Thursday, July 21, 2005

Stuart Heady: Pull out of the Paradigm - and Iraq

Re-edited and Replublished at Common Dreams.

Back in 1990, as the first Gulf War progressed, a memo outlining long term strategy was issued by Central Command that pointed out how water treatment and sewage system damage could be used against a civilian population in a desert region.

Accordingly, sewage treatment plants and water purification systems were bombed and subsequently the sanctions prevented repair. The theory was that Saddam would feel pressure or would be overthrown by a public that would conclude their suffering was his fault and wouldn’t see the U.S. as the source of their woe.

Humanitarian observers and the British Medical Association studied the effects and had concluded that by 2000 as many as 500,000 children, old people and adults had died because of drinking septic water which had caused diseases like dysentery and cholera.

Most people are unaware of this because the press was largely uninterested, and both political parties supported the sanctions policy. Americans, like it or not, seem historically impervious to the suffering of other peoples, especially if they are seen as not white.

Saddam was a brutal thug, morally worse than Al Capone. No question about it. But we can’t shut our eyes to our own long-term relationship with him. Essentially, Saddam was our creature. We gave him billions in military support, without which he might never have survived long enough to be more than an obscure local figure.

Many foreign policy efforts of the past decades, in the Middle East, in Central America, and in Southeast Asia, have been based on ruthless thinking. Separating the tactics we have used in achieving policy goals from the moral values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that we hold so dear has given American foreign policy a more and more dark face many Americans are not prepared to appreciate.

In fact, we seem to be going back to the worst nineteenth century approach to dealing with other peoples. One might draw a useful historical comparison between the use of deadly diseases arising from our prevention of repairs to sewage treatment plants in Iraq, to tactics intended to weaken and destroy the resistance of native peoples through killing the buffalo herds they depended upon and the fabled distribution of blankets infected with smallpox.

This widening distance between our tactics and our values indicate it is time to call for a change larger than just a pullout from Iraq. We must withdraw from our deeply entrenched way of looking at other peoples in the world and our way of responding to them. This will require considering deeper issues than we are used to addressing in our current political culture. Certainly, the media won’t have much attention span for the process- if the advertisers they depend upon even permit such deep questioning of the status quo. We must do more than cleverly reframe the issues. We must look at the tectonic plate issues that underly the whole political landscape.

Oil is one such crucial issue. This resource has become so central to our civilization and our economy that if it were no longer available tomorrow, our civilization would surely collapse. Oil is a resource that has taken millions of years to develop, and yet is half gone after a little more than a century of pumping it out of the ground. We have no plan for what comes next.

The best thinking our current leadership can come up with is to pump it out of the ground faster, encourage more consumption, and go to war to secure access to the oil fields under other nations’ territories. Our leaders are acting like a teenage kid trying to reassure a date that there is plenty of gas in the tank by pumping on the gas pedal to race his muscle car’s engine.

Democrats are in a position (if we can find the courage) to call for real international cooperation to lead the way in making sure that the largest number of humans (not to mention other species) can survive into the twenty-second century, with something like the chances for economic prosperity we’ve enjoyed, if not better. In the last election, Kerry failed to do this, and to make it central to the debate. If Democrats continue to fail to see a political opportunity in responding to the Republican effort to keep the debate focused on trivial and superficial issues by ripping the cover off of the true nature of our historic situation, we will have missed our moment. Future history will record our efforts as tragically shortsighted.

The greatest issue in the world today is how economic prosperity can be balanced with sustainable resource use. The Bush administration is so caught up in nineteenth century view of the world that it is unable to produce a reality-based response to to the direst emergency in our civilization’s history.

It may be that truly important issues cannot be effectively addressed through governmental policy unless a groundswell develops in public opinion that makes action absolutely unavoidable.

Thus, discussing and planning how to move forward with an alternative energy plan, and taking a tough and critical look at the consumer economy is imperative. Even more important is to work for real change in the private sector and local government, seeding the public debate with new ideas, innovations, and practical successes. People are dying in Iraq and other places because of the nineteenth century-minded thinking in which our government is stuck, its time for us to get out the mindset and push.

We have to withdraw from our present way of thinking about the world we live in. We have to withdraw from the siren song of stay-the-course platitudes of this Administration and much of the Democratic leadership. The situation in Iraq could provide an opportunity to begin anew. Ending the occupation of Iraq isn’t a destination, it is starting point from which to free ourselves, and the Democratic Party from the temptation to be stuck in debates focused on the past instead of moving towards the best potential for the 21st century that lives in all our dreams.

Posted on behalf of Stuart Heady of Tsaile, Arizona.


At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Gail Davis said...

This is an excellent article. It's the kind that I wish I had written.



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