Despite President Obama’s lack of courage and forthrightness in fulfilling his promise for change during a hectic first year in office, a year that began with much excitement, expectation and hope, I choose to believe, perhaps naively, that he is an intelligent, reasonable, well-intentioned and honest man. As we begin this New Year, however, with the patience of many growing thin, I urge President Obama to pause for a moment, put aside the political posturing, both national and global, and reflect upon and reevaluate his vision of America’s role in the world as it exists today.
There is no doubt that there are serious, complex and long-standing problems that must be confronted, many of which do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Nevertheless, it is not idealism which dictates an abandonment of the Bush administration’s failed policies of jingoism, militarism and gunboat diplomacy – policies President Obama has not only chosen to continue, but has expanded upon. Rather it is a pragmatism, a recognition, that despite all the treasure we have and continue to squander (some estimates have the “war on terrorism” costing some $3 trillion), and the lives we have sacrificed (over 5,000 Americans have died), and the people we have killed (more than 600,000), and the minds we have destroyed (some 30 percent of those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq are suffering from PTSD), and the countries we have bombed (more than 36 since World War II), and the genocide we have supported (in Gaza and elsewhere), we have accomplished NOTHING in resolving conflict, lessening tension and making the world and our nation a safer and more peaceful place in which to live. In the face of a bleak reality of escalating violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, with continuing acts of terrorism targeting America and our allies, and increasing tension with Iran and North Korea, it is time, long past time, for President Obama to effect real and meaningful change by acting reasonably, rationally, responsibly and in accordance with the mandate of a Nobel Peace Laureate to not only end war and violence in the world, but to foster peace and understanding.
Since President Obama’s war-oriented advisers seem incapable of thinking beyond the gun, the tank and the drone, allow me to suggest another strategy for conflict resolution and peacemaking. I think Yemen would be a good test case for our experiment, as it now has become the latest “pre-emptive target du jour.” Since killing, bombing and assassination have clearly accomplished nothing in Yemen or elsewhere, other than to exacerbate the problems, let’s dispense with all of that insanity and try something different. My new strategy begins like the old, with “shock and awe,” but this time let us “saturate” the cities and the villages of Yemen not with explosives and incendiaries, but rather with food, potable water, clothing, medicines and even money. For a change, let our policy be one of supporting life rather than causing death. Phase Two of our offensive will target the cities and villages with payloads of books, tools and building supplies to construct homes, hospitals and schools. For a change, let our policy be one of healing and of construction rather than of causing injury and destruction. After a month or so of shock and awe, when the Yemenis get a sense that we are serious in our intent for peaceful coexistence, that we are no longer interested in killing and maiming Muslims and/or destroying their cities and villages, but in helping them live better, healthier and more productive lives, I doubt there would be much enthusiasm for supporting fringe groups like al-Qaeda or for strapping on explosives and detonating oneself on an airliner. But the mission does not end here. Phase Three will begin a surge, this time not of soldiers and mercenaries, but of doctors, teachers, builders, engineers, agricultural experts, etc. who, in this new environment of emerging tolerance, trust and understanding, would not be resisted as invaders or occupiers, but welcomed as friends, benefactors and allies. For a change, let our policy be one of helping to educate the children, curing the sick and repairing the infrastructure. Phase Four will surge not CIA operatives to cause chaos and unrest, but diplomatic and political experts to help the Yemenis create not a puppet, corrupt, western-style, capitalist “democracy,” but an honest representative government that reflects the values, religion, culture and interests of the people.
I know such a mission may be viewed by some in this era of Bush/Obama preventive war as unconventional, even unrealistic, but in reality such a strategy is not far-fetched or impractical. Anyone who is familiar with counterinsurgency warfare understands that winning hearts and minds is the only true formula for success. Besides, where has the alternative gotten us? We have spent over eight years bombing, burning, imprisoning, displacing, assassinating, torturing, bribing, destroying, maiming and killing, all to no avail and at the cost of trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human lives. We have ignored the tenets of Asymmetrical Warfare and the lessons of Vietnam and have chosen rather to persevere with a flawed strategy that has accomplished nothing other than to fatten the coffers of war profiteers. Bush/Obama militarism has created “terrorists” faster than we can kill them – young men and women who hate us not for how we dress but for what we do, not for what we believe but for our aggression and occupation, not for our freedom but for our arrogance and hypocrisy. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, it is insane to continue to do the same thing and to expect different results. It is time for a change, therefore, time to abandon the failed policies of the past, time to back our rhetoric of morality and justice with moral and right actions. We truly have nothing to lose and so much to gain. It is time for a new strategy for America.