Thursday, August 10, 2006

Extreme Leftwing Bushido

We keep hearing repeated ad nauseum the notion that those of us refusing to support Joe Lieberman and his brand of misplaced centrism are attacking the Democratic party from the "extreme left". In the case of Lieberman's supporters, "extreme left" is certainly being used as a moniker to marginalize those who don't support Joementum's Party of One. However, when used by conservatives, such as Fox "News" commentator and current White House spokesman (but I repeat myself...) Tony Snow, it's used to denote disapproval with Bush and the war in Iraq. The last time I checked, Bush's approval ratings were in the low 30's and fully 60% of the American people were against the war in Iraq. That means a majority of the American people are now part of the "extreme left". Huzzah!

Sadly, of course, that's complete nonsense. It's merely a very shallow attempt by conservatives, and, yes, Joe Lieberman is a conservative, to paint the defining issue of our time, terrorism, into a more pleasant light for Republicans. I doubt it's going to work, but then only November will tell. The authoritarian bent of the GOP is very appealing to certain voters, many of whom are not interested in a nuanced democratic process but rather a strong leader to line them up. The Republicans either have to run away from Bush or establish that progressive politics are far outside of the political mainstream, in spite of the fact that progressive positions are routinely supported by a majority of Americans.

To demonstrate this point, I thought that I would lay out my "extreme left" view of national security and what our nation ought to be doing about it. I'm confident that my "extreme leftism" makes a lot more practical sense than the neoconservatism preached by the GOP and its sycophants. National security can be divided into two main fronts: domestic needs and international strategy. Both have been a miserable failure under Bush and the GOP's flawed leadership.

On the domestic front, I believe firmly in a comprehensive strategy that involves border security and import inspections, as well as protecting our vulnerable industry. I believe we ought to have in place a coordinated system which inspects incoming cargo containers, an area of great vulnerability currently. I also believe we need to better monitor traffic across our country's borders and our airport transit. I certainly do not think we ought to start building walls on either border, as no wall is impenetrable and the existence of such would likely lead to further border complacency. Further, stopping or harassing all immigrants in the name of thwarting the minute fraction that actually want to cause harm to the U.S. is both ineffective and cruel. Part of lessening our appeal as a terrorist target is making our country more welcome to others, not less. Part of that strategy includes eliminating racial profiling as well, as it both degrades minorities and creates unnecessary blind spots in our surveillance efforts.

Also domestically, I believe we need to have better security at our sensitive industrial plants. A major terrorist attack against a large chemical company or nuclear plant, for example, could have catastrophic repercussions that last for generations. I grew up 20 miles from a nuclear plant myself, and the thought that it could be turned into another Chernobyl by an enterprising extremist is very sobering. Yet the Bush administration doesn't seem to see this sort of domestic implementation as vital to our national security. Who's weak on security again?

Finally, while I think that airports are rightly receiving a great deal of attention, especially in light of yesterday's terror scare in London, I think we ignore other areas of mass transportation at our great peril. I rode the Metra train in Chicago for four years and can attest that, even after 9/11, security was almost non-existent. No bag checks of any kind were ever performed, nor were there any kind of security check points. At best, there were police officers, both uniformed and, supposedly, plain-clothed, riding along but that strikes me as being almost too late as an effective deterrent. Unless there were highly sophisticated, very secret detection methods in place, I have to conclude that the tens of thousands of train commuters in Chicago alone could make a tempting target. Again, since a military invasion won't help the mass transit issue, like it doesn't help any aspect of terrorism prevention, Bush and the GOP have little interest. Lots of liberals in big cities, you know...

On the international front, I believe that any successful national security strategy must be centered around removing the motivation of groups like Al-Qaida. The U.S. must be more engaged in combating the poverty and social injustice that breeds terrorism, without the overbearing crusader mentality that leads to foreign fears of a culture war. We also have to finally divorce ourselves from the neo-conservative notion that military assaults on other countries can stop terrorism. That strategy has been shown as an utter failure, especially in Iraq. U.S. military intervention must be a very careful last resort, used only to either stop invasions and genocide or to protect multi-lateral humanitarian efforts. Pre-emptive unilateral invasions are too antagonistic and collectively punish the very population we're trying to "liberate". Conservative estimates say that at least 50,000 Iraqis have died, all in the name of removing one despot from power. There is no situation under which that cost in Iraqi lives was worth the imprisonment of one man, nor is it just to force the Iraqis to pay that blood cost against their will. All that's been accomplished is to replace a stable dictatorship with a weak democracy in the throes of a civil war; perhaps a moral victory in the narrowest of terms but a disaster by any qualitative measure.

We also have to take considerably more responsibility for aiding and reigning in our allies, especially in the Middle East. The cognitive dissonance of a Bush administration that shouts "freedom" at every opportunity but then supports oppressive, non-democratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan is certainly not lost on the Arab people. That kind of inconsistency creates a gaping wound in our credibility which bad actors in the region can exploit. Labeling U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as a "war against Islamic Fascism", as Bush did yesterday, is also hugely counterproductive. Alliances are the key to marginalizing terrorist groups, not inflammatory rhetoric that justifies their existence.

Along those same lines, we also need to exercise more involvement with our Israeli allies. So long as the United States unequivocally supports the Israeli government and supplies its military, the U.S. forfeits its ability to be an independent third party. If that's a sacrifice we need to make, and I believe it is for Israel's sake, then Israel must accept a greater administrative role by the United States. The U.S. must acknowledge that the actions of Israel often have security implications for the United States and, as such, Israel must accept that the United States have some ability to greenlight or veto those actions. That's the cost Israel must bear in exchange for its U.S. sponsored military and economic dominance in the region.

In six years of GOP control in Washington, none of these steps have been taken. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our domestic security remains very porous, and the funding for such has become a political patronage system designed to reward GOP leaning states. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has destabilized a major Middle Eastern nation, fomenting a civil war that could possibly ignite a greater regional conflict. And the Bush administration's refusal to engage in any aspect of Israel's government policy, except to provide unconditional financial and military support, has helped allow yet another war between Lebanon and Israel to rage for over a month. All of these actions demonstrate a lack of fundamental leadership and seriousness on national security.

The GOP isn't strong on national security; it's strong on warmongering and peddling fear. Time for a change, before another major terrorist plot, obscured behind the smoking haze of Iraq and Lebanon, demonstrates our lack of preparedness in stark, bloody detail.

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