A trio of ongoing and savagely expensive wars. A catastrophically expensive health care “system.” A national infrastructure collapsing into rack and ruin even as millions go without jobs. Hundreds of tornadoes tearing the country apart from Oklahoma to Birmingham to Richmond to Washington DC, yet another blow to an already fragile economy that seems to be heading inexorably toward a double-dip recession. A brazen, headlong conservative plunge towards the annihilation of the social contract. A game of political chicken over the debt ceiling that could blast the country apart.
And what are we talking about?
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Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends.
If you've spent (read: wasted) any time over the last couple of days watching “mainstream” cable news channels, no doubt you found yourself drowning in yet another round of coverage of the “birther” issue, i.e., the accusation that Mr. Obama is not a citizen compelled the release of his Hawaii birth certificate, which kicked off yet another round of “It's a fake, he's not a citizen, WHAAARGARBLE!!!” nonsense from people who only get news coverage because newsroom editors love car accidents.
Oh, right, and royal weddings, too. Can't forget that. “Exxon profits jump 69%” got a line-item in the screen crawl at the bottom of CNN's broadcast on Thursday afternoon, right beneath the talking head who gushed about getting up early in the morning to watch the British festivities. One hopes the prince has his own birth certificate in order. Could be trouble if not.
Don't be fooled, however. Despite the vast hurricane of nonsense and distraction being blown over the American people by the “news” media, by the clowns they cover, and by the politicians who avoid substance the way cats avoid water, there have in fact been scores of people shouting from the rooftops about the problems we face, and about the solutions that are not only possible, but within our grasp if we choose to reach for them. Some of these voices are from the present, some are from the past, yet they all share the same ignominious fate of the perpetually ignored. The problems we face are known – they are, indeed, standing right in front of us, stomping on our feet, and screaming into our faces – but until now, the right combination of volume, influence, charisma and argument have not yet coalesced into the kind of message that will not only resonate, but will be unavoidable in its assertions.
Strange problems make for strange solutions. In a country where people of good conscience are ignored in favor of megalomaniacs like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, our society has been well-trained to sit up and pay rapt attention in matters regarding the military. We worship at the altar of the armed forces, and for two basic reasons: 1. Average people pay respect to those in the military because that service to our country is worthy of praise; and, 2. A few very influential people – in the defense industry, the oil industry, and the media – make vast fortunes off the defense budget and the wide coverage any military engagement is given. In order to keep the gravy train running, they have, over many decades, ensured that military matters are securely wrapped in a shroud of hallowed untouchability, and as a culture, we have mostly swallowed this whole. We are well-trained in this regard, and that glue holds fast.
The Trumps and Palins of the world run their mouths into many proffered microphones and cameras, while those interested in the genuine betterment of the nation are dismissed and ignored. Thus it has been for some time now…but when the military speaks, all ears turn to listen.
So be it.
The following are portions of a paper published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (.pdf) that was written by two members of the armed services: Captain Wayne Porter of the US Navy, and Colonel Mark Mykleby of the US Marine Corps. What makes the document remarkable is the fact that both men are top-ranking members of Admiral Mike Mullen's team. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, surely was aware of this paper before it was published, and allowed it to go to print, giving this document at least a seeming stamp of approval from the Pentagon.
Something else remarkable: two serving officers have proffered one of the more eloquent arguments in recent memory against the direction this country has been led for decades, and made an unassailable case for addressing the problems we face while providing readily available solutions to those problems. It is, in the main, a profoundly progressive piece of work.
We don't listen to progressive politicians, public figures or media personalities – past or present – even as the truth of their assertions and solutions burn brightly before us. Maybe what America needs is to hear it from a couple of guys like this. To wit:
In one sentence, the strategic narrative of the United States in the 21st century is that we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement.
