Sunday, August 5, 2012

End to Big Too Fail

If the architect says there’s something wrong with the building, then you know it must be true.

Last month, Sanford Weill -- a former Citigroup CEO who helped engineer our country’s financial system in the late 1990’s -- said:

What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking... and have banks do something that's not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that's not going to be too big to fail.

The man who helped conceive of the Wall Street megabanks that have a stranglehold on our economy now says it’s time to break them up. It’s confirmation of what you and I have known all along -- too big too fail is too big to manage, too big to regulate, and just too big a risk for the American people.

I’ve introduced the SAFE Banking Act to to place sensible limits on megabanks, prevent bailouts, and end “too big to fail” for good. But getting past all the special interest, pro-Wall Street powers in Washington is going to take more than just me alone -- I need you to help. Click here to show your support for ending too big to fail today.

Even after the financial collapse, from which our economy is still recovering, the nation’s largest banks continue to grow. Today, the nation’s six largest banks are controlling assets equal to a shocking 64% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
But the complexities of what they do -- and the risks associated with it -- haven’t changed. Earlier this summer, our nation’s largest bank made a trade designed to lessen its risk profile. Turns out that the move could actually wind up costing them as much as $9 billion.

Large, complex institutions undertaking large, complex financial activities have dangerous consequences, even at the best managed firms. The only way to truly protect our economic well-being, and the American taxpayers, from a repeat of what happened in 2008 is to end “too big to fail.”

Too big to fail is just too risky for Americans. That’s the message I need to get through. Sign the petition today, and help me send that message loud and clear.

Limiting how big these gargantuan institutions can grow will increase competition, get capital flowing again, and make our economy safer.

And if the guy who started the ball rolling on these gigantic banks agrees that it’s time to break them up, then that’s exactly what we need to do.

Thanks for helping me take on Wall Street.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Thoughts of Jawad Ashraf: On Malcolm and Martin

The film shows a white student girl who offers her help to Malcolm X and then gets rudely denied. It's actually based on a real-life event about which after leaving NOI Malcolm X regrets saying "Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant - the one who wanted to help the Black Muslims and the whites get together - and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a Black Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then - like all Black Muslims - I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years...."

The above quote of El Haj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) is worth at least a Ph.D. dissertation if not more. What I am about to write in my short essay is a crude exposition of what could be viewed as an introduction to such a dissertation. It is loaded with information to be extrapolated from the life experience of one of the most famous activists for justice in American history. It's on the one hand, very easy to comprehend, yet, so profound that one may require special insight to extrapolate the wisdom of the fundamental nature of activism, especially in the cause of justice. To be sure, I myself have concentrated my Masters thesis on the issue of justice from a theo-philosophical approach through the readings of the two giants in 20th century theo-philosophical thought. One is the great Muslim thinker, Muhammad Iqbal and the other, the great Protestant giant, Paul Tillich. I will try my best to not indulge too heavily in philosophy or theology but more towards the practical manifestation of any philosophical or theological approach in the establishment of justice. It's the methodology stupid!!! It's the methodological approach in the word becoming flesh. That I want to argue is the issue at hand and not a different philosophical understanding of what justice is.

There exists a certain political continuum with similar philosophical goals but with quite different methodological approaches to achieve this goal. The continuum has different opposite methodological poles. There always has existed such a continuum in major struggles and movements in the cause of justice. The goals for all have been the same, to achieve justice, however, it's the nature of the methodological approach that serves as the space between the continuum poles. The "activists" (as opposed to those who cautiously observe) are the ones that exist in this continuum. This continuum that I will delineate is my conceptual framework for my main thesis here.

Confused? Let me make it simple by asking you the following questions. When you were engaged in the civil rights movement or when you read about it, do you find yourself more in affinity with the early Malcolm X or Martin L. King? This is not just for people of color though, as you will shortly discover, color too may place you on particular pole or another. Now consider some premises before we continue any further. Were these two civil rights leaders involved in the same struggle, the cause of civil rights or not? Can their main goal, even if crudely speaking, be defined as justice? So how were they different? Violence? Hmmm. Perhaps, but one must consider that violence did and must occur, be you Jesus (as) or Muhammad (pbuh). Neither can avoid this ugly fact of activism. As for civil disobedience, I believe much has been written on how it invited violence but a certain form of violence that would become a double edge sword. A "weapon" that only the greatest of all men knew how to yield to success... the likes of Prophets and other great men like Ghandi and all those who followed such an approach. It's not so much the violence and in fact, one may argue for example, that although Malcolm was often viewed as an icon of the more violent approach, a no nonsense by any means necessary approach, that in fact, on the ground, his movement yielded the lesser amount of violence. More violence was brought upon the protesters and participants of the civil disobedience.

Let me take you to another famous example, the two towering giants of activism in the Indo-pak subcontinent under the colonization of the British Empire before the advent of King and Malcom. One was the founding father of modern India, Mahatma Ghandi and the other, the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Not much that I know of has been made in connection with that movement for freedom from colonization and the civil rights movement in America for equality and racial integration. For all practical purposes, Ghandi was the Martin L. King of the Indian freedom movement and it's no secret that King attributed his civil disobedience to Ghandi (who in turn attributed it to Jesus and Muhammad (pbuh)). Jinnah was not really like the Malcolm approach as in "by any means necessary" approach but was a critic of the civil disobedience of the Ghandi movement. He considered it a waste of time while more efforts should be spent in legal and diplomatic approaches. Of course, like Malcolm, Jinnah changed... when you discuss either of these giants, you must also discuss at what phase of their lives and must always conclude that their highest thought and wisdom existed in the latter portion of their lives. Anyhow, Ghandi's civil disobedience involved violence, but that form of violence that was heaved upon the participants of the civil disobedience. Their victimization, beatings and killings were the fuel that made civil disobedience so strong and the more violence heaved upon the participants, the stronger the movement became. It, again, becomes a double-edged sword.

Now, why have I engaged in some of these polemics of civil obedience vs. violence... it's because that's a delusion. The different methodological approaches to justice do not differ solely on violence. I do not want to sanitize civil disobedience as being completely non-violent because though the participants are not the practitioners of violence, often violence still occurs, if not itself a desired end product. It's a methodological approach. It's purpose is not to simply sit in front of a factory, business or shutting down streets. It's purpose is to gain attention of the "moral majority." It's purpose is to win the hearts and minds of the silent majority and those who cautiously observe on the sidelines. In the civil rights movement, how valuable was the coverage of people being hosed, dogs being turned on innocent civilians and people being brutally beaten and dehumanized? It was crucial and fueled the movement tremendously. However, violence undoubtedly played a central role in this methodological approach. The ends was justice. Same with Malcolm and Jinnah. The early Malcolm and Jinnah were critics of civil disobedience. However, their methodological approaches though appearing more militant as in the case with Malcolm (and more legalistic as in the case with Jinnah), historically, had the sum total results of, lesser violence. I wanna keep it to the civil rights experience in America more than that of Jinnah-Ghandi, a theme in this expose which could be developed later, precisely because the end results of the Jinnah-Ghandi continuum and that of the Malcolm-King one has very different results concerning violence: where in the Indian freedom movement and the formulation of Pakistan involved one of the largest relocation/migration of people and violence that recent memory serves while the Malcolm-King continuum lead to a relatively peaceful one in comparison to the Indo-Pak dramatic separation.

Ok, by now, I have introduced more subthemes and tangents than I originally intended but it's all to clarify something... that though Malcolms approach seemed more militant than Kings, when we discuss violence, the historical outcome was that, it was so only in rhetoric. In actuality, Kings civil disobedience, though remarkably successful, historically, had the sum total of more violence... calculated violence heaved upon them but calculated in the sense that it was expected and utilized to win a major sector of the conscious moral majority watching the political drama of history unfold before their very eyes. It was a recipe for victory, but it certainly encompassed violence, even if it was passive violence.

