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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Saturday, January 20, 2007

the turning point

It should come as no surprise that President George Bush, having led this nation into two simultaneous and ongoing wars in the Middle East, repeated one week ago the formulation that has become the bitter and ironic mantra of his presidency:

Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.

Most observers would put it slightly differently: failure in Iraq has been a disaster for the United States. It has also been, one must note, a disaster for the Iraqis themselves, if not our world.

The dystopic vision of failure that the President uses in that speech...describing a potential post-U.S. Iraq as full of "radical Islamic extremists growing in strength and numbers," the use of oil revenues to "topple governments" and an "Iran intent on building nuclear capacity"...reads instead like a litany of present-day ills that Mr. Bush has crafted in no small part with his own two hands.

Nevertheless, this President insists that for the safety of American citizens it is necessary to escalate the war in Iraq, to stay the isolated, treacherous course in the face of his own failures and incompetence, to plow forward once again in an attempt to establish what has not happened once in the four years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: the establishment of peace on the streets of Baghdad by force of U.S. arms.

There's a reason that this dystopic vision of U.S. failure in the Middle East has come to serve as the rhetorical life raft that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney cling to on our airwaves and in our public discourse. They need this vision of impending disaster in the Middle East to compel United States citizens to support their utterly failed policies in the region. There can be no "other way" in Iraq. Bush and Cheney have successfully imposed their own failure of imagination on the public mind.

There is, however, another way.

Needless to say, this path is diametrically opposed to the Bush/Cheney policy failures in the Middle East. To see that path clearly, however, we must come to see that we stand, as a nation and a globe, at a crossroads from which there is no turning back.

There's something at the root of this dilemma, this fork in the road, this choice between two competing world views and policy sets that expresses the defining question of our day.


A little over one year ago I wrote a series of essays on this blog, k/o, entitled, the United States, Iraq and the Post-Oil Middle East. The argument I advanced in those essays was that there are two basic, yet somewhat hidden, features that define United States policy in Iraq:

1. an abandonment of multi-lateral, cooperative foreign policy and international institutions in favor of unilateral military and economic action.

2. a commitment of this nation's diplomatic and military efforts to the fossil fuel economy: ie. supporting our dependence on oil by our commitment of U.S. forces to the Middle East.

The two above policies intertwine to create the world view that can best be summed up as the Bush vision of the 21st Century.

The Bush vision is epitomized in the phrases "Axis of Evil" and "the Global War on Terror" but it can best be summed up by one word: oil. To serve that master, the Bush vision embraces war, instability, an open-ended "bring em on" fight with terror, and a century-long battle over scarce resources in which nation states play a winner-take-all game over the fossil fuels that run our modern economies. When the world competes for scarce oil and natural gas reserves, nations inevitably have to fight to keep the spoils. Winner takes all. And given Bush's inaction on global warming, we will fight and squabble over the very same fossil fuels whose unchecked consumption will cause the oceans to rise around us, wreak havoc on our croplands and drown our coasts.

In clear distinction to this world view stands its opposite, the progressive vision: proudly green, multi-lateral, energy-independent, vested in international institutions that guarantee, to the extent that any institutions can, a modicum of peace and stability. This progressive world view is committed to a network of innovative, cooperative energy solutions that work across national lines. The basic philosophy of this world view is that we on this planet work together not simply because we have to but because we all attain a greater measure of safety and security when we do.

This progressive world view is exactly the world that Bush and Cheney fail to imagine. They cloud over the possibililty of this world with their dystopic nightmare. They cannot comprehend it and so they dare their opponents to propose another way, a competing vision...thinking that no one will propose such a drastic step towards hope. And, by and large, that's what attains. To the extent that the American voters cannot see this new path, and cannot understand this clear alternative, the Bush/Cheney world view, mired in fear and a commitment to failed policies, rules the day.

As progressives, that is our dilemma. We have failed to communicate.

We stand today, however, at a crossroads from which there is no turning back. With a raging war in the Middle East, abandoned climate treaties and a fundamental lack of commitment to alternative energy sources, we must enunciate, in no uncertain terms, that there is an alternative to the Bush/Cheney vision. There is another way. We are at a turning point.

We must demonstrate to our fellow citizens that our dependence on foreign oil and our ongoing engagement in wars in the Middle East are no coincidence. The two are inherently linked. They are tied by what amounts to a failure of vision. We as a nation, are addicted to oil. It drives our foreign policy just as it drives our economy at home. People can understand this fact, this connection. It makes sense. We act unilaterally in Iraq because it seems that we have to do so; we need the oil. People come back to the Bush vision because they cannot see another way.

It is time we enunciate another path.

Simply put, we must put a trio of policy sets on the table again:

a: a crystal clear commitment to U.S. energy independence as a matter of national security

b: a commitment to multi-lateralism and international institutions as the central resource for solving international questions and ensuring that all nations are safe from the threat of terror

c: a commitment by the United States to lead a multi-national effort to thwart global warming and create cooperative, international solutions to our global climate crisis

In sum, instead of spending American lives and dollars fighting a losing war in Iraq, we should put American power and ingenuity to the task of bringing the world together around 21st Century solutions to our energy needs. When we work multi-laterally, we build the safety and security that only come from mutuality and inter-dependence. When we embrace engagement and diplomacy, keeping the strength of our superior military in reserve, we are stronger than when we rush to war. Instead of breeding terrorists, it is high time we grew allies and friends.

This will be a bold change of course. It is merited, however, by the great stakes we face. There is simply no time to dawdle or to invest in two more years of failed policy in Iraq.

Regarding Iraq, the policy implications are clear.

1. The United States must commit itself to finding an international framework to end the U.S. occuption of Iraq while maintaining whatever peace and stability possible.

2. The United States must frame its policy in the Middle East based on an accelerated and ambitious time-table for U.S. energy independence. This will not happen overnight, but the tenor of our relations in the region will change immediately when it is clear that we are serious about a U.S. policy of energy independence as a matter of our own national security.

3. The United States must make clear that we are committed to multi-lateral, internationalist solutions in matters of peace and security in the Middle East. Nothing would give the United Nations more weight in the Middle East than the most powerful nation in the world embracing the UN as a force for peace rather than fighting it tooth and nail.

It is impossible to do anything more than sketch here what this conversion from oil addiction to energy independence, from unilateral military interventions to multi-lateral engagement and cooperation, from denying global climate change to leading a partnership to fight it would be like.

Needless to say, we must turn away from the dark and dystopic Bush vision. This administration needs that vision. They need the fear. They have denied what was obvious for too long. The best way to fight the terror that visited our nation on 9/11 is to work together with our friends and allies to make the world a safer place for everyone. Unilateral war in Iraq is not the answer.

However we frame our alternative, it is imperative that we convey our change in terms of hope and strength. The United States is an innovative can-do nation. Under the leadership of George Bush and Dick Cheney we have lost our way and fallen under thier dark vision. We are so much better than that.

The change to come will not be easy. No truly great work ever is. But this is no time for half measures. We must convey our own bold vision and chart a new course. We must win new friends and grow new allies.

Every American knows that we can do better than Bush. We are at a turning point. It is high time we stood up and shone a bright light on the challenging path ahead.


  • "Bush and Cheney have successfully imposed their own failure of imagination on the public mind." Eloquent and accurate... very well said.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:02 PM  

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