Protest now seems to be divided among many issues and hampered by disillusionment with the insufficient capacity of the Obama presidency to produce change that limits the transnational corporate agenda and by a fatalism about whether the cycle of escalating military responses to provocations by Middle East extremists can ever be stopped.
As I try to understand this, the administration response to the unsuccessful suicide bomber is instructive. Extended wars involving military occupations against dissenting groups in their own country are not popular. Each new one needs a media-assisted depiction of a fearsome and demonized enemy. Given that Vietnam and Iraq are still relatively fresh examples of disastrous military actions and the rather low credibility of governments promoting military escalations, symbols of evil terrorists are needed to lull popular opposition, just as high unemployment is needed to recruit soldiers for escalating the war in Afghanistan.
The widening web of countries in which extremists are being produced — Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and even the U.S. — suggests that the strategy of creating governments willing to buy into a military response to anti-terrorism efforts provides little hope for reducing extremist bombings. In Afghanistan the issue is highlighted where identities are primarily tribal, where highly armed groups, created or enhanced by earlier Soviet and U.S. interventions, vie for power against a corrupt Karzai government, where a deeply impoverished country with a narcotics-based economy, shows little interest in becoming an outpost for the U.S. plan to create a friendly government capable of curbing militancy. Certainly public support for U.S. military intervention in NATO countries is quite low. Why then is the rush to war still happening?
It is useful to step back from the sanitized military briefings that assume that the war must be fought and look at the most powerful interests that have concerns. The world of transnational corporations and military suppliers and contractors who protect them is in crisis. Global capitalism is in trouble. Its continuation requires a culture of consumerism, a low-wage work force, corporate consolidation with bailouts to assure the largest companies are too big to fail, and an environment devastated by contamination and global warming. The changes needed for a sustainable planet are immense. They involve a cultural recognition of the evidence that accumulation, growth, and domination of resources are actually proving antithetical to happiness. People are already recognizing widely that the current model of corporate capitalism has failed to provide jobs, prevent global warming, or provide security through the military operations undertaken.
Local responses to this failure are impressive. People are using more locally-produced solutions, from farmers’ markets and community banks to voluntary non-violent police forces and loans to poor women. Unfortunately, however, some issues do require a national or global response — and these remain our challenge.
First, the escalation of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond preserves the contracts for weapons, for security contractors and retired military personnel who lobby for them, and for the DOD and CIA media infiltrations that promote war. That effort needs congressional approval for funding. Congress therefore must hear about the under-reported costs of untreated PTSD in the VA; the civilian casualties that produce both suffering and the recruitment of extremists; the decline in U.S. support from other countries; and the cuts in non-military community services. Congress must hear about the costs and our unwillingness to support them.
Second, despite the widespread anger over what the corporate economy has done to the economy of ordinary people, status quo supporters have been successful so far in removing any correctives beyond modest regulatory actions. Meanwhile, the normative belief is that “the economy” — based upon more debt, more spending, and more consumption — will return to its pre-meltdown state, and new “green” bubbles in the stock market will help pull us through.
This belief removes from public dialogue the question that should be on everyone’s mind: Just what is the system that has failed and what would a better one (more equitable, more sustainable, and less dependent upon violence) look like? People who work and people who consume goods have been victimized — but they have been left out of the decision process. The disillusionment is widespread. The courage to speak out about community control, economic democracy, and worker participation is needed. It will be labeled un-American and socialist as shown by the healthcare debate, but the time to label the failed system, and to raise the dialogue about its alternative, is now.
Third, the threat posed by nuclear weapons increases as wobbly governments find their authority enhanced by military means. The existing complex of weapons has now been spread. Closed eyes to proliferating stockpiles — in Pakistan, India, and Israel for example — and new nuclear weapons research and design make a mockery of efforts to dissuade the rogue state of the day from obtaining nuclear weapons. With persons willing to engage in suicide to hurt their enemies, we delay nuclear weapons abolition at great risk.
For 2010, then, step up the local options, demand an economic system better than the failed one, stop the funding for escalated war, and honor all provisions on the treaty to prevent nuclear proliferation.
PsySR member Marc Pilisuk is Professor Emeritus, the University of California, and Professor, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. Marc is the author (with Jennifer Achord Rountree) of Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System (Greenwood/Praeger, 2008). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.