is only possible because the benefit of being in America illegally must be better than staying legally inside Mexico. If we really want to stop illegal immigration, we need to help Mexico more attractive.
After the invasion of Afghanistan, the reports from commanders and soldiers in the field revealed the impact of the years of warfare had inflicted on the Pashtun tribesman of the Hindu Kush. With no chance for earning a livelihood, is it any wonder that the young men are willing to take up arms, especially when dually motivated by oil generated wealth from Saudi Arabia and the preachings of the radical Imams. There are enough teachings in any religion that can be used to justify war if the external factors align, Islam, Judaism, Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism all have facets that have turned into rallying cries in time of war. But absent the cannon fodder, the war machines find it hard to roll.
We had a chance to rebuild Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban, and we squandered it. Instead we chose to fight a war in Iraq that has absorbed far too much of the US economy. We need to redirect that effort from tactical to strategic efforts. The real war on terrorism is a war of attrition. Fortunately, there is no nation on this planet that is better positioned for this type of war.
But we don’t fight it alone. Eurpoe, Russia, India and China all have a vested interest in reducing the violence around the world. Sometimes, like the recent invasion of Georgi, they don’t understand that, but that is where diplomacy shows it’s true value. We are now helping to rebuild Georgia. More resources that could have gone to fighting the war on terror. New attacks in Pakistan erode our support and strain our relations with a country that was once our staunchest ally in this struggle. Another failure of diplomacy. Can we really afford to attack Iran, to try to strangle North Korea, antagonize Venezuela, and most frighteningly, stare down Russia? Our economy is already strained. But these nations have strained economies, too.
The population of the world is roughly 7 Billion and rising. To support this many people requires a concerted technological effort, and efficient use of resources. A large scale war at this point in history would have consequences measured in millions of lives lost to starvation, and disease beyond any casualties of actual gunfire. Modern munitions remove cities and terrain features, and leave behind explosives that render large swathes of land unusable for generations. Those are merely the conventional weapons: I don’t need to tell anyone about nuclear possibilities.
America does not need to show the world that it is tough. The world has seen our actions in Asia and know that we are willing to use force. This fact makes us no more respected. It makes us look like bullies, preemptively fighting out of fear. The nations of the world see the state of the economy and attribute it to the incompetence of our leadership. It is time to show the world that we are not afraid. We need to show the world that we will no longer use our fear of attack to justify striking out blindly. We need to offer an open hand to the nations of the world and say, “We recognize this is a global economy. We are here to work with you all to make it a strong one.” In doing so, we will marginalize those that try to destroy the infrastructure and peace necessary to support life and progress. We will remove from their grasps the young men and women that they can now recruit as suicide bombers. We will do this by giving them something to live for, something to lose.
This is not a war against Islam. This is no a call to arms to flood the Middle East with American culture, but rather to prime the pump of progress. The Afghani farmers have shown themselves to be wonderworkers with irrigation: Where there is water, something grows. It wont take much to turn this industriousness to a self sustaining economy, based not on war profitteering, but a position in the global economy. In our lifetimes, the grandchildren of Russian and Afghani soldiers that fought in the 1980s can establish business relations. It is up to the US to show the way.