Thursday, January 23, 2003

I was thinking about the exercise of American military power in the world today, partly in response to an interesting conversation I was having with dre in the comments section of this post. As I said in those comments, there are some in this administration, and in various right-wing think tanks, who are salivating at the idea of flexing our military muscles for the sheer pleasure of demonstrating to the world that we have the will to do it. They have a kind of "use it or lose it" philosophy. If we don't demonstrate that we are willing to use all this hardware then people might start getting the idea that we will never use it, no matter how impressive it looks on the showroom floor. The question that comes to me is this: to what purpose do we NEED to intimidate the world? I think it comes down to a core belief system that says that you are either on the top or you are on the bottom and, when you are the top, you have to be so far above everyone else that no-one would even consider challenging you. You see this in the corporate world where making a profit is of no consequence if you are not making a profit that is far in an excess of what everyone else around you is making. You are measured not by success but by the size of your success. ("My, what a big portfolio you have Mr. Brown", "Why thank you Mr. Black, yours is pretty impressive as well." "Oh you are to kind.") The problem with this philosophy is that it ignores the inconvenient reality that all the other people below you on the latter will inevitably come to resent your position above them. Especially if you lord it over them. If you find yourself in the position of being "Lord of the manor" then it behooves you to act in a manner respectful of the feelings of those who are below you (side note: I've recently started watching "Upstairs Downstairs" and this is a major subtext of the relationship between the upstairs and downstairs people). Of course, some would argue that by NOT flexing our muscles, it will allow others to rise up the ladder and maybe, someday, challenge our position of leadership. They are right. But secure leadership is a chimera that no one has ever achieved. If they don't pass you through honest means, they will destroy you through dishonest means. The slow decline through honest competition is much less bloody then fighting tooth and nail for position (or, as I like to say, revolution is bad for business). At least, if you exhibit a history of moral leadership while on top you are less likely to be stomped on the way down. However, adopting this form of moral leadership requires that one admit that you might not always be on top and you have any moral claim to be on top. The Bushies appear to be constitutionally incapable of admitting that. The thing I liked about Clinton (amongst many things I liked about him) was that he understood that moral leadership required more then just having more guns then everyone else on the block. He treated the rest of the world like partners, even if they were obviously weaker then us. It would have been rude to behave towards them as if they were "irrelevent". The golden rule is more then just a moral imperative. It can also lead to a much more comfortable and peaceful life.

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