The Bush agenda now seems to be to build up the military to the point where it can run the entire world. Then, presumably, no one will even attempt to hurt us. It looks like Mr. Bush and his team believe in nothing less than total military rearmament. And his apologists, like Robert Kegan and William Kristol, try to excuse this unthinking, bloated approach to defending the USA from terrorists and whatever else might hurt us, by such hyperbole as claiming that all this is needed to prosecute a "wide-ranging, open-ended war to defend Western civilization."
Actually, it would be much more valuable to figure out just what it is about Western civilization that is so wonderful, and why, and to educate the world about this with something of a united voice. What exactly makes those who hate us part of an “axis of evil”? What is it about us that's so good? Only that is not what's happening. What we are getting is the repetition of emotive but utterly ambiguous buzz words, phrases and expressions that lack any clear meaning.
What exactly is our Western civilization, anyway, that's worth a firm and righteous defense? Surely making such a broad reference to us is very, very misleading. Wasn't Adolf Hitler part of Western Civilization? How about the Holy Inquisition? Or America's shameful embrace of chattel slavery? Or the oppressive class system of many Western societies? Or the shameless hooliganism of contemporary politics in most Western countries? What is it that makes Western civilization worth defending if it has, in fact, included some of the most horrible traits of humanity? Surely those are not what we should defend. But then what is it about the West worth a firm, unyielding, unapologetic and very expensive protection?
Instead of making the terrorism of September 11, 2001, just yet another excuse for building up someone's budget that of the Pentagon or the Office of Home Security why not do some clear cut investment in what we need most, namely, a network of intelligence operatives who can inform us of what our enemies are up to, and then proceed to promote those of our values that we are willing to stand by with other than empty, polemical blabber.
The values that the West has rightfully, justly promoted are not all that mysterious and should indeed be clearly identified. But that will not happen if we keep making arrogant but broad and unspecified references to Western civilization, as if that civilization has been some kind of uniform bed of roses. Yes, the West has produce the rule of law, the free market, civil libertarianism, a largely helpful tradition of science and technology, a mostly exciting and sometimes beautiful world of art and a good selection of ideals about family life, community, individuality and so forth. These do need to be clearly identified and it needs to be laid out unambiguously why they are of value to human beings anywhere, anytime.
That is a hard task. But with all this emphasis on filling the coffers of the innumerable bureaucracies in Washington and elsewhere, the most important weapons in the war on terrorism, namely, ideas, arguments, and values, will be neglected.
We all know that politicians do not enjoy getting specific about anything they fear the loss of support because people clearly differ on what is important. And these days politicians get to decide about too many matters over which widespread disagreement exists, so they cannot afford to be candid. They must equivocate, evade, dodge and obfuscate, otherwise they think they will lose a large number of potential supporters. It is better, then, to sound intense, eager, urgent, earnest, sincere and so on, without any clear clue as to what it is that they are intense, eager, urge, earnest, sincere and so on about. (And their spin-doctors have come to agree that unless politicians take the helm in most areas of concern to them, nothing will be done. So get one with the right style, never mind how much sense he or she makes.)
It'd be genuine innovation and progress if Mr. Bush & Co. made clear what it is they take to be worth defending among the values of Western civilization. It'd be possible then to win over a sizable portion of the world's population because they would be able to see that their target shouldn't be targeted at all.
Until that happens, however, all the building up of armaments will mostly increase the resolve of our enemies who look at us and focus on our errors, failures and prevarications. There is no way to win the war on terrorism by following such a strategy.
None of this is to say that competent, firm self-defense should be neglected. But we should have a self to defend here, an integrated, honorable rather than the vague, disoriented, and unfocused self that appears to lie behind our current boisterous but meaningless rhetoric put out by our leadership in Washington.
Machan, who teaches at Chapman University in Orange, California, advises Freedom Communications, Inc., on public policy matters. His most recent book is Initiative Human Agency and Society (Hoover Institution Press, 2000). His email address is Tibor_R._Machan@link.freedom.com.