Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The big picture answer

The only way to "win the war on terror" is to live a life that others want. We have been (had been?) the leader and envy of the world because of the lives we built for ourselves. We can't force others to adopt the American lifestyle. But most people suspect that if given the chance the majority of people in the world will want something like that lifestyle. It's one of the oldest forms of leadership: leading by example.

The aspects of the American lifestyle that are generally appealing are: the freedom to live more or less as we want with minimal interference in our personal and social lives by governmental, religious, or other governing institutions; a reasonable voice in how the institutions that govern our lives are run; relative social equity and equality with most people in a broad middle class and very few people at the extremes; relative transparency and lack of corruption in our governing institutions; relative economic security and reasonable future economic prospects; physical security (no suicide bombers); personal (health) security and reasonable social safety nets in case of individual or collective misfortunes; etc. (This is a top-of-the-head list. It would be interesting to flesh it out in more detail.)

We don't have to convert the world to want this kind of life. All we have to do is live it (and not, for example, turn our own lives into a police state) for the rest of the world to want to emulate us. (This is almost what George Bush says. Too bad he doesn't really believe it.) We don't have to defeat radical Islamism. It will defeat itself. (He doesn't appear to believe this.)

What we do have to do is to ensure the continuation our own lives. That means reasonable security so that we are not subjected to repeated 9/11 attacks. So some form of self-defense is necessary. But we must defend ourselves without destroying the society we are trying to protect.

More importantly we have to find a way to continue our life-style without being dependent on the rest of the world for energy. That's our greatest vulnerability and should be our highest priority.

Perhaps most importantly we should focus on re-establishing a civil society that we all care about, a society in which people feel comfortable and open. Our most important strength is the strength of our society.

If we could establish a strong, healthy society, with reasonable levels of self-sufficiency and internal safety and security, that's all we would need. We would again be the envy of the world.

Why don't we believe this about ourselves? If I were a politician, this would be my message.

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