Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque Debate

I wish that I had met Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and knew what he was really all about.  A lot of folks apparently think very highly of him while a few imply that he may have some ties to questionable personalities.  A few sound bites from his various statements are being circulated in the press and are causing a great deal of comment by prominent people all over the world.  Obviously, I do not know what he intends with his Cordoba House initiative.  If his intention is to build a center that would work toward better understanding of Islam by Americans and better understanding of America by Muslims that is one thing.  If, on the other hand, he intends to build a radical Islamist victory monument that is quite another.

It is interesting that we are suddenly being taught the significance of Cordoba, Spain, by our political pundits.  Some point to the fact that there was great religious harmony in Cordoba while others point out that it was a Christian city conquered by Muslim armies.  As I read history, both are correct and neither makes a point that is terribly relevant to present day New York.

We are also concerned about where the money is coming from to build Cordoba House.  I confess that I am curious about that as well.  In today's financial system it is my understanding that there are ample procedures in place to determine this information.  I hope that the Imam helps to clarify this point - not because he has to, but rather because he understands that it would help clarify his motivations.  I am afraid that if he decides not to do this, the issue will continue to fester in the public mind.

Now to the sound bites that are disturbing to so many folks.  So far I have not heard one with which I totally disagree.

Allegedly, Imam Rauf has indicated that Osama Bin Ladin was made in America.  It is my understanding that Bin Ladin was recruited and trained by the CIA and worked closely with it during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.  I regard Bin Ladin as our creation and his current activities as blowback.

Allegedly, he has said that America brought 9-11 on itself.  I presume that he is stating his belief that our international policies in Afghanistan subsequent to the departure of the Russians helped to create the conditions that led to the 9-11 attacks.  If so, I agree with him.

Allegedly, he has said that America has more Muslim blood on it's hands than Al Queida has of non-Muslim blood.  Unfortunately, this is almost certainly true if you are talking about the collateral injuries that have resulted from our military involvement in the Middle East.  (I would also point out to the Imam that Al Queida and it's allies have far more Muslim blood on their hands than does anyone else.)

Allegedly, he has said that the American sanction program was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq.  I have a lot of trouble with this one, but even here I can see how the situation can be described this way and agree with him that many in the world see it in these terms.  (I would argue that the real culprit was the Saddam Hussein regime.)

Allegedly he has written that “America’s Constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law.”  This one is causing folks to criticize him for reasons that escape me.  It sounds to me that he is saying that if you are true Muslim there is no better place to live than in America.  Why that is a problem for us I can not fathom.

Assuming that the many good people who believe that Imam Rauf is a moderate are correct, I suspect that he is attempting to wake us up to a reality that we are reluctant to accept.  There are a lot of folks out there that do not like us and we have to understand them if we are to defend ourselves effectively.

If, on the other hand, Imam Rauf is an undercover hard line troublemaker that wants to bring millions of dollars to New York in return for a few radicals being able to claim that they have a victory memorial in the city - I say take the money.

I don't live in Manhatten so I don't have much to say about exactly where his building should be built.  I do note, however, that he has been practicing his faith in the general area for quite a while and probably considers himself a member of the community.  I am told that there is already a mosque in the vicinity so that part of all of this is hardly ground breaking.

One final question.  if I were Bin Ladin what would I say about all of this?  I suggest that Bin Ladin is delighted.  I believe that he sees all of this as contributing mightily to the perception that America hates all Muslims and wants to go to war with Islam not just him.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Poverty feeds Terrorism

It is important to understand that our view of our struggle with Terrorism is considerably different from the view of those that attack us.  I do not argue that we have to accept the view of our opponents.  I do argue that we have to understand it if we hope to eliminate the growing threat to our way of life.

Most Americans believe that we are the most generous nation on earth and that our activities abroad contribute to a better world.  Most of our enemies and much of the rest of the world see us in a different light.  They see us as the richest nation on earth and believe that we maintain that position by exploiting the resources of the rest of the world.

