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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-09-07 - 11:34 a.m.

Ptolemy vs. Copernicus All Over Again

All the emphasis on 9/11 and its aftermath at the Republican Convention reminded me of what I wrote just a few days after that awful event:

For the past several days the middle school student I am helping to homeschool had been studying the Middle East and the US/Israeli refusal to participate in the Conference on Racism. We had been reading the news and discussing the Middle East conflict. We suddenly had a new appreciation of what life must be like for those around the world who live daily with terrorism and constant unrest in their communities. How can we ever hope to repair the world when issues that face us are so far reaching and complex? How can we ever hope to heal when we already hear talk of war – of acts of revenge and retaliation that may threaten the lives of other innocent people.

As many people from countries far and near sent messages of sympathy and disbelief that something like this could happen in the U. S., the TV coverage showed Arabs cheering, perhaps speaking for many with, “Do you get it now?" Do you get now what it is like to live with constant threats of imminent violence, the ever-present anxiety and danger and fear that many people live with daily, not only in Israel, but also in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, all over the Middle East? How we in America have taken our freedom and peace for granted! Yes, now I am beginning to get it. - Excerpt from "Making Sense of the Senseless" by Joan Callaway

Economic Sanctions Are WMD

Just yesterday I read a reference to something written by John and Karl Mueller in Foreign Affairs that gave me further cause to recall what I had written. They propose that economic sanctions may well be considered the leading weapons of mass destruction, having possibly contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all the WMD’s throughout history as the civilian population does not suffer accidental or collateral damage from sanctions; it is the prime target. – To Kill a Nation by Michael Parenti

As the media pundits call out for retaliation, few try to shed some light on what might motivate some anti-US sentiment in the Middle East. One exception was ABC’s Jim Wooten, who reported that “Arabs see the U. S. as an accomplice of Israel, a partner in what they believe is the ruthless repression of Palestinian aspirations for land and independence.” He continued, “The most provocative issues: Israel's control over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem; the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia near some of Islam's holiest sites; and economic sanctions against Iraq, which have been seen to deprive children there of medicine and food."

I believe it is so important to examine the highly contentious role of the United States in the Middle East in order to illuminate some of the forces that have given rise to this violent extremism. That, I think, would contribute far more to public security than do pundits calling endlessly for indiscriminate revenge. Violence is sure to beget more violence. Posse justice resembling the “Wanted, Dead or Alive” posters of yesteryear as advocated today by our President with a smirk on his face will not resolve the situation – in the short or long term. It is my prayer that our leaders and the people across the country who are devastated by this attack on our country will act like adults, not like children in a sand pile. – From Making Sense of the Senseless - Joan Callaway

I have been heartened to hear John Kerry speak about rebuilding our alliances. I wish I’d hear even more about what David Ignatius writes about in this editorial in the N.Y. Times today:

A Copernican Foreign Policy

We Americans are sometimes like the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy. That is, we see the United States as the fixed center of the universe, with other nations and events revolving around us. I think it's one of our endearing qualities, this ebullient national self-centeredness -- except when it leads to errors in geopolitical navigation.

President Bush gave a moving evocation of this American Ptolemaism in his acceptance speech last week. "Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom," he said. Like his mentor Ronald Reagan, Bush conveyed his conviction that God has bestowed great blessings on the United States -- made it a "shining city on a hill" -- with corresponding responsibilities to lead the world.

The problem for the United States is the disconnect between this self-image and the way the rest of the world feels about us. Increasingly, people in other countries don't see America as that beacon of idealism but as something menacing. We can think they're wrong and we can choose to ignore them, but unfortunately, that won't change the way they feel.

This disconnect is clear in recent poll findings. A study released in March by the Pew Research Center found "somewhat" or "very" unfavorable views about the United States among 63 percent of those surveyed in Turkey, 61 percent in Pakistan, 93 percent in Jordan and 68 percent in Morocco. And these are our allies in the Islamic world.