So let us get out the most popular terminology and semantics of differentiating the methodological approaches in the Malcolm-King continuum. Militancy and violence are two such terms that I believe were only superficial in the clarity between the two opposite poles of this continuum. It's hard to discern and disassociate when discussing these two civil rights giants due to the nature of the discourse itself as well as the development of the course that popular culture has taken it, especially with Malcolm which could be summed up by the often in-contextual utility of his "by any means necessary," statement.

So now that we have set aside "militancy" and "violence" as two usual variables in delineating the Malcom-King methodological continuum (albeit in a very crude and unrefined manner), we may now address the salient features of the Malcolm-King continuum. So, we may now legitimately ask, what is/are the major difference(s)? I'm sure there may be a few. This is not my field of expertise. I am NOT trained as a civil rights thinker... my discipline is philosophy and theology, both of which deal with civil rights, but their application to the civil rights movement is a specialty similar to the difference between a general practice doctor and a heart specialist. I'm the general practitioner analyzing the body of this movement though am not qualified to specialize in it like the heart specialist dealing with the heart of that body. You catch my drift? So you must pardon the crudeness but hopefully come to appreciate that often the general practitioner can pick up things that the specialist cannot due to perhaps the inter-discupline training (meaning permitting one to think out of the box rather than being confined to a particular specialty). Ok, enough of yet another tangent. 

Now, the salient feature of the Malcolm-King continuum which are connected by the common goal, the ether of the continuum, which was the desire for establishing justice, that salient features/variables of the different methodological poles are, inclusivity and exclusivity. Remember, concerning methodological approaches, Malcolms approach changes and thus, for the purpose of this piece, we must stick to the early Malcolm, before he split from the Nation of Islam to become the more refined mainstream Muslim. I imagine there is much in the discourse regarding the different Malcolms but it is to be noted, again, in a very general sense, that King's methodological approach does not change. It is also evident that Malcolm and King began to draw nearer to each other during the end of their intense careers of activism, both in thought and heart, however, that warrants further discussion in light of the salient feature of inclusivity which I isolated for my main thesis in the Malcolm-King continuum.

BTW, I am developing this as I type it... so things will appear crude and mistakes are bound to occur. So, lets dissect this concept of inclusivity. Is it that sophisticated that we need to "dissect" it? Lemme use a philosophical tool (yay! philosophy my discipline!!!) that we refer to as Ockhams razor. Through critical and non-critical as well as structural and non-structiral critique of methodological approaches, we have at the core, a sense of the concept of legitimacy and inclusivity. The issue at hand is, the main question: who determines this inclusivity (and thus exclusivity) and who determines legitamacy? I will discuss legitamcy in my conclusion but lets keep with inclusivity. It's time to begin tying the loose ends and bring home the main thesis. You see, the quote I referred to in the beginning of this essay was that of Malcom, El Hajj Malik el Shabazz (May God rest his soul). Let us take the context of that quote. This is the mature and more wise Malcolm who of all of the mistakes he may have made as the developing Malcolm in flux, in his earlier stages of thought and activism, chooses this particular mistake, a thing of regret to refer to. It was on his mind. It bothered him. It symbolized a current or an aspect of his methodological approach to activism in the cause of justice which he basically refers to as a mistake that cost him 12 years. Ok, now hold a sec, reread that first passage, take a deeeeep breath and breath out slooowly saying "Ooo My Gawwwd!!! Hoooly mackeral!!!" Latent in that one paragraph, that one statement is a mistake that costed Malcolm 12 years and now do you see why I initially stated that it's worthy of the introduction of at least one Ph.D. dissertation? Still don't see where I am going with this? Ok. keep your seat belts on. I'm nearing the end of the roller coaster ride here. 

Ok, so, what was the issue at hand? A white female who was emotionally charged and had the same "ultimate concern" (to borrow from Paul Tillich) as the black activist leader, and she desired inclusiveness and directly approached the brain trust of one pole of our continuum but was categorically rejected. No other act than this one act of Malcolm in the whole civil rights movement more dramatically and cogently defines the quintessential nature and differentiation of the two opposite poles of the Malcolm-King continuum. If this female went to MLK, there never would have been such a rejection. She would be incorporated as part of the growing movement which needs to reach a certain threshold, a breaking point where catalytic would occur and change comes to precipitation. Let us backtrack a little. Was the objective not the same? The objective of Malcolm and King was justice. The target population one may argue were whites, to cater to the silent moral majority and appeal to their moral conscious since any religious as well as secular humanist ideologies, be you any color, nationality or race, uphold the universal values of justice. So now that this white female, who for all practical purposes now serves as the symbol of that white target population comes to the fore and is convinced to offer her energies towards the objective of that continuum, social-justice, she is categorically and dramatically rejected... something which Malcolm accepts as a major flaw, something of deep regret and a mistake that he considers, costed him 12 years. I say, I doubt many of us would ever have believed that he felt this way and so strongly about it to use those powerful statements had he himself not said it. I also could imagine anyone who may have ventured to make these conclusions without Malcolm ever having come to these conclusions as being labeled "soft" or "sell-outs," where in fact, we'd miss the whole point in total. 

However, the undeniable fact is that Malcolm is an icon of strength and his place in popular culture itself fends of any such labeling. I am simply building the bridge. My bridge is about a 1000 times longer and hundreds of times higher than the Golden Gate bridge where many come to end their lives... this bridge is to cross and live ours. This bridge is from Malcolm to the activists that are engaged in the cause of social justice. Those words are so heavy, that again, they're worth no less than a doctoral thesis to completely fathom. However, if you cannot take it from any other, then take it from Malcolm. That passage that I quoted from him, read it again. The rejection was a mistake and a regret of Malcolm, the mature and wiser Malcolm who is reflecting his legacy in the civil rights movement. My dear activists, do not make this mistake. It's a mistake that costed Malcolm 12 year and each of his years is worth many of our years. There's a ton of things we learn from the Malcolm-King continuum but this is an important one, if not THE most important one.

You see, we only have limited resources.

****If u are more in affinity with the Malcolm pole of the continuum, then remember, it's the early Malcom against inclusivity and it's precisely that pole that he later considered a mistake and regretted... and thus, you're not truly Malcomesque in your approach. Come.. cross this bridge I built... walk over the massive torrential river of exclusivity. Save time and resources less you spend all of your time swimming against the current and end up drowning after all of your efforts. This is NOT and I mean N-O-T to say or even hint in the remotest way that we should take Malcolms early years as something regrettable...smiles. No my dear brothers and sisters... no. You see, their mistakes serve as pedagogy to posterity. Their life, the mistakes and all, serve as invaluable wisdom for posterity. We must almost be thankful that they made the mistakes so that we can learn and not repeat them. We must be grateful that they were men enough, courageous enough to do something which many if not most of our activists simply cannot do as if it's against our religion, that we are human and we make mistakes. The idea here and I don't mean to sound cliche... that we honestly learn from the mistakes, and if we do not, that in itself becomes, in my view, as disrespectful to the legacies of the civil rights giants like Malcolm and King. The statement I quoted from Malcolm can either become a tremendous source of wisdom or absolutely meaningless, a side note, a driveby in activism... bang-bang... tires screeching as we try to move on and escape the profoundness of what we just shot up.

