Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Letter to my Senator

Dear Senator King,

I really do admire your ability to think for yourself and I have high hopes for what you can do, as an independent, to shift policy in sensible directions. But, having played the video of your ISIS remarks, I felt I was hearing the voice of the politician rather than the independent thinker—with the exception of when you asked at the end of your remarks, though without attempting an answer with the same conviction that you earlier went along with Obama's reactive "plans" to respond to ISIS militarily, for more examination of the root causes of extremism.

Other authoritative governmental voices have asserted that in fact ISIS does not pose a direct threat to the U.S., so I am confused when my senator argues so vehemently that they do. Who to believe?

But setting the threat level aside, what I really want from those who represent me is some moral imagination and creativity in this fiendishly complex situation, and I know you especially have the capacity for that. For the politician, perhaps moral imagination begins with some stringent interior reflection that begins to separate the political from a comprehensive sense of cause and effect. Our political culture going back decades is awash with insights that simply could not be uttered because it would be political suicide to do so. Such as articulating honestly what "our" (the colonial and neo-colonial powers from WW1 forward) role has been in what has unfolded—surely germane to the present fanaticism of ISIS and what we might do about it. I am not a "blame America firster." I just believe our culture has vastly oversimplified the karmic complexity of history into America-good/Islam-bad dichotomies.

What I deplore is how my country, especially since 9-11, has been speaking and acting before it understands. I simply do not believe it is possible for you, or even the military, to understand what the allegiances are of the parties on the ground in the region. It has become too Hobbesian, too atomized, too insane and contradictory to allow us to constructively ally ourselves with anyone. And therefore bombing, no matter who we try to bomb, can only add to the chaos. Perhaps we might be able to do some humanitarian military-policing to save certain groups of civilians, but that is different from our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader mouthing bloodthirsty and empty cliches. Vengefulness is a stupid place from which to make rational policy. I believe we were suckered by those beheadings.

As you yourself said, whatever we do is going to be a least bad option. That being so, why not stand up for a least bad option that doesn't simply add to the destruction, such as a comprehensive arms embargo for the region. Yes, there would be holes in it, and yes the place is already awash in arms (many of them apparently American). But pursuing a policy that is based in the correct context (that context being that killing does not resolve and can never resolve political or religious conflict) would at least not motivate extremists to recruit more of themselves than we can kill.

The U.S. is about to spend 355 billion dollars over the next decade to renew our nuclear arsenal. When I think of the lack of moral imagination that such a policy represents it just dumbfounds me. All nations know that if a tiny percentage of such weapons are used, a global nuclear winter is possible. All nations know that nuclear weapons do not have the slightest effect upon what is unfolding in Syria and environs. But 355 billion dollars spent on a Middle East Marshall Plan to build hospitals and desalinization plants and solar electric generating stations—why is the nuclear arsenal "realistic" and the idea of a Marshall Plan "pie in the sky"? Only because fear constricts everyone, constricts the discourse of the media and politics to a narrow, familiar rut of tit-for-tat violence. But you are in a unique position to speak out, to propose policies that go beyond fear, outlining a positive vision for what our country might do to really help that torn-apart region, as one answer to the question you so rightly asked about the roots of fanaticism. . .



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