Among the trends that are already shaping a “new normal” in our strategic environment are the decline of rural economies, joblessness, the dramatic increase in urbanization, an increasing demand for energy, migration of populations and shifting demographics, the rise of grey and black markets, the phenomenon of extremism and anti-modernism, the effects of global climate change, the spread of pandemics and lack of access to adequate health services, and an increasing dependency on cyber networks. At first glance, these trends are cause for concern. But for Americans with vision, guided by values, they represent opportunities to reestablish and leverage credible influence, converging interests, and interdependencies that can transform despair into hope. This focus on improving our strategic ecosystem, and favorably competing for our national interests, underscores the investment priorities cited earlier, and the imaginative application of diplomacy, development, and defense in our foreign policy.
In complex systems, adaptation and variation demonstrate that “binning” is not only difficult, it often leads to unintended consequences. For example, labeling, or binning, Islamist radicals as “terrorists,” or worse, as “jihadis,” has resulted in two very different, and unfortunate unintended misperceptions: that all Muslims are thought of as “terrorists;” and, that those who pervert Islam into a hateful, anti-modernist ideology to justify unspeakable acts of violence are truly motivated by a religious struggle (the definition of “jihad,” and the obligation of all Muslims), rather than being seen as apostates waging war against society and innocents. This has resulted in the alienation of vast elements of the global Muslim community and has only frustrated efforts to accurately depict and marginalize extremism.
As Americans, our ability to remain relevant as a world leader, to evolve as a nation, depends as it always has on our determination to pursue our national interests within the constraints of our core values. We must embrace and respect diversity and encourage the exchange of ideas, welcoming as our own those who share our values and seek an opportunity to contribute to our nation. Innovation, imagination, and hard work must be applied through a national unity of effort that recognizes our place in the global system. We must accept that to be great requires competition and to remain great requires adaptability, that competition need not demand a single winner,and that through converging interests we should seek interdependencies that can help sustain our interests in the global strategic ecosystem. To achieve this we will need the tools of development, diplomacy and defense – employed with agility through an integrated whole of nation approach. This will require the prioritization of our investments in intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America's youth; investment in the nation's sustainable security – on our own soil and wherever Americans and their interests take them, including space and cyberspace; and investment in sustainable access to, cultivation and use of, the natural resources we need for our continued wellbeing, prosperity and economic growth in the world marketplace.
As Americans we needn't seek the world's friendship or to proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions. Our domestic and foreign policies will reflect unity of effort, coherency and constancy of purpose. We will pursue our national interests and allow others to pursue theirs, never betraying our values. We will seek converging interests and welcome interdependence. We will encourage fair competition and will not shy away from deterring bad behavior. We will accept our place in a complex and dynamic strategic ecosystem and use credible influence and strength to shape uncertainty into opportunities. We will be a pathway of promise and a beacon of hope, in an ever changing world.
It is not a perfect document by any means, and many progressives may recoil at the deep vein of militarism woven throughout the work. Consider, however, the fact that here is a well-crafted argument for slashing military spending, resolving the health care crisis in a way that benefits people instead of profit, refining the way we educate our children so that educational funds are not an afterthought, fixing our crumbling national infrastructure, and turning away from the decades-old habit of approaching our national existence from a position of strife, distrust, conflict and war. Here, in short, is a blueprint for a progressive future that speaks to all the problems we face.
Consider this, also: you almost certainly have a friend, a spouse, a family member, or a neighbor who has been gulled into believing that anything liberal or progressive is by definition heretical to the idea that is America. They vote for the politicians who screw them and support a system that steals from them, but cannot be convinced to turn away from either.
Perhaps those people you know would find themselves receptive to a progressive argument made by a Marine officer and a Naval officer who both work in the Pentagon. We are, after all, a culture that attaches great significance to military service. Here are two service members speaking to the needs of the future while wearing the uniform. Here is a progressive perspective wrapped securely in the flag.
Give it a read, and share it around. See what happens. Maybe these messengers are just different enough to make a difference.