Now for some of us, we already understand the main thesis here. For others, we may understand the idea but vaguely. Perhaps it's too abstract and we are having trouble completely understanding the manifestation of word becoming flesh, so lemme now venture in some examples which many have chosen sides by either upholding the Malcolm-King continuum with their polarized ends, while what we really need to do is to not collapse them. Actually, collapse is kinda violent imagery, so the point is, to merge one into the other and seek the ends of a unitary experience (such as a mystic has with his ultimate cause.. and there u have it folks... I juuust can't help it, it's my theological discipline urge trying to express itself, lol).

Ok, lets begin with... ummm, o yeah, Bill Cosby. Oooo, remember that one? Yeap. He said some controversial stuff no doubt. Being a Muslim I too was offended, I mean he hit a nerve about the Muslim name critique and the whole shaniqua ordeal. It was not kinda/sorta but really obnoxious of him no doubt. However here is my point. I remember activists and intellectuals alike, upset, I mean seething with anger. I mean I also remember the street response. I was working in prison at that time and I remember the tidal wave of remarks and criticisms and it appeared that in my gatherings, that was the talk of the day. I was consistantly sought out for my opinion precisely because, surprise-surprise! Jawad was defending Cosby? Yessir. It's true. I made my problems with his statements clear, however, I also made clear the whole picture which I felt everyone, especially the "street" activist was totally missing. All of a sudden, I had people actually like disgusted so much with Cosby and telling him to shut up and that he didn't know what it was like to be on the street, the hood... blah-blah-blahhhhh. My inner core visceral response was to tell the so-called street activist that, they were rediclously delusional, however, if I went that strong in my critcism to their critique of Cosby, then I fall right in the middle of the polarization of the Malcolm-King continuum. So, my objective was to make a point and a cogent one. Here is Cosby, someone who has spent a LOT of his money and time in what he sincerely believes are good charities, being vocal for good causes (albeit towards the more elite/bourgeouisie ends). Knowing this, you're gonna completely deligitimize this brother because he made a few remarks being passionate for his people and even though he is wrong for the remarks, his context is that he is so frustrated in seeing his peoples in the condition that they are. So, we are just gonna sit here and spend our time and energies in rhetoric which is devisive? We are going to fuel the fire that satan sets to change our trajectory off the ultimate cause of social justice to simply keep attacking this brother and it's not just on the remarks which I repeat, I too had problems with but people started banging him like the dude is somehow an anathema to the movement? It certainly appeared that way. Then, what enraged me is that the very same freakin people, spend their time, energy and valuable resources DEFENDING dumb ass rap artists who engage in misogyny, gang-banging, violence and everything destructive to ANY race as art in the context of voice of the streets. NOOOOO, No Sir. Public Enemy, KRS-1, PRT and their likes are artists who are the voices of the street and if they drop an f-bomb here and there, no probs... it's art.. it's the streets... I don't need a dumb ass of an MC who is making money and ONLY intends to make money off glorifying the worse in human values and then hide behind the concept of "art." If you're defending that, then your mucked-up. Sorry, it is what it is. Malcolm, King and any major or minor civil rights leader in this country or the history of the world would never ever defend that filth of filth as art or as anything that an "activist" involved in social justice should ever support, rather, do you not think that if any of these, including Malcolm and Martin, if they were alive would not have in the strongest terms, denounced and rejected that as an art if not an absolute destructive force against the very thing that they spent their lives trying to prevent? Seriously, they are NOT representing the voices of the streets. They want NOTHING except money, women and fame, period. So, you wanna spend your time and resources (and time is money in these days) to down Cosby and support filth? You damned straight I take my stance. I'm consistent and at home with my stance, it's the yokels that down Cosby and support the destructive forces that need to defend their positions. Trust me, it's so damned evident, that the only way to support the counter is through sophistry, and pardon my Socratic critique but these people who think they're keeping it "real" are ummmmm just too ummmmm tooooo disconnected with reality and history? History is not just dates and events. Sigh. So many out there could quote sooo may dates and events and we get impressed. Omg, that brother/sister is "deep." No, that brother and sister is so, let me term, soooo "wikipedic." There's no profoundness to that, like the people who memorize the telephone book, a great feat but a feat in memorization. There's no value. I mean they're shit out luck even moreso today cause our phones got phonebanks so they become totally invaluable, lmao. Ok, lemme stop. Anyhow, go beyond facts and dates my dear "deep" brothers and sisters. Engage in principals and contexts. Engage in lessons and dialectical discourse. Go beyond rhetoric and saying things just because everyone else is saying them or wants to hear them and so u refine your talents to just say it better. Like a car... be producers of better cars than the buffer to make the existing one shinier... you get my drift? Step up and denounce the crap that hijacked hip-hop despite having to becoming unpopular because what? You dare critique 50 and snoop? Ummmm, yeap and so would Malcolm and King, Muhammad (pbuh) and Jesus who walked on water... so while I stand on stronger foundations you sink trying to walk on water.

So, back to Cosby, when we attack him in the manner that he was attacked, what was on the line and what veiled the whole controversy was that core issue of inclusivity. Is Bill like us? Is Bill legitimate? In other words, do we all make individual decisions whether Bill is "in" or "out" in the world of activism. If that was not the original intention, it soon became the central point, sometimes inconspicuously and sometimes conspicuously. Bill becomes the white female that Malcolm rejected and regretted. The Malcom-King continuum are injected with a fresh dosage of energy and the polar ends of the continuum become charged... come, come and cross the bridge to Malcom that I built. Let the torrential river of exclusivity flow beneath you. Stop wasting your time.

Lets take more examples. Ah, how about Obama himself. During his campaign, you had a few instances worthy of discussion in the structural famework that I propose in the Malcolm-King continuum. Let us go back to Rev. Wright. You have a campaign where you got on one side, McCain-Palin (and the seeds of the tea party by default) against Obama-Biden. Now, does it take an ivy league intellectual, does it take a rap artist or a think-tank to figure the most obvious of all conclusions, that if you are for social justice, Obama-Biden is the ticket for you. Does it also take a profound thinker to figure out that the opposition will use ANYTHING they could get, ANYTHING to ensure that Obama loses and thus, bring in a crisis in social and economic justice like we've not seen since perhaps the great depression. We all agree to this right? I mean it can't get any simpler right? However, you had "activists" and some high profile ones who criticized Obama for dissociating himself from Rev. Wright. I remember my "Are you freakin kiding me?" reaction. Obviously we are not all on the same page. We are willing to sacrifice it all for our ego or misguided and often rash judgments. You see, the intelligence communities knew all too well about these tendencies and used many activists in the "cause" to cancel each other out. This is one tactic they used in cointel-pro and had panther leaders acting like rash radicals on public tv and in one shot, deligitimize them. The moral majority and those who cautiously observe on the sidelines do not want any part of that and may even feel threatened by the very behaviorism and mannerisms of leaders acting out like the way they were setup for on national tv.... the blame is on us, not the cointel-pro.. that's their job's objective which they executed with perfection. Now, back to Rev. Wright. I was in disbelief when certain people began to criticize Obama from dissociating himself from Rev. Wright. Really? You want the man to risk the freakin presidency and even if it lead to giving only one atoms weight more to the McCain-Palin campaign, well, that's one atoms weight too much to chance it considering the ramifications. I was dumbfounded as to the audacity of not the opposition, which was doing it's bigoted thang, but at the very people who made the appearance of being involved in the struggle for social justice. I was infuriated. Once again, it was an instance of questioning Obama's inclusivity. The Malcom-King continuum received a fresh dose, a charge of energy that charged the polarities. Come, come and cross the bridge to Malcom that I built. Let the torrential river of exclusivity flow beneath you. Stop wasting your time.

