Since last fall
, when most of us first realized that America the beacon of hope
, as well as America the symbol of oppression
was under attack, there has been much public handwringing over the question of what, exactly, it would mean to "win" this war. After all, the enemy does not wear a uniform
and is not localized in any part of the world. There is no worldwide census
of terrorists against which our military can check their list of captured and killed. Despite all this, I find that a victory in this conflict is easily definable, and surprisingly unvoiced. We will have won the war when our system of government of, by and for the people replaces despotism
as the dominant method of rule in the world. Only then will terrorists be deprived of the very air they breathe, and only then can transparency
and the rule of law flourish.
But here we run into a problem that asks us just what our most important values are, and what sacrifices our politicians are willing to make. Terrorist organizations are not the only ones who display a disregard for laws and a disrespect for human life. I refer of course to the other great boogie man of our time, the multinational (or more appropriately, extra-national) corporation. The principle allegiance of these groups is not to any particular nation, ideology, or value set, but to steadily increasing profits. Their principle goal as I write this is passage of the Multilateral Agreement on Investing. Now, it's fairly well known that the MAI would prevent signatories from enforcing all but the most basic regulations on extra-national companies. This is a ridiculous enough double standard, since you and I will still be required to obey the laws of any country we travel to, while Exxon will be freed from such an onus. But the MAI's secondary effect is potentially even more chilling. It would prevent countries from subsidizing or promoting local businesses, ostensibly to create a "level playing field." Any extra-national that would benefit from this kind of game, however, has attained its position partly through; you guessed it, government subsidies. Now that they don't need them anymore (for the time being) they simply say, through the MAI; "The club is getting too big; no new members."
Of course you're probably wondering what all this has to do with the war (and you might also be wondering why I call it WWIII. I'll get to that shortly).
At the 2002 World Economic Forum; where incidentally 2500 participants were expected to pump up to $100 million into the NYC economy - a mean average of $40,000 apiece; poverty was aptly and poetically dubbed (by the Philippine president) the "handmaiden of terrorism." This was not as controversial a position as it may have been several years ago, and world leaders from Colin Powell to Kofi Annan seem to endorse it. So now the question becomes not only what are the most effective means to combat poverty, but also who can be entrusted with this task, now that it is not merely a humanitarian issue, but also one of global security. My answer is that an undertaking this critical, and this monumental, cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of military and energy contractors - special interests who thrive on global insecurity and who make up a large portion of extra-nationals whose power would leapfrog with passage of the MAI. These companies have shown themselves to be so short-sighted that they work against not only the long term interests of their societies, but also, in the absence of sufficient oversight, against the long term interests of their own shareholders - at least those outside of the inner circle, as evidenced by the Enron debacle. It is time once again to save the capitalists from themselves.
As for the means with which to combat poverty, I do not pretend to be educated enough to have the answers. But it does seem to me that it is inappropriate to paint industrial and developing economies with the same brush, subjecting them to the same rules. The poorest countries must be allowed to follow paths similar to the ones that enriched the United States and Western Europe, and more recently countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. That means allowing subsidized lending from state owned banks with sufficient controls, and in many cases it may mean an "unlevel playing field" with local businesses given preferential treatment. Think of it as a kind of global affirmative action.
As a lifelong activist, however, I can pretend to have more insight into who is most qualified to liberate the handmaiden. An extensive network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) already exists and works through the United Nations and with member states to tackle issues such as children's rights, conflict resolution, disarmament, disaster relief, drug abuse, education, the environment, health and nutrition, human resources, human rights, law, energy, peace and security, religious issues, trade issues, the population explosion, refugees, science and technology, sustainable development and women's rights - all issues directly related to poverty. These groups are nearly always featured at gatherings such as the WEF and WTO summits, and work to build infrastructure and improve education in 90% of the world - the building blocks of democracy. They are the good cops of the so-called anti-globalization movement. Protesters who follow the summits and address many of the same issues are the bad cops. Neither group is capable of being fully heard without the other; together these are the armies that must be enlisted to win World War III. But to be of value in the conflict, they must shift to a proactive from a reactive focus. In other words, we cannot continue to call ourselves (or let the media call us) anti-globalists. Instead, we must clearly articulate what kind of world we are really trying to achieve; we must become democratic globalists.
It seems I must now explain why I refer to the current conflict as WWIII, and what I'm pointing to when I use the term. I certainly don't mean the globalization debate. There is a far greater ideological divide than that between capitalists and democrats. The conflict in the Middle East, and the conflict with Islam for the seat of global empire to which we have just been challenged, has the potential to become so far-ranging and to involve so many different players that history books will see no other way to refer to it. Indeed the rhetoric of our leaders (from "A New Day of Infamy" to the "Axis of Evil") has done little to discourage this view and much to promote it. The conflict within our society seeks to determine who will lead us into this war, and the form it will eventually take.
And although I believe that the armies of democracy will be the critical element in winning the war, I have always stated that a traditional military component is also necessary - but only because we joined the conflict too late. The problem is whom the military is working for. The United States military has as its commander in chief the president, who is ostensibly chosen by the people. Unfortunately every president after Eisenhower seems to have felt (quite rightly) that they owe their position more to the economic interests who funded them than to the voters. These interests would benefit from a prolonged war with much military spending, while those who wish to expand democracy know that such a movement cannot thrive in wartime, and would benefit from a quick end to outright fighting (but not one that leaves or places tyrants in power). If we are going to struggle for democracy abroad, we must also struggle to fight its enemies at home.
As I see it, we are faced not only with the choice of who will carry our mantle into battle, but also with the question of whom our allies will be, and there are some huge problems there too. Pervez Musharraf does not believe it is necessary to hold elections in Pakistan in the near future. Islam Karamov of Uzbekistan bans all religious groups not aligned with his government, thus forcing their members into terrorist organizations. Yet these are two key allies so far. I believe that we need to work with and nurture democratic movements in these and other countries, even if that means bucking their leaders and a wider conflict in the short-term. When we do that we will tap into the very deep reservoir in the world's people that is inclined to view America as the great hope of freedom. The oppressed may even become our most loyal soldiers rather than the pool from which our fiercest enemies emerge.
And we will show by our actions that our values - democracy, liberty and responsibility - are our greatest and most enduring national interests. Until then, there will be only fear on one side, and anger on the other.