The Great Problem-Solver
May 21, 2002
Early this month the respected investor Warren
Buffett, reputedly the second richest man on earth, said that a nuclear
attack on this country is virtually a certainty. Vice
President Dick Cheney says more terrorist attacks are sure to come
its a matter of when, not if and FBI Director Robert
Mueller adds that suicide bombings here, like those afflicting Israel, are
inevitable. We are told that another major al-Qaeda
operation, of unknown but probably unpleasant nature, may be in the
offing. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has added his own grim
warning, more or less underlining all the others.
controversy rages over whether President Bush was sufficiently warned
of terrorist hijackings last year but failed to take action.
Maybe it wasnt
a failure to act, but a failure to imagine. Before last September, the
traditional understanding (so to speak) of hijacking was the forcible
diversion of a passenger plane, usually ending with the safe return of
plane and passengers; hijackers might or might not escape, but it was
taken for granted that, either way, they would leave the plane alive.
Nobody imagined a
suicide hijacking. That was the novelty that defeated all security
measures. It was to terrorism what the atomic bomb was to conventional
warfare: something horribly new under the sun.
Since then, of course,
countless new security measures have been installed to prevent the exact
repetition of a unique event. We are now well protected against stupid
terrorists. Anyone dumb enough to try to smuggle a pistol aboard a
passenger plane is apt to get caught. The U.S. Government can foresee the
But not the future. Our
rulers are still haunted by the possibility that some terrorists may be too
clever for them. They realize how vulnerable we are on many fronts, right
here at home. A single nuclear incident in Manhattan even without
Hiroshima-scale fatalities could cripple the U.S. economy.
The worst of it is that
the U.S. Government has indeed ignored many warnings and is still doing
so. The most basic has nothing to do with the specific practical schemes
of enemies; wise people have been warning for years against the
interventionist policies that have made the United States, as Buffett
observes, the most hated country on earth. If so, the people who are
supposed to be protecting us are guilty of criminal responsibility in
continuing policies that put our lives in danger.
Our government has succeeded in bringing the wars of the Middle
East to our own shores. Symptomatic and highly symbolic
are the fights between Jewish and Arab students on American college
campuses. Its also symptomatic, and symbolic, that these fights
are not about the interests of ordinary Americans, who dont
participate in them. There is no patriotic student group telling these
people to take their quarrels elsewhere and leave us out.
In fact were
now told that its unpatriotic to want our country to mind its own
business. The average American has been taught, and devoutly believes,
that its natural for his country to run the planet, in
the words of one hawkish neoconservative magazine. Fighting terrorism is
just one aspect of running a planet.
But how can the same
government that provokes terrorism a protean thing that takes
many forms also hope to defeat it? How can a problem be solved
by the same institution that creates it? Americans no longer have a
rational philosophy of government; they merely assume that government is
a general pragmatic problem-solver. Yet most of the problems its
supposed to solve the national debt, the annual
Federal deficit, the Social Security mess, economic turbulence, high
taxes, failing schools, international crises are of its own making.
In a similar way, Americans were told that World War I was the
war to end all wars. Its chief result was World War II, whose chief
result was the Cold War.
Some enormous mental
block prevents people from seeing the simple truth that a problem
cant be its own solution. Dont tell the proud parents, but a
child born today is born $100,000 in debt his tax share of the debt
his rulers have accumulated. Of course he may not live to pay it off, since
those rulers have also made foreigners want to kill him.
In the meantime, he
will attend public schools where he will learn that the government is his
friend, protector, and benefactor. If he somehow manages to figure out
that this is baneful nonsense, he will be told that he is unpatriotic.