Now, this contiuum shall exist but my objective is to bring the polar ends closer, and ideally, we get dissolution of one into the other... a unity. You see, I am not saying that we must shut down any opposition/perspective to any of the public and not so public figures. There's always a time and context to everything. Time is divine and context is time become flesh much like the word become flesh. Take both seriously enough to not abuse them. Remember, the Malcolm-King continuum is my conceptual structural framework where the poles are Malcolm (and one methodological approach) and King (who represents the opposite pole of methodological approach) in the ether/context of social justice. The poles like +/- terminals of a battery are inclusivity (King) and exclusivity (Malcolm). The end goal is social justice. Often we get lost in methodological approach and lose sight of the end goal of social justice... lose sight and become so blinded that we make inclusivity and exclusivity... legit or not legit, the pseudo ends. That's the danger of this continuum. The goal of all serious activists must be the realization towards the anhilation of one pole into the other because once you have that unitary merger, its the most powerful force on earth. That means we need to perhaps do the opposite of what we have become accustomed to. Instead of criticizing and making a case towards exclusivity and thereby charging that continuum and playing your part in establishing the destructive polar ends, we need to concentrate and spend our energies on destroying this continuum and establishing the unitary experience through activism with the original and most high of all aspirations, social justice.

Originally, I suppose the idea that inspired this piece was to address directly, what was interestingly termed as the "white savior industrial complex." Gee, I hate to be hated, sigh. However, despite the original intent and the catchy title, it to me, almost like one who has that street sense, feel that despite it's original intent, lead to the polarization of that terrible continuum. You see, I read the twitter statements. I read his commentry on the the pronounciations. Often like poetry, there's deep layers of understanding and I must admit, they were profound no doubt. However, I cannot but conclude that they lead to destructive and constructive ends as they were perhaps intended. It's also possible that I read them out of context but it's not likely since I read his own commentary on them.. smiles. Lemme take the makers of Kony 2012 or the George Clooney Sudan initiative to bring attention to some major humanitarian crisis in Africa. I will go further and include acid attacks on women in Pakistan, something which I kinda feel that I should include, lest the polarizers out there point their finger at me and push me off into the torrential river of exclusivity...smiles. So here is the deal. On the one hand, it's true that our governments have a hand in many crisis around the world. To give you some recent examples, consider the Arab Spring. The very problematic which we support in the cause of social justice, the injustice, was set up by neo-colonization (which means, our governments) and thus, we come around in the full circle eh? How about this one, the al-qaida organization which was formed due to our support and arming of the Arab jihadists to fight the Soviets and then abandoning them in Afghanistan as the "who cares what happens to them in the failed state that WE created..." to the so-called war on terrorism which, our government created, again, the full circle, eh? Lastly, the Iraq wars and a Saddam that we fought not once, but twice, was an individual which we supported, armed and kept in power to ensure our Middle East policy of regional balancing... so you get the point. You see, with the onset of tv and the first Iraq war, you had for the first time, military utility of the media to sanitize it. It was unlike Vietnam where it worked against the military and lead to a massive anti-war movement. In Iraq, the media was actually made as a weapon in the military machinery and Douglass Kellner in his "The Persian Gulf Tv War," made this elaborate point with cogency. I know I am going into a tangent but it's ok... this is not a formal essay, smiles. Anyhow, the point in all of these things is that most people are ignorant and the very things that are are supposed to inform us, the institutions of mass media, these things have been taken over by corporate and military interests. Half the problem of an activist is information, to educate, but that is not what I am discussing here. What I am try to say is that why are not the Cosbys and the Clooneys speaking "truth to power" to sum it up succinctly. Even the brother man in power (Obama), he is IN power... why can't he change x,y and z, as if we expect him to be the second coming of Christ or something. You see, it's ok to think ideally as long as we speak and act practically and pragmatically. However, when we engage in the polarization of that Malcolm-King continuum, then it's almost ALWAYS done via sacrificing the lambs of pragmacy and practicality. You see, as an activist and as a sincere practitioner as well as lover of social justice, one wants every means exhausted to ensure as much of it as possible. I want not only activism on the streets, in various institutions but also at the highest levels of governments, organizations, hollywood, sports, popular culture, in effect, EVERYWHERE. I support it everywhere. However once we begin charging the continuum and playing inclusive/exclusive politics, we fuel the destructive polarization of that continuum. You see, if it is difficult to get Kony on the mass media, then I WANT Kony 2012 and I can't fault the film makers for creating the problem to begin with or not representing this aspect or that aspect because IF they do, then they could not get the venue and the media attraction that they now command.

I WANT a person who has a track record of social justice and being a community organizer (as Obama was) working with the poeple. I want a populist up there but you know what, pragmacy must reign supreme here. That does NOT mean that we will get a fist raising speak truth to power radical in office. That will NEVER happen. PRAGMACY people... get REAL. Get out of the clouds and touch the ground again. Obama cannot do anything that even gives him the slightest depiction of the angry black man. Can we all get past that? Please look at his context and what he must deal with. I mean, my being Muslim is the most supreme cultural and moral value to ME and sure, I would love to see Obama liberate Palestine and Kashmir and other ares where Muslims are oppressed, but seriously, I cannot even pretend to be dreaming innocence without coming to the obvious reality on the ground, that he cannot do any of that, atleast not overtly without sacrificing the presidency. In that case for me as a lover of social justice, it would be devastating because of who becomes president that could fill his shoes? Either that or he would be dealt with by the real powers that be... don't think it has not happened before!

So think pragmatically. Same with Bill Cosby. If he became the flaming Farrakhan, do you seriously think any other elite among his social circle would stay with him, listen to him and get involved with his causes of social justice? LOL. You'd be freakin delusional.

How about Clooney, how wood hollywood treat him? Lets say Clooney became Muslim tomorrow, a devout Muslim, do u think it would be the same? hmmmm. I mean, I hope to God everyone becomes Muslim, lol, however, am I gonna down Clooney for what he's doing? The makers of Kony 2012, am I gonna psycho-analyze the white savior industrial complex? What purpose does it serve? Would it be better that they just sit back and enjoy their millions consuming and expressing their libido urges? No, and we may not be rejecting them directly like Malcolm did to that white female but we are certainly implying that and such thought can do nothing except to discourage such people to get involved in some or in ANY cause rather than liposuction and breast enhancements. Of course, I can hear it coming already... yeeees people, they should be strong enough to withstand such criticism if they really cared for a cause, but stop the press... why can't YOU be strong enough to refrain from such criticism which if it had ANY practical and pragmatic purpose, I'd support but from the face of it, it serves no purpose but to charge the continuum. Come, come and cross the bridge to Malcom that I built. Let the torrential river of exclusivity flow beneath you. Stop wasting your time.

My view is that we vie for every available source and resource in our cause for social justice. We need the street activist, the intellectual think tanks and acadamicians, the organizers, the politicians and hollywood... we need the popular culture and sports. You know what what we really need? Here's the grand slam to the 3-2 bases loaded 2 out bottom of the ninth with a score of 4-1... we all need to fit the niche of the eco-system of social justice. A niche is unique. Not all could fit it. When you find the the thing that fits the niche, that thing must maintain its essence to remain efficient in its niche and to keep the whole ecosystem running. Once the thing changes its essence, it can no longer fit the particular niche which in turn effects the whole ecosystem. That means, we all need to do the inverse of what we are used to. We must become engaged in inclusive rather than exclusive politics. We NEED Cosby to do is thing and fit his niche which a street radical could not do. We need the street activist to do his/her thing which the Cosbys of the ecosystem cannot do. We need the think-tanks, acadamicians, the wealthy philanthropists.... so on and so forth for each to do their things in the manner that they do it WITHOUT excluding them from the ecosystem. Furthermore, we need to be especially careful when we want to voice our dissatisfaction with the system without disenfranchising and excluding others due to race.

