October 2nd, 2008

reading, activism, writing

Book #34: The Way of the World, by Ron Suskind

Many think it's not a matter of "if" but really a matter of "when." When will there be a radioactive explosion in a US city? According to the experts Suskind knows, the attack could either be a so-called dirty bomb or a nuclear weapon cobbled together by gathering highly enriched uranium purchased from various suppliers on the underground market. The fact that screams through the book is that the US is not doing enough to prevent this from happening.

But the question is: Doing enought of what?

Some, like Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former CIA agent and present Director of the office of intelligence and counterintelligence at the Department of Energy, swing from wanting to operate within the slow-moving government bureaucracy to going commando. He dreams of gathering a team of operatives to buy the stuff, smuggle it into the country, and reveal the weakness of the system. His frustration is that the US is not building up it's intelligence sources and employing cold-war-type cloak-and-dagger tactics.

Then there is the struggle to win over the world population to the idea that the US is a benevolent force, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Here Suskind follows the lives of several young men, one, Ibrahim Frotan a whip-smart exchange student from Afghanistan, the other Usman Khosa, an forward-thinking professional from Pakistan living in Washington DC. Usman is walking by the White House one morning, listening to his IPod, when he is busted by the Secret Service. He is interrogated in a basement and finally released. It all started because he looked like a "terrorist type." His crisis emerges when he no longer believes that he can fit into US society or Pakistani society. Ibrahim struggles to adjust to the vast difference between Afghan village culture and the mainstream US culture he is plopped into.

While neither interaction is clean, Suskind ends both stories by suggesting that the antidote to their crises is to respect individual rights, a concept developed in the western Bourgeois thinking. Individual rights are the key to the struggle of a Guantanamo prisoner, Abdul al-Ghizzawi, to escape his unlawful imprisonment.

Not a bad idea. And it works in peer-to-peer relations and occasionally in US courts, but individual rights are not necessary the most important concept for a large sector of the world's population. Individual rights are only important if everyone has enough food, shelter, and a safe environment where they can prosper. So in the struggle to win over the "hearts and minds" of the world's people in general and groups that may be able to counter the kinds of devastating attacks that Rolf Mowatt-Larssen most fears and that al Qaeda has already carried out, are they the correct basis? It seems that Suskind is advocating not meeting people where they are, where religion or government or region or tribe is the most important entity, but where western thinking is at.

Perhaps the solution to the dilemma is more basic. Pull back US military bases. End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Provide actual humanitarian aid without manipulation. Stop exploiting poorer countries for their natural resources. Stop trying to impose the "free market" on the world. Politically disarm those who argue that the US the main perpetrator of terror. Cut the military budget and so on.

Suskind's book is informative and well-written, but I don't think he actually accepts that the US shouldn't control The Way of the World.