24 November 2003

The Bubble of American Supremacy

The terrorist threat must be seen in proper perspective. Terrorism is not new. It was an important factor in nineteenth-century Russia, and it had a great influence on the character of the czarist regime, enhancing the importance of secret police and justifying authoritarianism. More recently several European countries - Italy, Germany, Great Britain - had to contend with terrorist gangs, and it took those countries a decade or more to root them out. But those countries did not live under the spell of terrorism during all that time. Granted, using hijacked planes for suicide attacks is something new, and so is the prospect of terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. To come to terms with these threats will take some adjustment; but the threats cannot be allowed to dominate our existence. Exaggerating them will only make them worse. The most powerful country on earth cannot afford to be consumed by fear. To make the war on terrorism the centerpiece of our national strategy is an abdication of our responsibility as the leading nation in the world. Moreover, by allowing terrorism to become our principal preoccupation, we are playing into the terrorists' hands. They are setting our priorities.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations publication sketches out three alternative national-security strategies. The first calls for the pursuit of American supremacy through the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military action. It is advocated by neoconservatives. The second seeks the continuation of our earlier policy of deterrence and containment. It is advocated by Colin Powell and other moderates, who may be associated with either political party. The third would have the United States lead a cooperative effort to improve the world by engaging in preventive actions of a constructive character. It is not advocated by any group of significance, although President Bush pays lip service to it. That is the policy I stand for.

John Howard's recent attempt to conflate opposition to the war with support for terror proves one of Soros' points. Howard's own words:

And can I simply say, that I�ve observed in the news bulletins this morning that there are, what 100-200,000 people demonstrating in the streets of London against the President of the United States. Now, like any other political figures he�s used to criticism and he can take it and he can handle it � it goes with the territory. And I don�t seek a particular intercession on his behalf in relation to criticism. But I find it bizarre, even obscene that you could have 200,000 people demonstrating against the democratically elected leader of the largest country in the world, instead of demonstrating against the atrocities that continue to claim the lives of innocent people

I would have thought the London protests were directed against the policies, not the person of George Bush. An election in which the loser by half a million votes nevertheless becomes president is stretching the definition of democracy. The democratically elected leader of the largest country in the world is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister of India. It cannot be George Bush and it is certainly not Hu Jintao. Howard may have meant 'the West' when he said 'the world' and that slip is itself significant because it shows how much we are slipping into a world of Us and Them.

Much of the antiwar movement believes that the Bush policy described by Soros exacerbates the loss of innocent life and exacerbates the atrocities Howard is dedicated to combating. The disagreement is about means, not ends. Suppressing opposition, even at the level of rhetoric, by tarring opponents of war as supporters of terror merely confirms how much the terrorist project of causing changes in the West is succeeding.

The real way to combat terror is to combat its causes along the lines of Soros' advice.

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