Below is my unorthodox conclusion to this unorthodox essay lacking most formalities. It's a few point conclusion:

You see, let me also add that my main point when we we charge up this Malcolm-King continuum and make distinct the two opposite poles when we get acts and events that lead to polarization, it's almost always done through the sacrifice of pragamacy.

See it and treat it (the different approaches) more as a niche in the ecosystem of justice rather than competition for predominance in the animal kingdom.

Often we critique a country trying to do something for an impoverished country or one that had a disaster or famine. The alternative would be to avoid or reject the help with our fists raised in the air however, it's often those who are not directly suffering that do that. We cannot REPLACE the voice of the oppressed, rather we must BECOME their voice. If we ignore the mouths, we become like the oppressors and these mouths become collateral damage while we try to pursue the end goals fixing the problem. The KONY children become collateral damage. The people who suffer in every oppression become collateral damage. The Jews of the holocaust become collateral damage... we need to inject realism and be propelled to take a multi-faceted action plan as our methodical approach to such things. Otherwise, we begin to cancel out each other.. our energies go towards eliminating or devaluing or debilitating each other though both intend justice. So, the twitter verses were important in one objective, to introduce or make cogent, the central theme of the nuances incorporated in the title, "white savior industrial complex," but in practical terms and in essence, it also lends currency to the polarization of that Malcolm-King continuity and may end up being something destructive. Now in fairness, I can critique my own. I saw the documentaries on the acid attacks in the subcontinent. You see, I get pissed when I see them. I get pissed at the perpetrators and the horrific reality of them. What I get pissed at is at the picture created that this is happening like everywhere, like a movie coming to your neighborhood soon. Like every other Pakistani woman you see is being attacked with acid or something. It exist but is made to appear that it is a million times in volume than it really is. Anyhow, as for the activist that try to bring attention to the fore, I can never get involved in exclusivity politics despite the fact that their information and documentaries are heralded as classical orientalist sensationalism. So, in like a Kony 2012 documentary, a Bono concert and meeting with foreign dignitaries or a Clooney arrest, we should not disenfranchise their efforts since they bring the much needed attention. O, but you may argue, who is disenfranchising them? Well, art is powerful... so though the words like "white savior industrial complex" may intend to introduce other realities behind the very crisis of human rights, it also serves as a powerful catalyst in charging that continuum and I, despite popular sentiment, feel that it does have an aura of exclusivity, much like Malcolm telling that white teenager that she could not help despite her deep desires to do so.

Same with Obama election... yes, he IS part of the complex... however, does that mean we abandon his campaign? We can't afford to think or act like that... otherwise, we would be far worse off with the alternative. Every activist should be trained in maintaining their principals ideally but learn to work practically. They must learn to not do or say anything that would polarize the Malcolm-King continuum and endanger the very objective of every actor within that continuum for the cause of social justice. Every niche is necessary.

Pick a cause... not all can pick all causes. It's better than to sit home and do nothing. Did I see Jesse, Sharpton or any major deals lead a march for the Bosnians? You can't do everything... u are limited in resources and time... however, the point is, we can voice that we'd like people to speak out against every injustice... that is legitimate but as long as someone is wholly engaged in fighting against AN injustice, regardless of methodological approach, they are to be commended and not turned away like that white female which Malcolm regretted.... learn from out forefathers in justice.

As for the Muslim readers, no more must be said than one powerful verse in the Qur'an and having the Qur'an, you could have skipped the lengthy piece and understood exactly what I am saying by just reading one part of one verse: Enjoin the good and forbid the evil. We support ANYONE in the act of good (and justice) and we support ANYONE in forbidding the evil.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Clear and Present Safety The United States Is More Secure Than Washington Thinks - Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen

Last August, the Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney performed what has become a quadrennial rite of passage in American presidential politics: he delivered a speech to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. His message was rooted in another grand American tradition: hyping foreign threats to the United States. It is “wishful thinking,” Romney declared, “that the world is becoming a safer place. The opposite is true. Consider simply the jihadists, a near-nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, an unstable Pakistan, a delusional North Korea, an assertive Russia, and an emerging global power called China. No, the world is not becoming safer.”

Not long after, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta echoed Romney’s statement. In a lecture last October, Panetta warned of threats arising “from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from rogue states to cyber attacks; from revolutions in the Middle East, to economic crisis in Europe, to the rise of new powers such as China and India. All of these changes represent security, geopolitical, economic, and demographic shifts in the international order that make the world more unpredictable, more volatile and, yes, more dangerous.” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurred in a recent speech, arguing that “the number and kinds of threats we face have increased significantly.” And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced the point by claiming that America resides today in a “very complex, dangerous world.”

Within the foreign policy elite, there exists a pervasive belief that the post–Cold War world is a treacherous place, full of great uncertainty and grave risks. A 2009 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 69 percent of members of the Council on Foreign Relations believed that for the United States at that moment, the world was either as dangerous as or more dangerous than it was during the Cold War. Similarly, in 2008, the Center for American Progress surveyed more than 100 foreign policy experts and found that 70 percent of them believed that the world was becoming more dangerous. Perhaps more than any other idea, this belief shapes debates on U.S. foreign policy and frames the public’s understanding of international affairs.

In the United States, the chances of dying from a terrorist attack or in a military conflict have fallen almost to zero.

There is just one problem. It is simply wrong. The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools.

This reality is barely reflected in U.S. national security strategy or in American foreign policy debates. President Barack Obama’s most recent National Security Strategy aspires to “a world in which America is stronger, more secure, and is able to overcome our challenges while appealing to the aspirations of people around the world.” Yet that is basically the world that exists today. The United States is the world’s most powerful nation, unchallenged and secure. But the country’s political and policy elite seems unwilling to recognize this fact, much less integrate it into foreign policy and national security decision-making.

The disparity between foreign threats and domestic threat-mongering results from a confluence of factors. The most obvious and important is electoral politics. Hyping dangers serves the interests of both political parties. For Republicans, who have long benefited from attacking Democrats for their alleged weakness in the face of foreign threats, there is little incentive to tone down the rhetoric; the notion of a dangerous world plays to perhaps their greatest political advantage. For Democrats, who are fearful of being cast as feckless, acting and sounding tough is a shield against GOP attacks and an insurance policy in case a challenge to the United States materializes into a genuine threat. Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government -- defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.

There is also a pernicious feedback loop at work. Because of the chronic exaggeration of the threats facing the United States, Washington overemphasizes military approaches to problems (including many that could best be solved by nonmilitary means). The militarization of foreign policy leads, in turn, to further dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of any effort to rebalance U.S. national security spending or trim the massive military budget -- warnings that are inevitably bolstered by more threat exaggeration. Last fall, General Norton Schwartz, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said that defense cuts that would return military spending to its 2007 level would undermine the military’s “ability to protect the nation” and could create “dire consequences.” Along the same lines, Panetta warned that the same reductions would “invite aggression” from enemies. These are a puzzling statements given that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the next 14 countries’ defense budgets combined and that the United States still maintains weapons systems designed to fight an enemy that disappeared 20 years ago.