The Pew study found that images of the United States were almost as negative among America's allies in "old Europe," with sharp deterioration from two years before -- 62 percent were unfavorable in France, compared with 34 percent in 2002, and 59 percent were unfavorable in Germany, compared with 35 percent before.

The same bleak trend was evident in a 2003 study co-sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a group for which I serve as a trustee. Less than half the Europeans surveyed said they wanted to see a strong U.S. presence in the world, down from 64 percent the previous year.

The Ptolemaist in me wants to tell the rest of the world to go to hell. In economic, military and political terms, the United States is the center of the universe -- and it does have a historic mission to spread its ideals of liberty and democracy. You could hear a roar of approval for this view when Bush told the Republicans last week: "I believe that America is called to lead the cause of freedom in a new century."

But we should consider the need for a Copernican revolution in the way we think about America and the world. As students of history recall, the 16th century Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus shattered conventional wisdom when he argued that Earth is not at the center of the solar system but is one of many planets revolving around the sun. This theory was a blow to the idea that God had set Earth at the center of his creation.

The importance of Copernicus was not simply that he got it right but that the truth he revealed allowed scientists to make accurate calculations at last about the Earth's orbit and the movement of other planets. Realizing that the Earth wasn't at the center of the universe didn't make earthlings any less important; it just allowed them to do their sums right.

One of John Kerry's strengths in this presidential campaign is that he's a Copernican. He understands that however powerful and important the United States may be, it isn't the fixed center of the world. There are other nations, traveling in their own orbits -- with their own cultures, traditions and values -- which must be taken into account. Kerry takes a lot of flak from Republicans for this view, but critics miss the point.

You can't wish away America's present unpopularity in the world. It's a fact, and a dangerous one. The task of leadership, especially in a time of war -- is to gather support among other nations for U.S. policies. That's a subtle process, but it begins with a recognition that however blessed America may be, it doesn't have a God-given right to tell everyone else what to do. When America tries this approach (and Bush is hardly the first president who's guilty of it), it tends to make enemies.

So in this political season, a little more Copernicus, please. Seeing America as a great nation in a system of nations, each spinning at its own speed, will help the United States navigate better in the long journey to create a stable world, where our terrorist enemies can be contained. Who knows, it could even win us more friends.

In today’s N.Y. Times, Paul Krugman in a column entitled A Mythic Reality offers Kerry some significant suggestions as to how he might counteract President Bush’s 9/11 One-Note campaign. He talks about what we all know – the nation is in the grip of a war/terrorist psychological mentality. We yearn for a President who can get us out of this mess and restore our nation’s reputation in the world and our security, at least to the degree possible in this terror-ridden world. Never mind that the President we have has blundered us even further into chaos since 9/11. Never mind that as many men have been killed in Iraq since sovereignty has been turned over as before “Mission Accomplished” was declared on that well-orchestrated aircraft carrier at the conclusion of the main part of the war. Never mind that more planning went into that well-publicized event than went into how to really win the peace.

To win, the Kerry campaign has to convince a significant number of voters that the self-proclaimed "war president" isn't an effective war leader - he only plays one on TV. This charge has the virtue of being true. It's hard to find a nonpartisan national security analyst with a good word for the Bush administration's foreign policy. Iraq, in particular, is a slow-motion disaster brought on by wishful thinking, cronyism and epic incompetence.

If I were running the Kerry campaign, I'd remind people frequently about Mr. Bush's flight-suit photo-op, when he declared the end of major combat. In fact, the war goes on unabated. News coverage of Iraq dropped off sharply after the supposed transfer of sovereignty on June 28, but as many American soldiers have died since the transfer as in the original invasion.

And I'd point out that while Mr. Bush spared no effort preparing for his carrier landing - he even received underwater survival training in the White House pool - he didn't prepare for things that actually mattered, like securing and rebuilding Iraq after Baghdad fell.

Will it work? I don't know. But to win, Mr. Kerry must try to puncture the myth that Mr. Bush's handlers have so assiduously created.

Good luck, Senators Kerry & Edwards! Give ‘em hell!

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