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2010: A Peace Odyssey?

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Another year brings another war, so it would seem. Already in the works beforehand but now hastened by the Christmas "underwear bomber," we are swiftly moving down a road that could lead straight to another front in the generational war without end. The al Qaeda bogeyman rears its head, and we respond like clockwork. All aboard folks -- next stop, Yemen .

Is this really the most effective way to make national policy and decide the fates of others around the world? When a suggestible and misguided youth attempts an asinine act, does that mean we automatically must respond in kind with foolhardy actions of our own? This has led to disastrous effects already in the Global War on Terror, and equally troubling alterations in the fabric of society here at home. Simply put, if we let the terrorists dictate our course of action, then we have already lost the moral high ground and the upper hand in the larger conflict as well, as Patrick Cockburn suggests in a cogent essay on the situation in Yemen :

"In Yemen the US is walking into the al-Qa'ida trap. Once there it will face the same dilemma it faces in Iraq and Afghanistan . It became impossible to exit these conflicts because the loss of face would be too great. Just as Washington saved banks and insurance giants from bankruptcy in 2008 because they were 'too big to fail,' so these wars become too important to lose because to do so would damage the US claim to be the sole super power.... But the danger of claiming spurious victories is that such distortions of history make it impossible for the US to learn from past mistakes and instead to repeat them by intervening in other countries such as Yemen."

Consider that we are still embroiled in an escalating war in Afghanistan as a direct response to the events of 9/11. Iraq of course was folded into this "terror-response" logic by the Bush Administration despite clear evidence to the contrary. Pakistan has now become the new Cambodia to Afghanistan's Vietnam in the current war that echoes actions of the past. And now we have our sights set on Yemen as the next front, which Marwan Bishara contends will almost inevitably lead to disastrous effects that serve to exacerbate the conditions that yield terrorism:

"[O]ver the last several months, Yemen has emerged as the latest front. Reportedly, the US air force has participated in the bombardment of several locations in Yemen and spent tens of millions of dollars. But since the Nigerian man was apparently trained in Yemeni camps that are less threatened than Afghanistan , one can expect this war front to be expanded sooner rather than later. Waging another war in or through Yemen could prove, as in Afghanistan , untenable as the country could descend into chaos. With war against the Houthis in the north, tensions with the secessionists in the south, and the regime's tenuous hold on power, Yemen could implode."

If the United States is truly to be a global leader, we are setting a poor example through our war-making policies. We are essentially mere followers in this dynamic, letting the terrorists set the agenda and walking right into the response they expect and desire from us. Recall that up front it was al Qaeda's stated intention to bleed America 's moral and economic resources dry by provoking us into direct military interventions in Muslim nations. By choosing the retaliatory option, we are playing precisely into their hands, and thus relinquishing the mantle of leadership.

Similar patterns have taken hold at home. On the heels of 9/11, a fundamental reorientation of the delicate balance between liberty and security ensued. Rights of privacy, due process, habeas corpus, and presumed innocence have been lost, perhaps permanently, as the constitutional architecture of two centuries eroded under our feet. Now, following the botched Christmas attack, we are likely to see a ramping up of the security apparatus, including privacy-impinging actions such as pat-downs and full-body scans. Not to mention, of course, the commitment of more resources to continue fighting the war that the terrorists wanted to goad us into all along.

It is a grim picture coming out of 2009, but the symbolic relief of calendar change can be a powerful curative. I would like to suggest that 2010 can become a critical turning point year toward peace and prosperity if we focus our energies positively and proactively. Here are just a few suggestions for moving in that direction and making the new year one that history will recall as the beginning of the end of a mindset that has plunged the world into perpetual warfare.

The Peace Dividend: Whatever your views on war, one thing most people can agree on is the desire to live peaceful and productive lives. This includes the existence of an economy in which ordinary people can prosper and be assured of fairness in their wages, investments, and expected contributions. The war ethos has shifted trillions of dollars from public to private coffers, and it has stimulated not economic growth but a global recession. Ending war means more resources for education, healthcare, community development, and environmental protection -- all of which promise better prospects for a peaceful world than does the path we have been on until now.

Cultural Exchange: The high-speed potential of both the internet and international travel has opened up -- perhaps for the first time in human history -- the possibility of realizing a truly global society. This does not entail giving up autonomy or sovereignty, but asks only that we remain open to and appreciate the remarkable cultural diversity of our world. The more we become educated in this regard, learning about the myriad ways in which people everywhere share similar hopes and desires despite their unique cultures, the more we will opt for peace.

Politics is People: For too long we have abdicated control over our lives and fortunes to remote representatives who have failed to adequately protect and promote our interests. Party politics is passe at this point, with the clarity of insight that lobbyists and corporate concerns have essentially purchased a controlling interest in politicians of all stripes. The saving grace in our system is that "the people" retain the ultimate political power, despite repeated attempts to undermine this constitutional gift from our forebears. This power is electoral, but perhaps even more importantly, it is personal, with each of us asked to make numerous daily choices regarding how we will exercise it. Simply put, we can watch peace, purchase peace, eat peace, drive peace, and learn peace if we have the will to do so. And then politics will have no choice but to follow.

There are many more notions along these lines, which I will leave to your imaginations to develop and implement. The basic point is that we stand today at a critical juncture, and can ill afford to slide blithely back into apathy and torpor if we are to avert that proverbial iceberg sitting just ahead on our present heading. Let history record that 2010 was the year we steered clear and instead charted a new course for ourselves and the world toward peace in our time.

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