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Present At The Destruction

By       Message David Michael Green       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H3 12/5/09

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Everybody has a different role to play at a funeral, I guess.

There's the sobby, hysterical, "He's not really dead, everything's just like it used to be!", kinda guy. Think of Reagan or Lil' Bush, desperately trying to resurrect the America of 1955.

There's the chummy, cavalier, "Hey, no worries -- I bet they'll be serving some great booze at the wake!", sorta dude. Think of Wild Bill Clinton, with his shades and sax, playing Arsenio.

There's the little kid, more or less completely baffled by the whole life and death thing. Think every Republican voter in America.

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And then there's the undertaker. All he's worried about is making sure that the corpse gets removed from the building before it stinks up the joint so bad somebody shuts him down and he loses his job. Think of Barack Obama.

I certainly was the other night, as he gave his Afghanistan speech.

So this is what it feels like to watch an empire fall, eh? This is what it looks like when Goliath goes boom? Ouch. I guess if there's a silver lining, at least we can all say we saw it first hand. We were present at the destruction.

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It shows up in economic policy, where a country that was once a dynamo is now an ossified feeding trough, unable to dislodge the gorging pigs from the table, even as they've been gnawing like termites on the wood itself for two or three decades now, and the whole thing is getting ready to splinter into rubble.

It shows up in environmental policy, where the superpower that once pioneered big ideas like democracy, human rights and civil liberties now leads the way toward planetary suicide -- lest, alternatively, anyone should lose a nickel or two off their standard of living in the short term.

It shows up in everything from education to prisons to the military to mortgages, where we've become expert at producing nothing, while commodifying and exploiting everything.

It shows up in the national spirit, where no one will sacrifice anything for anyone, where politics has become war for personal spoils, and where we socialize our children to aspire to no higher value than raw aggrandizement and reality TV (an oxymoron if ever there was).

And it was all over Obama's speech on Afghanistan this week, the central theme of which was marketing as a plan for victory what was really a superpower withdrawal in the face of defeat.

Or so it would seem. To be fair, I must admit that I find the Afghanistan question vexing.

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I loathe the Taliban, for instance, and they will pretty clearly rule the country again once the US is gone, as they substantially do already. And yet there are many governments in this world I loathe (including, all too often, my own), and it is neither appropriate nor possible for the United States military to be running around replacing those. Nor would I likely be enamored of the replacements, anyhow, which is exactly what the Karzai government is in Afghanistan.

I also don't think it's wise to return al Qaeda to having a free run in Afghanistan. But then I recognize that they essentially have that in Pakistan, and that they're also located in dozens of other countries.

I think more soldiers are necessary to have a chance at establishing non-Taliban security in Afghanistan. But I also suspect that, in another way, every added pair of boots on the ground makes it harder, not easier, to achieve that same goal.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)

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