Thursday, May 26, 2005

National Security

The most important issue of our time for Democrats (after repelling and exterminating the odious theocrats from the evangelical extreme right wing of the Republican Party) is the issue of national security. I believe the last presidential election was lost by the Democrats on this issue. Kerry was seen, rightfully, as a person of changed convictions regarding the Vietnam war. Large numbers of people either disagreed with his right to change convictions or thought they saw him as a irresolute person, not to be trusted. They wanted to believe, but there was no evidence to base it on so inept was his campaign and his personal manner. Kerry and the Democrats failed National Security 101.

National security is two things: one, our own domestic tranquility and safety, and two, our conduct of foreign affairs by diplomatic and military means. Since 9/11 our sense of domestic security has been faltering. Amost four years after the event one still hears intelligent people saying frightened things about air travel. The use of domestic airliners as missiles against iconic targets was just too vivid and stark an offense against our self-image to be brushed off easily. Moreover, it played into the hands of fear-based conservatives, Bush principal among them, who have played the terror color game all through election year 2004 and not once since. Beyond the threat of terrorism, though, there is a threat of crime. Please notice the number of crime shows on television. They outnumber hospital shows ten to one, despite the fact that health is also a major national concern.

The Democrats have to be credible about domestic security and have to separate federal activity designed to provide domestic security from foreign affairs and military operations. Democrats have to overcome decades of unconsionable stupidity about domestic security and show the people that they mean business against terrorists and against rampant crime, especially gangs and drugs. Fancying itself to be the more intellectual of the two major parties, the Democrats must explain how going to the causes of terrorism and to the causes of crime are necessary. But, understanding the impatience and insecurity of the populace, Democrats must simultaneously engage in direct actions that demostrate its nerve and will. There must be a two-pronged approach to both of these domestic sources of insecurity. The enemy to be defeated is "fear itself" and the goal is domestic confidence—and of course, security itself.

The other aspect of national security is that which takes place outside our laws and jurisdiction, but nevertheless according to internationally accepted rules of engagement. One aspect of security is provided by "collective security" such as that "guaranteed" by NATO, bi- and multi-lateral treaties, and the United Nations. Liberalism rests on a commitment to "a rule of law," and collective security arrangements are the foreign affairs version of this commitment.

Critics of the U.N. are correct when they say that they do not feel one ounce more secure because of deliberations in the General Assembly of the U.N., and not much more secure from the actions of the U.N. Security Council. This is as much a matter of PR, or the lack of it, than any other thing. Demagogues have taken the spirited expression of unique national interests by foreign nations to be a challenge to the sovereignty of the U.S.

Our sovereignty is not the least harmed or damaged by the U.N., but our image—our much-loved self image—clearly is. It is entirely possible that our self image is wrong, just as it is entirely possible that foreign criticism of us is wrong. The truth, and indeed harmony, lie somewhere between the two.

The War in Afghanistan, actually a pursuit of Osama Bin Ladin across the territory of that country, is an expression of our need to thwart and render impotent an organization of real terrorists bent on destruction of our way of life. In the process we deliberately ousted the Taliban regime, which was giving aid and succor to the terrorists. As a result of that action we have incurred a moral duty to make sure that the Taliban does not soon return and that the law-abiding Afghans have a chance to secure their own country and have a decent chance for progress out of their centuries-old backwardness.

In a word, the Afghan situation where we deploy both diplomats and military personnel is an honest and expensive expression of our need for international and domestic security. The Iraq War is different, but it is not easy to distinguish the two kinds of situations.

The first difference is that the war against Iraq is a hoax. It was falsely assessed, falsely promoted, and (it turns out) conducted with false premises and against international rules of conduct in war. Where the American people (and their Congress) thought they were pursuing terrorists and a ruthless dictator consorting with terrorists, perhaps providing terrorists with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, none of these things actually existed, except the ruthless dictator and his oil fields—the second largest strategic reserve of petroleum known.

Okay, some Democrats say, so there were no terrorists and no WMD, nevertheless, they say, we are in a petroleum crisis and need to have a secure source of it for our economy to survive. They don't say this loudly, mind you, but it is the axis upon which their final argument hinges: we need to have a secure and plentiful supply of energy—petroleum energy. Well, folks, it is illegal to steal other people's natural resources!! What would we have thought if some country took over the central valley of California for its huge supply of needed food? Yes, we would object strenuously, even if it meant the ouster of Arnold Schwarzenegger would not take place.

Democrats have got to get straight on the uses and abuses of military power. They have got to understand the difference between a potent defense, the people and machinery, and act ually going to war, which is a sign of failure. They have got to understand that there are righteous uses and immoral uses of military power. If it were up to me, personally, I would put the occupation of Iraq to the U.N. Security Council and take its advice completely. It is really a matter of collective security, not just our own. I am reasonably sure I would not like the U.N.'s judgment completely, but I see no other way of rejoining the community of nations.

Meanwhile, two countries are about to join those which already have nuclear weapons, and both of these nations have political systems with political ideas inimical to American interests. If you have learned anything, you will begin to understand these issues as collective security issues, best dealt with by the concerted efforts of many nations, not just an imperious America pursuing its own perhaps faulty understanding of complex situations.

Yes, America can frequently lead in collective security situations, but there is a time when hauling out the big guns—US—is not appropriate. Other people have feelings too, you know, and dressing them down by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush is not likely to be the best way. Sometimes it takes a person who has learned diplomacy and understands the true relationships between need and want, between aspiration and desperation, between face and shame.

Democrats, if they are going to continue support of the occupation of Iraq must tell the world why. I don't believe there is a compelling argument for occupation and I would immediately make larger than token reductions in forces as a clue to my intent. Yes, we should help the new Iraqi government survive, but it is not entirely up to us, nor is it likely that our continued presence will really help more than it hinders. There are many others ways for us to be useful other than pointing our guns at them and hoping they come to their senses. It is time we came to ours!