Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Dubya says something smart

From today's NYTimes: "In the interview with Matt Lauer of the NBC News program 'Today,' conducted on Saturday but shown on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, Mr. Bush was asked if the United States could win the war against terrorism, which he has made the focus of his administration and the central thrust of his re-election campaign.

'I don't think you can win it,' Mr. Bush replied. 'But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.'"

Oh my friends. I just wrote a very long post about this quotation. And lost it to the ether. Hate that. But, I am seriously, on a rant -- sorry. So here's the gist of what I had to say, again:

It might surprise you to know that unlike the "liberal media" (whatever -- I consider such a thing one of the great myths of our times), I am not giddy about this apparent "flip-flop" or "failure of resolve," blah, blah, blah. Actually, I consider it one of the smarter things I've heard him say about the war. Maybe because I've been saying it for the last three years.

Terrorism, as strange as it may seem, is an act of conscience. Not a conscience I understand or sympathize with by any stretch. But terrorists act with utter conviction that they are "right" and their aims are "true." To believe they are cynical or simply mean, very dangerous "pranksters" is to underestimate the fight ahead. They're deadly serious about what they believe in. That's what makes them dangerous. They believe, have utter faith, that God is on their side. If you've ever met anyone like that, trying telling them they are evil. See if that brings them around to your point of view.

As long as our aims in the world are to promote freedom, we have to be aware that free people have, and act on, different beliefs, goals and aims. The only way to "beat" terrorism in a free world, which we all say we want, is to make terrorism feel unnecessary --- for people to have confidence that their views will be measured in the decisions of the powerful without having to resort to violence. That their concerns and needs matter and are treated as though they are as important as anyone else's -- without their feeling the need, or having support among their friends and families, to make threats of death and destruction against those who have what they want.

My dispute with George Bush is that I don't think his policies reflect intentions to create that kind of a world. Despite the "War in Iraq" being ostensibly, and hopefully truly, to free the Iraqi people from a despot, I think his policies more consistently reflect an intention to protect American economic interests first and foremost, with very little appreciation for the fact that our "interests" (narrowly defined as immediate and economic) are not always compatible with creating a world in which the vast majority of people have enough to eat, suitable protection from the elements, reason to have faith that the laws will be applied equally to all people, reason to have confidence that their children will have good and healthy lives, and confidence that barring "Acts of God" or unpreventable diseases, they are mostly free from danger.

We are hurtling through a vast and infinite (as far as we know) inhospitable universe on a very small but miraculously life-supporting rock. "America's interests" are not different than anyone else's interests. Or shouldn't be. We cannot afford to behave like a rich mogul safely locked inside a lavish castle, heavily guarded by a mighty army which violently suppresses all threats to the status quo, while just outside the gates the rest of the world teems in pain and suffering. This rock is too small for that to be sustainable for anyone. I want a President who understands that.