We see our policies in places like the Middle East today and Southeast Asia yesterday as efforts to maintain world order and foster democracy.  Our enemies argue that the world order that we attempt to maintain is one that ensures our advantage over the rest of the world and believe that democracy is not a viable solution for the immediacy of the problems that face the poor nations of the world.

While we explore the universe and utilize incredible technology in an effort to move beyond fossil fuel, much of the world is focused on gaining access to clean water and sufficient food to sustain life.  Most of our enemies are embracing the poor of this world while we shelter our society from illegal immigrants.

Many Americans have a problem understanding the tactics that our enemies are using against us.  Given the imbalance of force in today's world, terrorism is the only tool currently available.  It is easy for us to dismiss it as desperation, but in much of the world it is regarded as heroism of the most profound sort.

In real politic terms our greatest advantage over our enemies is that they still suffer significant organizational weaknesses and do not yet have effective long range weaponry.  We should understand that we can not take either weakness for granted.

In our efforts to defend ourselves, we understandably give priority to immediate security challenges.  We must continue to attack those that would attack us and unfortunately kill those that would kill us.  At the same time we must understand that these actions will inevitably generate additional enemies.  If we take no other action, the War on Terror will become a self perpetuating affair.

If we are to continue to enjoy the fruits of our labors in this country we must find more effective ways to help improve the standard of life for the poor people of this world.  There are already a plethora of developmental programs in existence and large amounts of resources are being devoted to supporting them. 

The immediate challenge is not inadequate resources it is rather the need to make those efforts more effective.  If we were to truly accomplish that goal, we would live up to our self-image and recruitment for terrorist activities would be made more difficult.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why do they hate us?

I listened recently to a very articulate author explain why many people in the Muslim World hate us.  I think that his explanation was sound.  He outlined a long and violent history of Western intervention in the Middle East during which Western countries, including the United States, exploited natural resources and mistreated people.  He failed to discuss the numerous Western programs that attempted to help people in that part of the world, but my guess is that he would have said that they were so limited in scope as to have had no real counterbalancing effect and, unfortunately, he would have been correct.  He argued that the most egregious error that the West has made was the introduction of foreign military into the region.  His conclusion was that the only way that we can redress the situation is to pull all foreign military out of the region as quickly as possible and let tempers cool down.  He concluded with the observation that radicals prosper most during troubled times and moderates tend to prevail during normal times.  This analysis seems to fit in very well with what many in the United States today wish to do for entirely different reasons.  My guess is that the current administration leans in this direction.

I wish that it was that simple, but very unfortunately it is not.  To pull Western military forces out of the Middle East would almost inevitably mean the immediate ascension to power of radical elements throughout the region.  This would mean our acceptance of regimes that are hostile to our very existence.  Human rights issues would bother our consciences and gasoline would cost more, but the real problem would be that the danger to the security of our homeland and that of our allies in the region and in Europe would be immediately intensified.  During the crusades it was possible for Europeans to periodically withdraw back into Europe without risking direct retaliation from the Middle East.  Recent terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have demonstrated that this is no longer possible.  Technological change has made Europe and the United States vulnerable to attack from anywhere in the world.  The danger is bad enough right now, but how much worse will it be when more radical groups have access to nuclear weapons?

Some will throw up their hands and say that the problem is intractable and fall into the funk that leads inevitably to poor choices and inaction.  In the past, although never an ideal choice, that was possible for "Fortress America."  I argue that it is no longer possible.  We must face the fact that we are increasingly at risk of a devastating attack on our homeland by radical terrorists.  We must also recognize that this threat is different in kind from all that have gone before.  This is not a threat posed by a nation.  It is a threat posed by diverse small groups of radicals who are willing to die for their cause.  During the cold war we were able to follow the Dulles doctrine which said to Russia "if you attack us, we will destroy your country."  That much maligned doctrine kept the peace.  Today, the enemy that we face has no country to hold hostage and many among them are willing to die for their cause.  Because the suicide bomber of the future might possibly carry a nuclear weapon the game has changed.  Simply pulling our military out of the region and waiting for it to calm down is a very dangerous and unintelligent course of action.

