Monday, February 24, 2003

I've been thinking for the past couple of days about what Joi Ito said about my previous post. I am one of those Americans who felt (and still feels) that 'Why do they hate us?' was an intelligent and worthwhile question to ask. We certainly were not and are not perfect, but after much thought I am still honestly disinclined to believe that American injustice or misbehavior play the most important role in what happened. Of course, much depends on your standards of comparison. If you look at hyper-powers throughout history, nations with the economic and military potential to dominate nations far from them both culturally and geographically, America comes off very well. On the other hand, if you compare us with our own ideals, we still have far indeed to travel.

One issue often mentioned is support for Isreal - some Saudi's have accused us of completely unbalanced support for Isreal. Let us imagine a scale from negative 10 (no support for Israel, we refuse to sell them weapons while Hamas achieves their stated goal of getting rid of the entire state of Israel, slaughtering millions in the process) and 10 (we tell Isreal that we will continue to sell them arms even if they engage in a similar bloodbath against the Palestinians inside the territories, depopulating and colonizing them). One could argue whether on that scale we are closer to 2 or 4, but ten is, well, untenable. There are some who would say that while they do not agree that flying airplanes into buildings is a reasonable response, there is still some sort of equivence in the sense that they are both actions which might seem justifiable to the actors but are clearly wrong. Although I have always felt the 'blame America first' crowd went too far, unlike many conservatives I am pleased with the result as well as the process of free speech. After reading arguments on both sides, reading about Isreali settlements and Al Qaeda and the Wahibbi and the Isreali faction who would like to drive all the Palestinians in the territories into Jordan and the murders in previous decades of Palestinian moderates who wanted peace by those who call them traitors, I firmly believe that in comparison to other hyper powers throughout history we have done rather well. There are many Palestinians who would remind us that there was no Isreal before the 1940's. And yet, it was not so long before that that the Saudi's were only one of many warring tribes in Saudi Arabia, rather than an internationally accepted govermment. There are many other conquests by the sword that modern day Arabs would look at proudly as well, and if we are serious about peace we cannot demand that the whole world redraw it's borders to what they were fifty years ago first. Why have none of the wealthy supporters of Arabic culture and religeon tried to help Arab nations do what the Japanese and Germans and South Koreans and other nations have done, built an economic system of prosperity that could demand respect on equal terms?

That being said, sometimes good is not good enough. The Arabs have responded to (what some call) colonialism differently than India (where it was definitely colonialism) and others did. I have elsewhere discussed some of the reasons I believe a purely military defeat of Al Qaeda will be impossible. I even believe those who blame America first have given us a head start by trying to feel Al Qaeda's anger from the inside. That being said, we must acknowlege other things as well if we dare cherish the ambition to create what human history has never seen, a world without war and poverty, or at least a largely successful system to keep these things as shocking misfortunes rather than the normal human condition as the centuries roll by. Many have pointed out that desperate people with nothing to lose cannot be deterred. Very well, we must do what no other group in history has dared seriously plan - eliminate poverty. This is not a laudable ambition, this is the price of the survival of civilization, and if we find the wisdom and courage to pay that price there is nothing we cannot do. We are those who dare feel guilty merely for our failure to prevent the suffering of those continents away - when others would humbly admit there was nothing they could do. We are those demand our governments let protesters defy them in time of war, since we are more concerned about fighting the wrong war rather than defeat.

A new Marshall plan for the middle east must not pretend the terrorists will go away if we're nice enough. We must first help those nations where the terrorists are most tightly restrained - so that at last people in Wahibbi dominated nations will begin to curse the religious leaders who preach death and keep them in poverty. We cannot afford the keep the world as a pet, a new Marshall plan must bring the economics of prosperity to countries that do not seem as eager as Japan and Germany were to learn it.

And yes, we must be prepared to meet force with force. I happen to think invading Iraq is the wrong battle, perhaps a disastrous one which will help Al Qaeda recruit. Since it seems Bush will do it anyway, I've thought as seriously as I could about how we could make the occupation of Iraq work anyway, snatch defeat from victory. I don't seriously believe any idea I have will be picked up and improved by another blogger more knowlegeble than I and eventually make it's way into the media and government, but blog as though I did. In addition we must ask which battles really should be fought, and what tactics will best resist the emergent tactics that have evolved against us, but I'm going to make that a seperate entry. I'm not going to post this to the topic exchange since the relation to emergent democracy is only tenuous.

Update an hour later: I have been thinking about the varying meanings of 'we' within the preceeding paragraph. I believe it is all the prosperous industrialized democracies that need to work together to eliminate poverty, to help form an emergent intelligence which is composed not only of the democratic nations but the entire world. Of course I am proud to be an American, as Joi Ito is proud to be Japanese. Ultimately it is all the nations of the world that will need to work together, but I cannot help thinking some have taken the first few steps while a few have not. Yet we are all human, and as Joi Ito says perhaps not so different from each other. In some ways this is a scary thought.

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