Of course, threat inflation is not new. During the Cold War, although the United States faced genuine existential threats, American political leaders nevertheless hyped smaller threats or conflated them with larger ones. Today, there are no dangers to the United States remotely resembling those of the Cold War era, yet policymakers routinely talk in the alarmist terms once used to describe superpower conflict. Indeed, the mindset of the United States in the post-9/11 world was best (albeit crudely) captured by former Vice President Dick Cheney. While in office, Cheney promoted the idea that the United States must prepare for even the most remote threat as though it were certain to occur. The journalist Ron Suskind termed this belief “the one percent doctrine,” a reference to what Cheney called the “one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon.” According to Suskind, Cheney insisted that the United States must treat such a remote potential threat “as a certainty in terms of our response.”

Such hair-trigger responsiveness is rarely replicated outside the realm of national security, even when the government confronts problems that cause Americans far more harm than any foreign threat. According to an analysis by the budget expert Linda Bilmes and the economist Joseph Stiglitz, in the ten years since 9/11, the combined direct and indirect costs of the U.S. response to the murder of almost 3,000 of its citizens have totaled more than $3 trillion. A study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated that during an overlapping period, from 2000 to 2006, 137,000 Americans died prematurely because they lacked health insurance. Although the federal government maintains robust health insurance programs for older and poor Americans, its response to a national crisis in health care during that time paled in comparison to its response to the far less deadly terrorist attacks.

Rather than Cheney’s one percent doctrine, what the United States actually needs is a 99 percent doctrine: a national security strategy based on the fact that the United States is a safe and well-protected country and grounded in the reality that the opportunities for furthering U.S. interests far exceed the threats to them. Fully comprehending the world as it is today is the best way to keep the United States secure and resistant to the overreactions that have defined its foreign policy for far too long.


The United States, along with the rest of the world, currently faces a period of economic and political uncertainty. But consider four long-term global trends that underscore just how misguided the constant fear-mongering in U.S. politics is: the falling prevalence of violent conflict, the declining incidence of terrorism, the spread of political freedom and prosperity, and the global improvement in public health. In 1992, there were 53 armed conflicts raging in 39 countries around the world; in 2010, there were 30 armed conflicts in 25 countries. Of the latter, only four have resulted in at least 1,000 battle-related deaths and can therefore be classified as wars, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program: the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia, two of which were started by the United States.

Today, wars tend to be low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s. Indeed, the first decade of this century witnessed fewer deaths from war than any decade in the last century. Meanwhile, the world’s great powers have not fought a direct conflict in more than 60 years -- “the longest period of major power peace in centuries,” as the Human Security Report Project puts it. Nor is there much reason for the United States to fear such a war in the near future: no state currently has the capabilities or the inclination to confront the United States militarily.

Washington should not assume that every problem in the world demands a U.S. response.
Much of the fear that suffuses U.S. foreign policy stems from the trauma of 9/11. Yet although the tactic of terrorism remains a scourge in localized conflicts, between 2006 and 2010, the total number of terrorist attacks declined by almost 20 percent, and the number of deaths caused by terrorism fell by 35 percent, according to the U.S. State Department. In 2010, more than three-quarters of all victims of terrorism -- meaning deliberate, politically motivated violence by nonstate groups against noncombatant targets -- were injured or killed in the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia. Of the 13,186 people killed by terrorist attacks in 2010, only 15, or 0.1 percent, were U.S. citizens. In most places today -- and especially in the United States -- the chances of dying from a terrorist attack or in a military conflict have fallen almost to zero.

As violence and war have abated, freedom and democratic governance have made great gains. According to Freedom House, there were 69 electoral democracies at the end of the Cold War; today, there are 117. And during that time, the number of autocracies declined from 62 to 48. To be sure, in the process of democratizing, states with weak political institutions can be more prone to near-term instability, civil wars, and interstate conflict. Nevertheless, over time, democracies tend to have healthier and better-educated citizens, almost never go to war with other democracies, and are less likely to fight nondemocracies.

Economic bonds among states are also accelerating, even in the face of a sustained global economic downturn. Today, 153 countries belong to the World Trade Organization and are bound by its dispute-resolution mechanisms. Thanks to lowered trade barriers, exports now make up more than 30 percent of gross world product, a proportion that has tripled in the past 40 years. The United States has seen its exports to the world’s fastest-growing economies increase by approximately 500 percent over the past decade. Currency flows have exploded as well, with $4 trillion moving around the world in foreign exchange markets every day. Remittances, an essential instrument for reducing poverty in developing countries, have more than tripled in the past decade, to more than $440 billion each year. Partly as a result of these trends, poverty is on the decline: in 1981, half the people living in the developing world survived on less than $1.25 a day; today, that figure is about one-sixth. Like democratization, economic development occasionally brings with it significant costs. In particular, economic liberalization can strain the social safety net that supports a society’s most vulnerable populations and can exacerbate inequalities. Still, from the perspective of the United States, increasing economic interdependence is a net positive because trade and foreign direct investment between countries generally correlate with long-term economic growth and a reduced likelihood of war.

A final trend contributing to the relative security of the United States is the improvement in global health and well-being. People in virtually all countries, and certainly in the United States, are living longer and healthier lives. In 2010, the number of people who died from AIDS-related causes declined for the third year in a row. Tuberculosis rates continue to fall, as do the rates of polio and malaria. Child mortality has plummeted worldwide, thanks in part to expanded access to health care, sanitation, and vaccines. In 1970, the global child mortality rate (deaths of children under five per 1,000) was 141; in 2010, it was 57. In 1970, global average life expectancy was 59, and U.S. life expectancy was 70. Today, the global figure is just under 70, and the U.S. figure is 79. These vast improvements in health and well-being contribute to the global trend toward security and safety because countries with poor human development are more war-prone.


None of this is meant to suggest that the United States faces no major challenges today. Rather, the point is that the problems confronting the country are manageable and pose minimal risks to the lives of the overwhelming majority of Americans. None of them -- separately or in combination -- justifies the alarmist rhetoric of policymakers and politicians or should lead to the conclusion that Americans live in a dangerous world.

Take terrorism. Since 9/11, no security threat has been hyped more. Considering the horrors of that day, that is not surprising. But the result has been a level of fear that is completely out of proportion to both the capabilities of terrorist organizations and the United States’ vulnerability. On 9/11, al Qaeda got tragically lucky. Since then, the United States has been preparing for the one percent chance (and likely even less) that it might get lucky again. But al Qaeda lost its safe haven after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and further military, diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts have decimated the organization, which has essentially lost whatever ability it once had to seriously threaten the United States.

According to U.S. officials, al Qaeda’s leadership has been reduced to two top lieutenants: Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi. Panetta has even said that the defeat of al Qaeda is “within reach.” The near collapse of the original al Qaeda organization is one reason why, in the decade since 9/11, the U.S. homeland has not suffered any large-scale terrorist assaults. All subsequent attempts have failed or been thwarted, owing in part to the incompetence of their perpetrators. Although there are undoubtedly still some terrorists who wish to kill Americans, their dreams will likely continue to be frustrated by their own limitations and by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies of the United States and its allies.

As the threat from transnational terrorist groups dwindles, the United States also faces few risks from other states. China is the most obvious potential rival to the United States, and there is little doubt that China’s rise will pose a challenge to U.S. economic interests. Moreover, there is an unresolved debate among Chinese political and military leaders about China’s proper global role, and the lack of transparency from China’s senior leadership about its long-term foreign policy objectives is a cause for concern. However, the present security threat to the U.S. mainland is practically nonexistent and will remain so. Even as China tries to modernize its military, its defense spending is still approximately one-ninth that of the United States. In 2012, the Pentagon will spend roughly as much on military research and development alone as China will spend on its entire military.