I certainly agree that we want to disengage militarily from Iraq and Afghanistan for a long list of reasons, but we must do it intelligently and carefully.  The viability of Pakistan as a nuclear nation is critical to our national interest and this involves us in a diverse range of policy choices that involve other than military resources.  It is a frustrating, complicated, and expensive endeavor and it is in our national interest to pay the price.  A friend of mine recently complained to a doctor about the cost of health in America.  The doctor replied by asking what my friend's life was worth.  Painful as it may be, the cost of both health and national security is high. 

PS:  Today, we are saving our own scarce resources by not contributing generously to Pakistan flood relief.  This is an opportunity to make a positive non-military contribution both to millions of poor people who need help and to our own national security.  Right now, we look to be missing the opportunity.  You can bet that radical elements are not.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Humans are a greedy bunch...

I believe that one trait that most, if not all, human beings share is a propensity toward greed.  Capitalism attempts to harness greed and use it to benefit society as a whole.  The United States of America has been one of the most successful capitalistic societies in the history of the world.  Work hard, achieve success in business, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  The problem that arises is what to do with that part of the society that does not, for one reason or another, achieve financial success. 

It is a problem that grows ever more serious as the economy becomes more complicated and the country fills up with people.  In nineteenth century America, an able bodied man either worked or starved and the ambitious followed Horace Greely's advice to Go West!  Land was available for the taking and much of the challenge in the work place was physical.  The society welcomed European immigrants and questions about someone's legal status were few and far between.  Racial issues were plentiful and people of color were discriminated against in all sectors of society.  The so-called "Robber Barons" were the equivalent of today's Wall Street moguls.

During the beginning of the twentieth century, America's agricultural society transformed itself into an industrial society and the population moved into the cities to be close to the new workplace.  The mass of humanity living in the country at that time gave up the farm for the factory.  "Big Business" and "The Unions" dominated the discussion and shaped the new economy.  Toward the end of that century the economy was further transformed and we began talking of the "Global Economy."  America, overnight, exported both it's manufacturing capability and it's blue collar jobs to Asia and much of our economy became service oriented.  We began to have serious economic and social problems as we simultaneously attempted to find our way in the so-called Information Age.

America has always been a magnet for the less well-off in this world, but for a variety of reasons the inbound flow of immigration has intensified in recent years and much of it has been illegal.  The Statue of Liberty still welcomes immigrants, but many in America do not.  Earlier in our history, America needed population to occupy it's newly won land, first the Louisiana Territory and then the entire West.  Today, many worry about having more mouths to feed at a time when the economy seems to be shrinking.  The problem is further complicated by the very real racial overtones that have always been in the debate.  It is another manifestation of greed, although that is extremely difficult for anyone to admit.

We face another one of those very difficult choices that come along from time to time in the history of nations.  I do not dislike people who look different than I do.  To do so would force me to dislike everybody.  We all look different from one another.  Those that select the color of someone's skin to differentiate between friend and foe are, in my opinion, unintelligent.  Why not the color of their hair or their shoe size?  At the same time I believe that our entire society depends on the sanctity of our legal system.  I also believe that our country is no longer able to support massive immigration if it is to sustain the level of prosperity that we now enjoy (greed again).  For these reasons I support a restructuring of our immigration laws that does not include amnesty, but does include a work permit and I believe that implementation of that law should be blind to race. It should be applied to illegal Swedes and Aussies as well as folks from Guatemala and Haiti.

As for the issue of border control it is not an issue.  The constitution requires that the federal government control the border and protect the country.  The government has not done this in the past and is not doing it now.  I favor electing a government that will do it.

Once we get control of this issue, I argue that we should turn our attention not only to finding ways to improve our own economy, but also how to do a better job of helping folks live a better life in the rest of this world.  If we genuinely did that we could look ourselves in the eye and argue that we were not as greedy as we once were.  I would like to be able to do that.