By Michael Shannon
don't recall exactly what it was we were watching. It may
have been an old Cagney movie or perhaps a vintage episode
of the Little Rascals. But whatever it was, its monochromatic
hues were the reason my youngest son turned to me and asked,
"Dad, when did the world become color?" Now that he is a bit
older and sticks around a little longer when I switch the
channel to catch up on the events of the day I half expect
him to rephrase the question, "Dad, when did the world become
black and white?"
Unlike my son I am old enough to remember when the world
was black and white. When it was easy to tell the good guys
from the bad. And no matter how bad the bad guys were at least
you knew who was who. Perhaps the reassurance that that feeling
of predictability lent itself to is why so many have been
so receptive to President Bush's declaration that the battlelines
of today are equally well marked. When in fact they are anything
Before I go a word further let me make perfectly clear my
own feelings; I do not question for a moment that the actions
of the murdering scum who so viciously attacked the city of
my birth were anything other than the manifestation of pure
evil. However, to better understand the motivation behind
their actions, and even more importantly how to effectively
combat their reoccurrence, is a far more complex and complicated
process than any clever sloganeering may imply. So while there
are many who relish in the fact that we have a President who
sees the world in very stark and definitive terms such simplifications
are best kept out of the geo/political arena and left where
they belong. On the bumpers of cars.
Defining a problem of the magnitude that confronts us in
such blunt and straight forward terms as Mr. Bush has chosen
to do may play well in soundbites on the 6 oclock news but
defining a problem is merely the first step. Formulating and
implementing a solution is where the fat hits the fire. Particularly
when the problem to be faced is as complex and multifaceted
as the one in front of us. Add to that the well defined tendency
that what is said in a political context and what is actually
done are often two very different things and it is apparent
that once the rhetorical smoke has cleared we are still right
where we started.
The response to Mr. Bush's pronouncements has been as polarized
as the sentiments expressed in it. Domestically is has recieved
widespread support. Not only with the populace at large but
particularly to the hearts of the Republican right wing. Mr.
Bush not only has demonized our new enemy -- a task they themselves
performed better than he or any other third party ever could
-- he has, with the declaration of a position of such apparent
moral certainty, repudiated what has long been reviled by
the right; the moral relativism of the left. To the international
community, however, this was far more than a rhetorical salvo
in a cultural war; to them it sounded like a declaration of
the real thing.
So while I too couldn't give a damn what some minister in
France has to say about the formulation of American foreign
policy, that the implementation of said policy, by definition,
has worldwide implications does make such reactions to be
expected. So too are the countless questions Mr. Bush's words
have led many to ask.
In the weeks that have followed the State of the Union address
even Mr. Bush seems to be grasping the reality that it is
one thing to characterize the objectives of a strategy in
Manichean terms and quite another to actually put it into
play. A case in point was clearly evident in Mr. Bush's recent
visit to China. Making nice with the Chinese while conveniently
downplaying their role in helping to arm two of the three
states he has so famously branded as the "axis of evil" does
nothing but make already murky waters all the more roiled.
Who exactly the United States is going to engage in battle
is only slightly less certain than how such a battle is to
be waged. It is undeniable that we have the capability of
projecting unprecedented levels of lethal force to practically
anywhere on the globe. But to think that we do so without
potentially far reaching damage to existing power structures
in a way that may come back to haunt us is foolhardy.
Theodore Roosevelt -- a man Mr. Bush has been erroneously
compared to by some -- said, "there is no question of America's
involvement in world affairs, only whether they be well or
ill served." How this current round of American involvement
will play out, regardless of the righteouness of its intent,
is no less uncertain.
Michael Shannon's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.