Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Of butterflies and ill winds---

"Blake is interesting. I have never met anyone so deliberately amoral. He suits the climate here: the madness, the pointless butchery... as I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding. Blake's different. He understands perfectly...And he doesn't care."-Dr.Manhattan, Watchmen

I was looking at the photos of Senator John McCain smiling in Benghazi, and sometimes, when you connect things together, it all just collapses into a nice, tangled web.

America funded Mubarek's regime to promote Middle East peace, which is pretty much an euphemism for propping up Israel unconditionally. The second largest recipient of American foreign aid was Mubarak's regime. Israel was the first. This aid was allocated mostly towards military means---with a heavy emphasis on arms and jets. This will not change even with the recent round of cuts brought to pretty much all other forms of American foreign aid. America slashed budgets for the Peace Corps, but somehow found its' way to giving more money to Israeli warfare.

"The budget proposes $3.075 billion in US military aid for Israel, $75 million more than in fiscal year 2011. "

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, reflecting the view of many of his fellow congressmen, thinks giving arms and bombs to Israel and any countries that support it is "strategically vital to US security interests." Nary a thought is given to the possibility that supporting HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa or migrant assistance programs will maybe help alleviate some of the suffering of the class of people that are the most likely to become future terrorists-namely those so poor that they simply don't give a f**k anymore.

There is no thought given to the fact that while the United States nominally promotes democracy and liberty, it props up regimes that torture, imprison, and murder their own citizens, so long as they fit "American security interests".

Revolution, after all, is easier to make on an empty stomach and a just cause. Extreme conditions give rise to extreme politics. These were lessons human history has been trying to teach us endlessly---somewhere in the endless chorus of "never again" that came up after the most horrific Holocaust is the notion that we are saying "never again" not only to the terrible killing of innocents, but also the desperate conditions that gave rise to such inhumanity. We should have learned that never again meant not only never again to the Holocaust, but never again to the Weimar Republic, and never again to Versailles.

Sadly, we have never fully grasped this lesson. Perhaps in time we will, but it is clear we have not fully appreciated how a butterfly fluttering its' wings could, in theory, unleash a tsunami on the other side of the world.

Ayman al-Zawahiri was born to an upper-middle class family in Cairo. He came from a large family of doctors and scholars. In his youth, he loved poetry, and hated "violent sports". His family was "religious, but not overly pious." Disgusted by the authoritarian Sadat regime, he eventually formed an underground cell that called for revolution. After Sadat's assassination, Vice President Mubarek succeeded Sadat, and imposed the same heavy-handedness his predecessor had. Ayman, along with 1500 others, were imprisoned and tortured, and languished in the same prison system that kept Egypt's new, fresh-faced Facebook revolutionaries just so recently.

Three years later, he left for Afghanistan as soon as he was released. It was there that he met Osama Bin Laden, and it was there that they spearheaded the "mujaheddin" or insurgency against the occupiers of Afghanistan. In the interests of freedom, the mujaheddin were given American rockets and guns to fight America's enemy at the time-the big, mean Soviet Union.

Ayman al-Zawahiri  is now the eternally hunted "operational" head of Al Qaeda, one of those very few men who seem to have become more myth than flesh in the eternal war for peace.

As you reflect on this sobering tale, you can't help but think there is something we can learn from this. Perhaps military might and hard power, as well as its' extension through military aid to dubious regimes, all in the name of national security, is not all it is cracked out to be---you cannot help but think that every time the United States has been forced into conflict in the last fifty years, she has failed to reach any of her strategic goals (the Iraqi/Afghan mess, Vietnam falling, Korea line, Somalia in ruins). Yet America and her NATO allies continue to spend on what seems to be an eternal arms race for overbearing, all-consuming military might. Military spending is the largest discretionary spending item in the American budget. The American military accounts for 43% of the world's military expenditure at a cost of about $687 billion per year, which is about 7 times more than China spends (as of 2009). If you take any military statistic, you will quickly see that America is in effect embroiled in an arms race with herself. It becomes laughable when you consider that of the other 57% of the world's military expenditure, most are spent by some of America's staunchest allies (significantly the NATO bloc of Italy, Germany, France, and Britain as well as Japan). However, even with all this power, America still cannot seem to achieve the "nation-building" goals it sets for itself.

Perhaps then, there is something to say about the "strategic importance" of soft power, and of helping the poor and sick citizens of ruined Third World countries. Maybe when the American people call for cuts in foreign aid, it is because they think America spends 25% of her GDP on helping the world, whereas the country should spend something around 10% of GDP, while in reality America only spends about 0.5% of its GDP on foreign aid, of which a large proportion is military aid destined to Israel and her allies. Maybe if we, the developed nations, earnestly sought to help other nations, rather then exploit them to our own material ends, we might actually have less security concerns. Maybe if we saw other human beings as people rather then as threats, the cycle of violence that arms-giving and the military-industrial complex promote would abate. Maybe if we earnestly promoted democracy and freedom without exception, we would have little need for violent rebellions to do the same. I can only qualify all of this as a maybe since it has never been tried on a large scale since the Marshall Plan that lifted Europe back towards economic success after WW2--- a resounding success by most measures. I can also only say maybe because it seems that for now, the politics of today will never allow this to happen.


This was made painfully obvious to me when I saw McCain's headshot in Benghazi. With his hawk-like rhetoric, and the announcement that President Obama was authorizing the use of drones (yes, the very same drones that have caused a furor in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan for causing numerous civilian deaths), and talk of America arming the Libyan rebels, I could not help but think of the ill winds that one butterfly can bring. The only thing left to puzzle over would be where the tsunami would hit next.

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