I have a preoccupation. A little motif in my life that makes me stop and smile almost daily if not more so. Dogs in cars. I see them when I go running. I see them in parking lots. While driving, they'll stare out the back windows of cars in front of me.
Why do I love them so much? These dogs in cars? Why do I find them so damned funny and satisfying? Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I feel they make an apt metaphor for the modern human.
Modern humans find ourselves in a complicated world, at the mercy of larger processes we cannot begin to unravel, and surrounded by amazing possibilities we are incapable of unlocking.. Like the dogs in cars, modern humans are trapped in compartments of plastic, steel and glass, taken down roads we did not ask to travel, to destinations we did not choose. It's not a terrible existence. In some respects, it is a fantastic, humbling privilege - but I see a reflection of myself in these car windows.
The look on these dog's faces: either grinning obliviously ear to ear or outwardly unamused and displeased, I see it on cops on the block, the guy bagging groceries or the girl wearing headphones on the bus.
We're all dogs in cars. Patiently waiting for someone to return, put the key in this strange machine and take us home.
Obama's war. That is the the truth and the lie that frames our newfound interest in the American project in Afghanistan. Our political menu is being realligned in the foreign policy realm by a mixture of persistent critics, recent turncoats and Republicans who would criticize Obama if he cut himself shaving. That is to say nothing of the actual situation on the ground, which is deteriorating in real ways, as the clear illegitimacy of the Karzai government tarnishes our project in the eyes of Afghanis and the world writ large. Foreign relations, they say, is a two sided game: actors must model their moves for both foreign and domestic audiences.
It's not just Obama's war. This war belong to every American with a spine and an interest in our good name and the blood and treasure already spent on this project.
A liberal friend of mine has expressed his impatience with the project in Afghanistan.
"We should just go home, man." He tells me. "Who cares about those Afghanis? They obviously don't want democracy and you like can't force democracy at the barrel of a gun bro... Don't you know anything?"
Now my friend might have a point. If he wants to conduct his political theory as if he were God, then YES! I suppose it would also be fantastic if summer were 4 months longer and ice cream made you run faster and look better naked, but none of these things are. His attempts at theory cannot facilitate an examination of how an individual should be in light of how the world is. He admits that he was for the Afghanistan project at the time. All red-blooded Americans supported a targetted strike against al-Queda, Usama bin Laden and the Taliban government that enabled him.
Now he'd found he doesn't have the stomach for the conflict.
I must admit that a formative experience in the trajectory of my thinking on foreign policy was the surge in Iraq. At the time, in 2005, the war effort was going to hell in a handbasket. I wanted out. Where others would base their arguements on what was best for the Iraqis, I didn't. I was clear that I wanted out of Iraq to protect American lives and treasure. I was fully aware that there would be a bloodbath there if we left.
But we stayed. Sober, courageous minds and the momentum of a military occupation won out. I was sure that this was folly. But sure enough the surge worked. Those brave enough rushed in where the supposedly rational were rushing out. And a difference was made. That corner was finally turned. The situation as it stands now shows that the surge was a better decison not just for Iraqis but for Americans too.
Now what lesson is there to take away from this. We've made a covenant with the Afghanis. He who is so quick to inject responsibility and humility into our foreign policy cannot grasp that by invading, we entered into a covenant. We hold their lives in our hands: every man and woman who sided with us against the Taliban, every person who has embraced our liberal idea that everyone should be able to pursue their own vision of whats valuable in life.
We've chosen the arena, drawn the lines and started the timer and now we want out? Such an epiphany would have had more currency before we set this project into motion.
What does it mean to be liberal? Liberal in the sense that all Americans are liberal. Is liberalism a spineless philosophy? Is it politics as holy war between secularism and fundamentalism? Is it an uneasy piece between different visions of whats valuable in life?
Those who want to pack up and go home in Afghanistan want a spineless sort of liberalism for themselves but don't believe in in enough to take any leap of faith in its potential for traction in Afghanistan. Our defeatist friend (Brian) lives through a liberalism that is calculating, bland, petty and unheroic. We slap this articulation of liberalism down. We spit on its body and dance on its grave.
For we hold up a liberalism that is heroic. It is not heroic in the romantic conservative sense, but in a more nuanced, chaotic liberal sort of way. This is liberalism not as a road map but as a flash light. It doesn't tell you exactly where we are going and how to get there, but it offers you a tool to navigate a confusing and dangerous world. With a little courage and ingenuity we can use it too.
I present you liberalism as impatience with arguments based in fear and self-preservation. Liberalism as faith in our ability to take our individualistic ideal and spread it like apple seeds on a wild frontier.
In the Afghanistan project we are the new pilgrims of liberalism. Instead of bringing bibles, we bring guns and ammo and food and money, and cranes and planes and the promise, or the threat, of making Afghanistan into California.
