By Harry C. Blaney III
There is an ongoing debate about how “dangerous” our world is today compared with some earlier and often undefined period. But in place of cool and dispassionate analysis we are getting a lot of ideological and partisan strife and accusations (especially from the Right) which is aimed more at gaining power by using this “idea” as a battering ram to gain power and money.
Looking back it smacks like the old saw of the 1950s when the Republicans used it against President Truman by asking “who lost China” or the accusations of the McCarthy era that there was a communist under every department office and desk. It also reflects the gain that is perceived by the Republicans of trying to make the Democrats, and today president Obama especially, look weak on national security issues. Frankly, this has had some success as our national media has played this theme up and the natural bent of public opinion is often to accept what is fed to it by a complicit media. Public opinion polls indicate that “national security” is a “weak” point of Democrats.
Yet the definition of “weak” has too often been used by these groups when President Obama chooses to use “soft power,” like sanctions, diplomacy, coalition building, and limited military tools. They see the world only in term of sending our troops into harm’s way willy nilly and mindlessly without consideration of the reality of the “dangers” we face or their true solutions. Strength is defined by the neo-cons and right-wing Republicans as putting Americans in harm’s way but not addressing the fundamental sources of our risks.
What is not taking place is a deep understanding of the differences between the “dangers” of yesterday and the “dangers” of the 21st century. The reality is that today our “dangers” are far more complex, ubiquitous, non-conventional, and often unseen in their depth and their impact. In the Cold War we focused mostly on the danger of the Soviet Union to the detriment of other emerging challenges that were still little understood or just simply ignored. The fact is that issues like climate change, global drug trade, global health crises, terrorism, starvation and poverty, ethnic clashes, environmental problems like growing lack of water, rapid urbanization, and the spread of deforestation, and many other problem areas that were emerging, were given little attention compared to what was perceived as real and imminent threats, for example, a possible nuclear clash between America and the old Soviet Union.
There is also the question of what and how nations and the international community should address these challenges and “dangers.” But a few decades ago, while there were differences, there was more consensus on how to address them, if not actual action to deal with them. Today we are seeing the horrendous costs of the corrosion of partisanship and ideological rigidity. This means that some extreme groups with great power and money now advocate for “solutions” that actually exacerbate the “dangers.” Often in America and abroad they seem to have won the day with governments and with the public. Today this is seen in multiple areas in terms of the decisions America should be able to take and in the capacity (or incapacity) of the international community to address real as against made up “dangers.” The “sequestration” of the American budget levels has done more damage to the capacity of our nation to address real danger and challenges at home and abroad than all the terrorist actions we have seen so far.
President Obama has been blocked from rational and needed actions by the obstruction of Republicans in Congress, by business groups with narrow economic and profit driven agendas, and not least, by a media which reflects a conservatism and ownership which panders to the interests of their paymasters.
So limits have been put by these interests on the ability to negotiate a global climate change treaty, funding of EPA for environmental and health regulations, and the ratification of the Law of the Sea and Comprehensive Test Ban treaty which support key American and global values that seek to address real dangers. At home Republicans attack Obama over his effort to deal with the Ebola crisis, but it was they who cut the budgets of agencies that are at the first line of defense in dealing with many such crises. They did the same to many diplomatic programs that focus on a broad range of problem areas. Therefore their myopic actions put America in danger on many fronts.
We clearly need a new long-term perspective more driven by the reality of our landscape and by “facts” rather than narrow ideology and greed. Sadly we seem to have a democratic system that seems to increasingly serve the interests of the few at the cost of the interests of the nation and the globe as a whole. To achieve better decisions requires a more educated electorate, a fairer and more balanced media, and not least courage by our leaders and individual citizens to actively participate in a serious debate on what the real dangers are out there and what best solutions to pursue.
There are several elements that we need on an international level to immediately address. The first is a rethinking of national security with a wider prism and with long-range and truly sustainable efforts. The other is the recognition that solutions are not possible for any of our “real” dangers without some commitment of added resources and for that cost to be shared fairly by those that have the most and now monopolize the wealth of our society. We need to give a greater voice to all of our people and begin to be “problem solvers” rather than “problem creators” that add to our dangers the elements of ignorance and greed.
We welcome your comments!