Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hold that Thought

I'm going to be away for a couple of days. I hope to get a post up Sunday but we'll have to see about that. Meanwhile, after Labor Day, we can expect public attention to start to turn more seriously toward the November elections.

We know that the Republicans want us to believe that the gravest problem facing the country is "The Terrorists," who supposedly pose an existential threat to the United States, who will destroy our way of life, establish a new Caliphate from Indonesia to Spain, and uhh, I dunno, other bad stuff. They will do this is we don't a) "win" in Iraq, and instead let "The Terrorists" take over and b) start another war someplace soon, presumably Iran.

I don't happen to share that opinion. I don't think we're fighting "The Terrorists" in Iraq, I don't think "The Terrorists" would take over if we left, and I certainly don't think that the people we are fighting in Iraq would swarm across the Atlantic and destroy our way of life if we stopped fighting them there. Actually George W. Bush doesn't seem to have the slightest idea who we are fighting in Iraq. He just said, "If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable — and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies — Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban."

Well, the Iraqi Army and security services that the U.S. is collaborating with are, in fact, armed groups with ties to Iran. That's who we are protecting in Iraq. Second, there is absolutely no way that "al Qaeda" terrorists are going to take over Iraq. In the first place, al Qaeda is a mortal enemy of the Shiite government and its armed forces, those armed groups with ties to Iran who we're supposedly afraid might take over, even though they already have taken over and we're defending them. (Note that Kurdistan is already independent. When we're talking about Iraq we're talking about what's left of it.) In the second place, the al Qaeda ideology is highly unpopular among Sunni Arab Iraqis. The Sunni political parties which attracted electoral support are not associated in any way with al Qaeda or its ideology. Former Baathists may certainly regain power in Sunni Arab Iraq, but so what? They were never a threat to the United States in the first place and will be far weaker now.

So this is nonsense. Elsewhere, the global Jihad movement is a violent cult with no state support, at most a few hundred active adherents, and no substantial financing or fixed assets. It has committed acts of violence in various places, comparable to the sort of problems caused in the past by the IRA and the Red Brigades. The Mafia actually constituted a greater threat in the United States at one time, if you count up the extent of its economic parasitism and the number of murders (mostly internecine, to be sure) that it committed -- but we didn't bomb and invade Sicily. This is a law enforcement problem, not a "war." The United States is not "at war" and George W. Bush is not a "wartime President." We do not confront any threat even remotely comparable to Nazism and these World War II analogies are offensive and ridiculous.

There is indeed a profound ideological struggle going on in the world right now, but George W. Bush is on the wrong side of it. Specifically, he is on the same side as Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The way to win an ideological struggle is not to bomb people and invade their countries. That is, in general, counterproductive.

So, what I'm really trying to get around to is, what are the critical issues facing the United States? What true existential threats do we face, if any? What are the serious problems that we need to start talking about, and get down to the business of solving? That is, of course, after we stop squandering six billion dollars a month in Iraq. What ought the 2006 elections be about? I'd be happy to hear any suggestions, and I'll have a couple of my own when I get back.

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