While China clumsily flexes its muscles in the Far East by threatening to deny access to disputed maritime resources, a recent Pentagon report noted that China’s military ambitions remain dominated by “regional contingencies” and that the People’s Liberation Army has made little progress in developing capabilities that “extend global reach or power projection.” In the coming years, China will enlarge its regional role, but this growth will only threaten U.S. interests if Washington attempts to dominate East Asia and fails to consider China’s legitimate regional interests. It is true that China’s neighbors sometimes fear that China will not resolve its disputes peacefully, but this has compelled Asian countries to cooperate with the United States, maintaining bilateral alliances that together form a strong security architecture and limit China’s room to maneuver.

The strongest arguments made by those warning of Chinese influence revolve around economic policy. The list of complaints includes a host of Chinese policies, from intellectual property theft and currency manipulation to economic espionage and domestic subsidies. Yet none of those is likely to lead to direct conflict with the United States beyond the competition inherent in international trade, which does not produce zero-sum outcomes and is constrained by dispute-resolution mechanisms, such as those of the World Trade Organization. If anything, China’s export-driven economic strategy, along with its large reserves of U.S. Treasury bonds, suggests that Beijing will continue to prefer a strong United States to a weak one.


It is a matter of faith among many American politicians that Iran is the greatest danger now facing the country. But if that is true, then the United States can breathe easy: Iran is a weak military power. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran’s “military forces have almost no modern armor, artillery, aircraft or major combat ships, and UN sanctions will likely obstruct the purchase of high-technology weapons for the foreseeable future.”

Tehran’s stated intention to project its interests regionally through military or paramilitary forces has made Iran its own worst enemy. Iran’s neighbors are choosing to balance against the Islamic Republic rather than fall in line behind its leadership. In 2006, Iran’s favorability rating in Arab countries stood at nearly 80 percent; today, it is under 30 percent. Like China’s neighbors in East Asia, the Gulf states have responded to Iran’s belligerence by participating in an emerging regional security arrangement with the United States, which includes advanced conventional weapons sales, missile defenses, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises, all of which have further isolated Iran.

Of course, the gravest concerns about Iran focus on its nuclear activities. Those fears have led to some of the most egregiously alarmist rhetoric: at a Republican national security debate in November, Romney claimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “the greatest threat the world faces.” But it remains unclear whether Tehran has even decided to pursue a bomb or has merely decided to develop a turnkey capability. Either way, Iran’s leaders have been sufficiently warned that the United States would respond with overwhelming force to the use or transfer of nuclear weapons. Although a nuclear Iran would be troubling to the region, the United States and its allies would be able to contain Tehran and deter its aggression -- and the threat to the U.S. homeland would continue to be minimal.

Overblown fears of a nuclear Iran are part of a more generalized American anxiety about the continued potential of nuclear attacks. Obama’s National Security Strategy claims that “the American people face no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon.” According to the document, “international peace and security is threatened by proliferation that could lead to a nuclear exchange. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the risk of a nuclear attack has increased.”

If the context is a state-against-state nuclear conflict, the latter assertion is patently false. The demise of the Soviet Union ended the greatest potential for international nuclear conflict. China, with only 72 intercontinental nuclear missiles, is eminently deterrable and not a credible nuclear threat; it has no answer for the United States’ second-strike capability and the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons with which the United States could strike China.

In the past decade, Cheney and other one-percenters have frequently warned of the danger posed by loose nukes or uncontrolled fissile material. In fact, the threat of a nuclear device ending up in the hands of a terrorist group has diminished markedly since the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was dispersed across all of Russia’s 11 time zones, all 15 former Soviet republics, and much of eastern Europe. Since then, cooperative U.S.-Russian efforts have resulted in the substantial consolidation of those weapons at far fewer sites and in comprehensive security upgrades at almost all the facilities that still possess nuclear material or warheads, making the possibility of theft or diversion unlikely. Moreover, the lessons learned from securing Russia’s nuclear arsenal are now being applied in other countries, under the framework of Obama’s April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, which produced a global plan to secure all nuclear materials within four years. Since then, participants in the plan, including Chile, Mexico, Ukraine, and Vietnam, have fulfilled more than 70 percent of the commitments they made at the summit.

Pakistan represents another potential source of loose nukes. The United States’ military strategy in Afghanistan, with its reliance on drone strikes and cross-border raids, has actually contributed to instability in Pakistan, worsened U.S. relations with Islamabad, and potentially increased the possibility of a weapon falling into the wrong hands. Indeed, Pakistani fears of a U.S. raid on its nuclear arsenal have reportedly led Islamabad to disperse its weapons to multiple sites, transporting them in unsecured civilian vehicles. But even in Pakistan, the chances of a terrorist organization procuring a nuclear weapon are infinitesimally small. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and successive senior U.S. government officials have repeated what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in January 2010: that the United States is “very comfortable with the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

A more recent bogeyman in national security debates is the threat of so-called cyberwar. Policymakers and pundits have been warning for more than a decade about an imminent “cyber–Pearl Harbor” or “cyber-9/11.” In June 2011, then Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said that “bits and bytes can be as threatening as bullets and bombs.” And in September 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described cyberattacks as an “existential” threat that “actually can bring us to our knees.”

Although the potential vulnerability of private businesses and government agencies to cyberattacks has increased, the alleged threat of cyberwarfare crumbles under scrutiny. No cyberattack has resulted in the loss of a single U.S. citizen’s life. Reports of “kinetic-like” cyberattacks, such as one on an Illinois water plant and a North Korean attack on U.S. government servers, have proved baseless. Pentagon networks are attacked thousands of times a day by individuals and foreign intelligence agencies; so, too, are servers in the private sector. But the vast majority of these attacks fail wherever adequate safeguards have been put in place. Certainly, none is even vaguely comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and most can be offset by commonsense prevention and mitigation efforts.


Defenders of the status quo might contend that chronic threat inflation and an overmilitarized foreign policy have not prevented the United States from preserving a high degree of safety and security and therefore are not pressing problems. Others might argue that although the world might not be dangerous now, it could quickly become so if the United States grows too sanguine about global risks and reduces its military strength. Both positions underestimate the costs and risks of the status quo and overestimate the need for the United States to rely on an aggressive military posture driven by outsized fears.

Since the end of the Cold War, most improvements in U.S. security have not depended primarily on the country’s massive military, nor have they resulted from the constantly expanding definition of U.S. national security interests. The United States deserves praise for promoting greater international economic interdependence and open markets and, along with a host of international and regional organizations and private actors, more limited credit for improving global public health and assisting in the development of democratic governance. But although U.S. military strength has occasionally contributed to creating a conducive environment for positive change, those improvements were achieved mostly through the work of civilian agencies and nongovernmental actors in the private and nonprofit sectors. The record of an overgrown post–Cold War U.S. military is far more mixed. Although some U.S.-led military efforts, such as the NATO intervention in the Balkans, have contributed to safer regional environments, the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have weakened regional and global security, leading to hundreds of thousands of casualties and refugee crises (according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 45 percent of all refugees today are fleeing the violence provoked by those two wars). Indeed, overreactions to perceived security threats, mainly from terrorism, have done significant damage to U.S. interests and threaten to weaken the global norms and institutions that helped create and sustain the current era of peace and security. None of this is to suggest that the United States should stop playing a global role; rather, it should play a different role, one that emphasizes soft power over hard power and inexpensive diplomacy and development assistance over expensive military buildups.

Indeed, the most lamentable cost of unceasing threat exaggeration and a focus on military force is that the main global challenges facing the United States today are poorly resourced and given far less attention than “sexier” problems, such as war and terrorism. These include climate change, pandemic diseases, global economic instability, and transnational criminal networks -- all of which could serve as catalysts to severe and direct challenges to U.S. security interests. But these concerns are less visceral than alleged threats from terrorism and rogue nuclear states. They require long-term planning and occasionally painful solutions, and they are not constantly hyped by well-financed interest groups. As a result, they are given short shrift in national security discourse and policymaking.

