Obama’s Farewell

Tonight is Obama’s farewell address.  If his is received like his predecessors, few of us will listen.  It may, however, be the last sensible address given by a sitting president until late January 2021 when we will (hopefully) come to our senses and inaugurate the 46th president.  Unlike those missed celestial events that seem to always present themselves in the middle of the night, Obama’s will be available in real time and anytime thereafter to listen to, and re-listen to.  I recommend it.

Presidents often give their most compelling notes of wisdom in these addresses.  For the first time in their presidency they are allowed to tell us what they have learned and, moreover, what we should lock in our minds to avoid in the future, without immediate political consequences.  George Washington established this tradition when he cautioned us about partisanship.  It certainly was a warning we should have heeded.  He wrote that hyper-partisanship,

serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.

More recently, President Eisenhower warned us of an emerging “military industrial complex.”  We should have listened to both. (See a compilation here, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/10/509052320/obamas-farewell-address-how-presidents-use-this-moment-of-reflection.)

The United States will survive Trump.  Power will be abused, mistakes will be made, people will suffer, but America will emerge battered but largely intact, and so will you.  But not if we don’t listen to the wisdom of those who came before us, and not if we don’t stand up, speak up, and act responsibly.  Our future is in our hands, not Trump’s.  Focus on the difference you can make.  First locally—home and community—then with a wider lens.  Do not bully or be bullied.  Engage with a calm sense of profound resilience.  It is your life and your country.  Own it.

By |2017-06-05T21:50:01+00:00January 10th, 2017|General|0 Comments

America’s Growing (In)security State

The United States has arrived at a precarious position in its pursuit of national security; finally the world’s predominant military power—a goal that took fifty years to achieve—it must face a new reality: the rest of the world has adapted and effectively changed the rules of the game.  The arms race is over.  The brains race is on. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) delivered by brainwashed, networked, religious radicals, or controlling another nation’s debt, are just two mind-based examples of new power strategies.

Today’s battles will be won or lost in new venues; in the hearts and minds of populations who have become free agents and/or the financial balance sheets of rivals.  In the development and distribution of clean fuels and/or the deployment of untraceable computer viruses.  Networked power is replacing the uniformed coercive power of states, and the US is stuck in an old, increasingly irrelevant narrative—debating troop levels and slinging invective in partisan debates; dithering or deliberation?  Freeing ourselves from our own trap will determine whether the US stays on top, or joins the short, albeit impressive list of former super powers.

The debate today ought to be about the questions not the answers. As the world adapts asymmetrically to America’s predominant power, will the decisions we make today make a difference?  As culturalist, Robert Wright, points out, should we “kill the terrorists” or “kill the terrorist meme?”[1]  Should we be investing in bigger bombs and more troops, or fuel independence and smarter networks?  We must rethink our debates and question all the old ‘givens’ from our Cold War mentality.

Our military industrial complex is obsolete. We must build an intelligence complex that is both effective and highly adaptive if we are to succeed in a world where the enemy is unseen and alliances are self-executing based on instantaneous calculations of relative benefit.  And, we must realize that the power of attraction now trumps the power of coercion in a new game of paper, rock, scissors, and fire.

[1] Robert Wright, “Who Created Major Hasan?” New York Times, November 22, 2009.
By |2017-05-27T16:12:02+00:00November 23rd, 2009|General|0 Comments
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