My defeatist friend told me: "You would have been one of the people who advocated Manifest Destiny."
Well my friend is a Washingtonian. He obviously can abstractly critisize American expansionism but feels no need to retreat Eastward. Perhaps he has resigned to the reality on the ground. He is not trying to reverse or disavow the newfound possibilities and problems that have followed from the combination of Western civilization and Washington State.
No one likes a reluctant settler. Sitting on the back of the covered wagon, feeling a slight sense of remorse, and feeling almost sorta kinda unhappy, as he plows Westward into the night.
From Shakespeare's Macbeth: "Fair is foul and foul is fair.... What's done cannot be undone... Blood will have blood."
From Colin Powell on the Iraq War: "You break it, you buy it."
"I had rather lived a day as a lion than a hundred years as a dog." -Major Zembiec aka "The Lion of Fallujah"
The nation that draws a line of demarcation between their thinkers and fighters risks having the fighting done by fools and the thinking done by cowards... -- Sir WF Butler
"We'd promise you sleep deprivation, mental torment, and muscles so sore you'll puke, but we don't like to sugar-coat things."
-USMC Recruiting Poster
"History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats" --B. C. Forbes
"A Marine is someone you don't need to push but rather, hold back." -- LBJ
MY THOUGHTS: Military service is ultimately a moral commitment. Duty is animated by morality. Both involve our struggle to live ourlives and know ourselves through the eyes and expectations of our communities. It involves we-intentions. Marine's being trained will often by instructed that "Marines always...." or "Marines don't do that." Here we see the moral enjoiner: to step outside of our bottomless appetites and commit to stepping outside of ourselves and looking for that overlapping part of our being that we share with our brothers and sisters. How do you get a man to step out into gunfire in the exectution of a mission? If courage is the trait of willingly confronting danger in the pursuit of mission accomplishment, if courage is not the abesence of fear but the mastery of it, then courage is bred from unselfishness. Our identites are not set in stone, they are malleable and we can come to construct our perception of our own identities differently over time. This tells us that unselfishness breeds courage. The courageous man is he whom will risk his own well-being because he has assumed the burden of duty: he lives in the overlapping, shared part of himself that fuses him with his country and Corps: knowing that his own well-being is actually inseperable from that of his community.
Where have you gone Nancy Grace? You used to have a 24 hour news channel devoted to chasing the "Tot Mom," now it feels like if I want some good fear-porn I have to wade through Glen Beck's Da-Vinci-Code-esque conspiracy theories.
The media shapes our perceptions of who we are and who they are. Music, sitcoms and especially news shape our perceptions of who we are and what they want to do to us. We construct ourselves through the media, but we also come to know and fear the Otherlings through grainy mugshots.
There is an enduring theme that runs through the choices the media makes as to what constitutes news. A serial killer is the sexiest thing ever, but only if he's one of those middle aged white men leaving elaborate clues like peanut butter smeared playing cards at the scenes of his crimes, a'la TV's Dexter. A serial killer defending drug selling turf in the inner city, or American interests around the world...? If it bleeds, it doesn't necessarily lead. The new maxim: If she's white, and she's in fright, that shit'll be on tv tonight.
A serial killer story only sells Ipods and car insurance advertising rights if he's operating outside of an institutional, structural context. Ironically, this is the type of killing we could do the most to reform. But killing as the outcome of market transactions and serious, complicated policy trade-offs? How can they be coming to get us in our sleep, if we're all complicit in the big crime?
So there is virtual reality that none of us can truly step outside of. Private Jessica Lynch is center stage while 100,000 dead Iraqis find namelessness in numbers. Natalie Holloway's dissapearance is big news, while the daily dead Otherling pulled out of a dumpster in Newark isn't tabloid fodder because she (or he) is one of society's undesirables. From welfare queens to poverty pimps, the war on poverty has been poisoned by racism. The media and our glorious White wing have created an undeserving, uncontrollable underclass.
Oh, those poor "missing white chicks" of the week". They didn't deserve any of this.
Brian said... Communist wannabe, history major Brian writes:
Are you insane? Don't you know that every single member of the Bush Administration as well as their families are guilty of the most heinous crimes since Hitler? Despite what you might think about what the American people "deserve," many of us are both wholesome and quite secular. I hope you are impaled by spears dipped in pig shit you bastard. September 23, 2009 7:09 PM
The Black Republican says...
I saw you dancing on the fountain on election night 2008 Brian. Who do you think made that moment possible? Do you think Obama would have followed Gore, if Gore had won in 2000. I'm merely asserting that Cheney offers the purest dose of what the American people want. Cheney was probably as Godless as you or I, he just views politics as a game of self-interest. I'll take my coffee black, my whiskey straight and my politics minus the gooey-sentiment and hollow words of the Changeling.