Diplomats are currently scrambling to find a solution to the problem that is Syria. The country is already in a civil war. The dictator Bashar al-Assad doesn’t look like he’s packing his bags any time soon, though plenty of pundits are quick to label him a “dead dictator walking.” Russia and China are reluctant to support measures that would precipitate regime change. Talk about a diplomatic nightmare.
We are all trust fund babies living off the wealth of our ancestors. I’m not talking Mommy and Daddy. I’m talking Barney. That cuddly T-Rex and all his dinosaur friends, along with those giant ferns and tiny trilobites, died millions of years ago only to become, very gradually, the energy that fuels our modern life. Until very recently, in geologic time at least, the earth held virtually all of that powerful carbon in a lockbox. “You can’t touch this buried treasure until you come of age,” the earth told humanity.
Every year, in the last two weeks of their final semester, a group of seniors in the 20th-century world history class at my high school played a mysterious game. They were honor-bound not to tell anyone what they were doing. All we knew was that, while their fellow seniors goofed off and marked time until graduation, this group of students were completely obsessed with…something. They were constantly in whispered negotiations, passing notes back and forth, passionately gesticulating. They seemed to be involved in a very serious, very adult activity. The rest of us were all intensely envious even as we made fun of their dorkiness.
Elections are decided by economics. Voters respond to pocketbook issues and are swayed by the huge sums that candidates lavish on advertising. Foreign policy issues, by contrast, are what the British call “noises off,” those sounds from off-stage that you hear occasionally to punctuate the main actions, sounds like exploding bombs and the distant cries of suffering people. According to recent polling, global issues barely register at all with Americans right now. Far below the economy, jobs, health care, the budget deficit, and gas prices, you’ll find Afghanistan at 6 percent (CNN), terrorism at 1 percent (Bloomberg), and, most distressingly, no global issue at all (CBS/New York Times).
The note left next to the bloodied body of Shaima Alawadi read “go back to your country, you terrorist.” Alawadi, who died on Saturday after being taken off life support, was an Iraqi-born mother of five living outside of San Diego. Someone had delivered a similar note to the family earlier in the month. It was likely the same person who returned with a tire iron and struck her repeatedly on the head. Alawadi had lived in the United States for 17 years. Several family members reportedly provided cultural training to U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East. In a very sad coda, Alawadi is indeed going back to her country – to be buried.
Both Mike Daisey and Jason Russell are storytellers. But they’re not just storytellers. Like Mark Twain, who was infuriated by Belgian colonial policies in the Congo, Daisey and Russell want to provoke us into doing something. And they have carefully crafted their stories toward that end.
And now, virtually simultaneously, both Russell and Daisey are under fire for not adhering to the literal truth.
The bully came to Washington. The American president told him in no uncertain terms that the United States would not support a military attack on Iran at this moment. The bully met with 13,000 of his U.S. supporters in an effort to pressure the White House. It didn’t work. The bully went home empty-handed.
This story of Obama the diplomat standing up to Netanyahu the bully omitss some important information.
A funny thing happened on the way to hegemony. The very ideology that the United States assumed would defeat all comers has in fact been turned against the United States. Liberal democracy contains within it the very seeds of the American empire’s destruction. Call it blowback, TINA-style.
It’s not that Afghans are inherently untrustworthy. Rather, the United States has put them in an untenable position. They must choose between supporting unpalatable insiders and unpalatable outsiders.
But it’s actually worse than this.
When Hu Jintao took over as the leader of China in 2002, U.S. companies welcomed his accession as a “good sign for American business.” Political analysts described Hu as a fourth-generation member of the Communist party leadership who might very well turn out to be a “closet liberal.” Playing it safe, the media tended to portray him as a pragmatic enigma. In the wake of 9/11 and high-level cooperation on counter-terrorism, Hu proved to be a reliable U.S. partner, prompting Colin Powell to remark in 2003 that U.S.-China relations were the best since 1972.