There was a moment a few years ago when some Republican leaders in Florida came to a startling realization.
As Republicans they held two cardinal values. Well, “cardinal” to Republicans. Firstly, they were in favor of small government, efficient, and free of wasteful extravagance. Secondly, they were strongly in favor of an effective, strict criminal justice system that promoted law and order and reduced crime.
The realization that they came to was that the same strict law-and-order platform they espoused was at odds with their first goal– small and efficient government. They realized that throwing hundreds and thousands of teenaged hoodlums into jail for long sentences without possibility of early parole or rehabilitation was actually costing the government a lot more money than… gasp… prevention programs.
What they realized was that a relatively small amount of money invested in youth programs in the inner city would actually have the effect of reducing the number of youths that would proceed into a life of crime and violence. It would also thereby reduce the costs of policing, criminal prosecution, and incarceration, by a very substantial amount. They came to this conclusion on the basis of solid research conducted by– gasp– intellectuals with college degrees.
So these Republicans found themselves in the odd position of advocating greater spending on social programs and prevention– Democrat icons– in order to further their goal of smaller, more efficient government.
They were far-sighted and wise. They foresaw a win-win situation: less crime, and more opportunity for the poor in their community. They were willing to re-examine dogmatic belief in the light of scientific evidence.
National governments today spend over $800 billion on defense. They spend about $10 billion on the primary tool of averting wars, the United Nations.
The Republicans have worked very hard to demonize the United Nations over the past few years. They claim that it is a bloated bureaucracy–which it is–and that it is inefficient and works against the interests of the United States.
What they really see is that the United Nations tries to work in the interests of all peoples of the planet, and that sometimes means that the U.S. is called upon to share, and Republicans don’t want to share. They don’t want to share the fish in the sea, or the profits of pharmaceutical corporations or the responsibility of reducing global warming. They do want to share in the profits to be made by selling weapons to antagonists in local conflicts. They don’t even hesitate to sell land-mines which, more often than not, end up harming civilians rather than soldiers. Thousands and thousands of children. Children with missing limbs. Bill Clinton wanted to sign the International Land Mine Treaty. The Republicans, with a majority in Congress, blocked him.
But these Republicans in Miami realized that their long-range goals are best served with foresight and planning, and with consideration of the causes of the problems they mean to address.
Why is this lesson so hard to absorb on a national level? These terrorists are global thugs and our immediate reaction is to demand death, or long prison sentences. We launch a military attack which, in substance if not formal organization, is similar to the action that provoked it. We bomb the hell out of them.
If we keep waiting for more terrorist attacks and then simply retaliate and punish, not only will we have the very thing we are trying to stamp out– as every retaliation provides righteous fodder for the next generation of suicide bombers– but we will increase it, and it will cost us more and more to deal with.
The United Nations is the world’s inner-city program. It should be funded. It’s not perfect, but it does better than most people think it does. We don’t keep statistics on wars prevented but the truth is that the world is a far more peaceful place today than it used to be. The United Nations should be empowered. It should be employed to resolve the issues that give rise to terrorism. The U.S. will have to change it’s tack from “how can we directly benefit” to “how can we reduce the global tensions and economic disparities that give rise to insurgencies and terrorist acts”.
Redneck America scoffs: what we need to do is kill them all. If you want Ireland or the Middle East, you shall have it. But if the real goal is to reduce terrorism, to reduce death and destruction and violence, we have to follow the path of the British, who decided 20 years ago that the only way to bring an end to violence in Northern Ireland was to end the cycle of attack and retaliation and bring the interested parties to the negotiating table.
And every cop knows that the first step to preventing trouble is to win the trust and respect of the people who might or might not eventually go on to make trouble. The U.S. has to show Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt that it can develop new policies in the region that are principled and fair, and that don’t always only benefit themselves. Step #1 is that Israel must be dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, not because they are wrong or because they are at fault or because they are bullies– they might or might not be all of these– but because it is the only way to begin to resolve the Palestinian issue, and the Palestinian issue is at the heart of most conflicts between Islamic fundamentalists and the west.
The U.S. must also review it’s relationships with Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Those nations need to gradually incorporate more democratic elements into their governments or they will eventually be over-thrown by militant Islamic fundamentalists, as Iran was. Most of the September 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. There is serious resentment in the Moslem world over the conspicuous U.S. presence in this nation that is custodian to the holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina.
The sanctions against Iraq should end. Saddam Hussein, though vilified by the U.S. media, is really no better or worse than most of the other leaders of nations in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria.