Tuesday, April 10, 2007

World Affairs: It's unavoidable for us all to care and learn

My high school son wanted to talk one night recently about his new course in "world affairs."
He needed help in selecting 3 topics to read about and research on a weekly basis. Did I have any ideas? he wanted to know. I did, but I also wanted to draw out his interests, and so we talked about a number of topics. World affairs is an unavoidable topic for us all anymore, but it is a concern that so few Americans spend much effort trying to learn about a topic that just can't be ignored any longer. My son finally selected these topics:

  1. The Iraq War (see below for an introduction to a deeper look at this concern from the excellent Catholic journal "Commonweal."
  2. Global Warming (Al Gore's Academy Award for "An Inconvenient Truth" has spurred lots of discussion and debate, right down to younger adults, who do increasingly care about the environment. Although one family member in another state, asked, "How can there be global warming when we've just had a snow storm in the spring?" That's a question for another day.)
  3. Hugo Chavez and Venezeula, the admittedly controversial leader of a nation we are currently at odds with.

Each of the research topics my son selected bears enormous consequences for the United States and the world. All too often, I shared with my son, our public discussion of such topics gets refined down to slogans, cliches, and political manipulation for partisan advantage. It's an old American propensity. Take one example. President Bush spoke a few years ago of a "global axis of evil". It places the United States in the role of white knight and defender of freedom. But that's not how the rest of the world views us anymore.

Benjamin R. Barber in his book "Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy" frames the issue in another way, identifying what he calls a "global axis of inequality". Nations and peoples around the world look at the United States with a mixture of admiration, envy, and resentment for our military and economic dominance. And that has led to a dangerous situation. We can no longer turn a blind eye to that reality.

So take a look at Andrew J. Bacevich's introduction to the current hot topic: The war in Iraq.

Downsizing: From the April 6, 2006 issue Commonweal Magazine


Andrew J. Bacevich
War, we must always remind ourselves, is the continuation of politics by other means. Understanding any war requires first understanding that war’s political basis. What brings the parties into conflict? What are they fighting for?
The challenge of grasping the politics underlying the “Global War on Terror” begins with its very name: it obfuscates rather than clarifies. To contend that the United States is currently engaged in a worldwide military campaign to root out terrorism is to perpetrate a ruse. Generically classifying our adversaries as “terrorists” or “killers” obviates any need to examine their actual purposes or, for that matter, our own. It encourages politicians to spout clichés about “good” and “evil” while permitting them to dodge any serious discussion of power and interests.
In any war, political purpose finds ultimate expression in geopolitics. This war is no exception. The contest fully joined on September 11, 2001, occurs in a concrete and readily identifiable context: the “Global War on Terror” is actually a struggle to determine who will control the Persian Gulf and its environs.


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