To avoid further distorting U.S. foreign policy and to take advantage of today’s relative security and stability, policymakers need to not only respond to a 99 percent world but also solidify it. They should start by strengthening the global architecture of international institutions and norms that can promote U.S. interests and ensure that other countries share the burden of maintaining global peace and security. International institutions such as the UN (and its affiliated agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency), regional organizations (the African Union, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and international financial institutions can formalize and reinforce norms and rules that regulate state behavior and strengthen global cooperation, provide legitimacy for U.S. diplomatic efforts, and offer access to areas of the world that the United States cannot obtain unilaterally.

American leadership must be commensurate with U.S. interests and the nature of the challenges facing the country. The United States should not take the lead on every issue or assume that every problem in the world demands a U.S. response. In the majority of cases, the United States should “lead from behind” -- or from the side, or slightly in the front -- but rarely, if ever, by itself. That approach would win broad public support. According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ most recent survey of U.S. public opinion on international affairs, less than ten percent of Americans want the country to “continue to be the pre-eminent world leader in solving international problems.” The American people have long embraced the idea that their country should not be the world’s policeman; for just as long, politicians from both parties have expressed that sentiment as a platitude. The time has come to act on that idea.

If the main challenges in a 99 percent world are transnational in nature and require more development, improved public health, and enhanced law enforcement, then it is crucial that the United States maintain a sharp set of nonmilitary national security tools. American foreign policy needs fewer people who can jump out of airplanes and more who can convene roundtable discussions and lead negotiations. But owing to cuts that began in the 1970s and accelerated significantly during its reorganization in the 1990s, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been reduced to a hollow shell of its former self. In 1990, the agency had 3,500 permanent employees. Today, it has just over 2,000 staffers, and the vast majority of its budget is distributed via contractors and nongovernmental organizations. Meanwhile, with 30,000 employees and a $50 billion budget, the State Department’s resources pale in comparison to those of the Pentagon, which has more than 1.6 million employees and a budget of more than $600 billion. More resources and attention must be devoted to all elements of nonmilitary state power -- not only USAID and the State Department but also the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and a host of multilateral institutions that deal with the underlying causes of localized instability and ameliorate their effects at a relatively low cost. As U.S. General John Allen recently noted, “In many respects, USAID’s efforts can do as much -- over the long term -- to prevent conflict as the deterrent effect of a carrier strike group or a marine expeditionary force.” Allen ought to know: he commands the 100,000 U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Upgrading the United States’ national security toolbox will require reducing the size of its armed forces. In an era of relative peace and security, the U.S. military should not be the primary prism through which the country sees the world. As a fungible tool that can back up coercive threats, the U.S. military is certainly an important element of national power. However, it contributes very little to lasting solutions for 99 percent problems. And the Pentagon’s enormous budget not only wastes precious resources; it also warps national security thinking and policymaking. Since the military controls the overwhelming share of the resources within the national security system, policymakers tend to perceive all challenges through the distorting lens of the armed forces and respond accordingly. This tendency is one reason the U.S. military is so big. But it is also a case of the tail wagging the dog: the vast size of the military is a major reason every challenge is seen as a threat.

More than 60 years of U.S. diplomatic and military efforts have helped create a world that is freer and more secure. In the process, the United States has fostered a global environment that bolsters U.S. interests and generally accepts U.S. power and influence. The result is a world far less dangerous than ever before. The United States, in other words, has won. Now, it needs a national security strategy and an approach to foreign policy that reflect that reality.

Friday, March 23, 2012

National Defense Authorization Act - Senator Carl Levin, (D - Michigan)

Earlier this month, with his piece "The NDAA Makes It Harder to Fight Terrorism," Brian Michael Jenkins added to the confusion surrounding the military detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act by promulgating the unfounded allegation that the NDAA exposes American citizens to arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention.

The new law does no such thing.

At its core, the NDAA reaffirms already existing U.S. law on the military detention of individuals captured in the country's fight against al Qaeda. Jenkins writes, "A fair way to assess this bill would be to ask, had this law been in effect since 2001, what would it have achieved?" His answer: some 20 "jihadist terrorists," including U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens, who are today in civilian custody would instead "be in military custody."

The problem with Jenkins' hypothetical is that U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens are expressly excluded from section 1022 of the NDAA. The law applies only to a narrow category of foreign al Qaeda members who participate in planning or conducting attacks against the United States and are "captured in the course of hostilities." And although section 1021 of the statute does not exclude U.S. citizens, this provision does not change existing military detention authority. The law specifically states: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States." In sum, neither section would have changed the outcome of any of the cases Jenkins wants to suppose.
The issue of indefinite detention arises from the capture of an enemy combatant in a war. According to the law of war, which, in the United States, dates back to the American Revolution, an enemy combatant may be held until hostilities come to an end. (See the 2004 case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.) That did not change with the enactment of the Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001, which authorized military operations against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, and it did not change with the enactment of the NDAA.
Unfortunately, Jenkins is not the only one making this error. Activists on both the right and the left have alleged that the NDAA contains new authority for the military to detain American citizens. But the provision at issue repeats, word for word, the language that the Obama administration started using in federal court in March 2009 to delineate existing detention authority.

In fact, the White House's official statement on the NDAA -- released long before Obama decided to sign the bill -- expressly acknowledged that "the authorities codified in this section already exist." As if this were not enough, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and I added an amendment on the Senate floor, which specifically states that the provision does not change "existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States."

The Senate rejected a different amendment, offered by Feinstein, to exclude U.S. citizens from military detention. To the extent that such detention was authorized before the bill was enacted, it remains permissible today. However, that is very different from creating new or expanded authority for such detention. As Feinstein explained when the final bill was approved by the Senate, "[W]e have agreed to preserve current law for the three groups specified, as interpreted by our federal courts, and to leave to the courts the difficult questions of who may be detained by the military, for how long, and under what circumstances."

Prior to the NDAA, existing law authorized the military detention of U.S. citizens, at least in some cases. In 2004, the Supreme Court held, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, that "There is no bar to this nation's holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant." The defendant in the Hamdi case was a U.S. citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan after taking an active part in hostilities against the United States. I believe that the Supreme Court's rationale in that case would apply to a U.S. citizen who joined al Qaeda and participated in an attack against the United States, whether the attack took place inside or outside the United States. Whether I am right or not, the existing authority was not changed in any way by the enactment of the NDAA.
The military did not engage in the arrest or apprehension of American citizens inside the United States before the enactment of the new law, and the new law does not authorize them to do so after. The posse comitatus law and associated policies precluding our military from engaging in law enforcement activities inside the United States remain in force, unchanged, as they should.

If an occasion did arise in which executive branch officials believed that a U.S. citizen had joined in an enemy attack against this country and should be held in military custody, the detainee would have access to legal counsel and could challenge the lawfulness of the custody in federal court pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus. Such an individual could not be held until the end of hostilities on the basis of a "suspicion" or "allegation," as some have argued -- but only if the government could prove on a habeas corpus challenge that the detainee had participated in hostilities against the United States and that the detention was constitutional.

The bottom line is that the NDAA puts Congress on record in support of existing military detention authority for individuals captured in the fight against al Qaeda, as set forth by the Obama administration and upheld by the federal courts, giving added legitimacy to ongoing military operations and preventing future administrations from adopting more expansive and problematic interpretations of military detention authority. That strengthens the fight against terrorism and makes the United States safer.