Thursday, December 15, 2005

I don't drink the kool-aid

One problem I have in life is not conforming in lock-step with the political left or the right. While I generally consider myself more than a little right of center, I will take issue with people when they attempt to take things out of context or make something appear what it isn't. I see this done all the time on both sides in order to appear to create additional validation of their viewpoints. I saw it this morning when the first blog I visited had a thread concerning a speech by the former Malaysian president to an Islamic peace conference. His speech was "spun" in the blog as another example of Muslim extremism. I believe this is an improper understanding of the context of the speech. He wasn't defending or validating Syria or Iran. He was criticizing what he sees as a US policy of threatening military force as the largest threat to peace in the region. In other words, the speech should be taken in the "peacenik" context in which it was intended, not as a Muslim extremist defending Iran or Syria.

He was being critical of US policy in the region. I can understand why that might concern him. There is either combat or speculation of future combat with regards to three countries in the region today. Iraq where combat is currently underway as well as Iran and Syria where there has been speculation of future combat. All three of these instances involve the US. So in that context we could appear, as the former president says, a major threat to peace and one reason smaller countries feel a need to arm themselves, behave defensively toward us, and possibly even seek nukes.

I got to thinking about this and have been trying to get to the root of it. What exactly causes us to feel a need to take military action to solve problems of this sort? I believe the answer has something to do with speed. We as a country are unprepared to build programs that might take 10 or 20 or 50 years to bear fruit. We aren't prepared to work for regime change in Iran in ways that might take 25 years to succeed. Our approach seems to be either full engagement or nothing, we ignore you. Cuba is an example. We could have gotten rid of Castro long ago if we had been working slowly, quietly, in the background, undercover. Instead we took a policy of complete disengagement. It hasn't worked.

The reason we seem unable to embark on programs that take 10 years or more might be the nature of our politics. Our government can't commit to anything that long because there is no guarantee who will be in power 5 years from now, let alone 20 years. And part of our politics is for one party to always criticize and destroy whatever the other party wants to do so if such a program were started by one party, it would be dismantled or so changed by the other party as to need to start over again. In other words, we use military force because the effect is immediate. We can't "afford" to take a 10 year approach to regime change in Iran or Syria because we can't guarantee the programs will ever run beyond the current administration or congress. This is just another symptom of what makes us appear to be unreliable to people in other countries. You just never know what the US is going to do after the next election. But whatever we decide to do, we are going to be determined to do it with guns blazing if required, or at least the threat of guns blazing, or maybe not taking the option of guns blazing off the table, or something like that.

The problem with our form of government is that it was designed when the average lifespan was much shorter. 8 years was a much more significant slice of time in the world in the 1700's than it is today.

An alternative would be to increase by 50% all political terms in this country. President would be 6 years, Senate 9 years, House 3 years. This would give a party a chance to hold power for 12 years rather than 8. The President would still face the possibility of Congress changing under him. He would still be limited to two terms, but it would make it more likely that we could embark on projects that might take longer to bear fruit.

The reason we are so impatient in the world and appear so arrogant and bullying is because a President only has 4 years (they might get 8, but doesn't know that going in to the first term) to make their mark on the world. If a President runs on a platform of democratizing the Middle East, for example, he has 4 years to do that. Any method short of military intervention isn't likely to provide results in that short a timespan. You aren't going to change another country's government in one election cycle through political means, it takes a generation ... or two. If a President begins a policy that is more peaceful but likely to take longer than his term, the next administration is likely to either kill it, or reconfigure it into something completely different.

So until we get some long term vision in our politics, I am afraid we are going to be doomed to running around the planet telling people to straighten up now or risk being bombed. That isn't likely to instill a lot of trust in us from small, weak countries and we will see them continuing to strive for "the bomb" so they have some way of holding us at bay.

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