Considering the Big Picture in the War on Terror

I think that Marc Danziger (Armed Liberal) of Winds of Change is as good as anyone at laying out in broad strokes the large issues in whatever we’re calling the conflict we’re in now and making the case that we should take it seriously and proceed with as little violence as we reasonably can. In his most recent post at WoC he asks and answers five questions:

  1. Why does the war matter? Does Islamist terrorism deserve the high level of attention and concern that many people are showing?
  2. If Islamist terrorists are such a big risk, why not just go to war and conquer or kill them?
  3. If you want to “talk” with the Islamists, doesn’t that undermine point 1., above? Aren’t you denying the real risk we face?
  4. So how’s that Iraq thing working out for you, then?
  5. Why bother? Why not just sit down and work something out that makes the other side happy?

By all means go and read what Marc has to say.

I won’t address Marc’s questions point-by-point but I’ll make my own broad stroke observations below.

For the last 50 years or so the United States has been actively engaged in what’s being referred to as globalization. We’ve tried to spread our way of doing things in the economic sphere to the far corners of the earth. Along with them with we’ve spread the products and ideas we produce, our language, and our customs.

Globalization doesn’t just mean that it’s darned hard to justify paying semi-skilled workers in the United States $80 an hour in wages and benefits for work that somebody in Brazil or Indonesia can do as well or nearly as well for a lot less dough. Nor does it just mean that Americans get to buy inexpensive Chinese-made clothing, shoes, and electronics at Wal-Mart and, consequently, are able to afford other things they’d like to buy, too. Although it means both of those things.

It also means that China and India have entered the middle class in terms of per capita GDP. It means that people in those countries (which still contain an enormous number the poorest of the poor) can lead lies that are healthier, more prosperous, happier, and more hopeful than ever before.

It means that brutal traditional practices done with official sanction or to which there’s turned an official blind eye are exposed to the light of day and shamed. Practices like cutting off women’s external genitalia so that sexual experience is a demeaning drudgery to them or throwing living women onto the the funeral pyres of their dead husbands or gang-raping women for the (possibly imaginary) transgressions of their male relatives.

It also means that freedom of thought and belief are respected with more than mere words and don’t result in people being killed for their beliefs.

Whatever you call those we’re opposing—whether radical Islamists or Islamofascists or whatever—they stand for for closing all of that down. If you don’t believe that just look at what happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban and what happened in Fallujah and Tal Afar under their control.

What they are pursuing is retaining the sway of all of those traditional practices, keeping them in the dark, and proselytization.

Globalization and proselytization take place on different tracks. Globalization is not a law of physics or some sort of irresistible historical movement. Globalization proceeds as a series of economic decisions. People in Bangalore aren’t manning help desks and customer support lines for U. S. companies because those companies want the people in India to be happier or more enlightened or more prosperous or because of a law of physics or historic inevitability. They do so because it makes economic sense and they’ll stop when it stops making economic sense. That can happen in the flash of an eye.

The costs of the global economy have already risen as a result of terrorism in the form of long lines and more screening at airports.  It will rise further if we start checking every container that comes into the country on a ship.  That increase will mean that it will make less sense to import something than it otherwise might have.

The United States alone is spending $200 billion per year that could otherwise be used for medical research or education or building bridges or retaining workers or just defraying the national debt.

Does defending traditional practices and social systems and proselytization proceed as a series of economic decisions?  I suspect that in part it does but that there is a core that will keep on keeping on regardless of the cost and regardless of whether it makes financial sense.

So, while I think it’s important to raise the cost of terrorism that will probably not be enough.

5 comments… add one
  • I see globalization, actually, working as a sort of physics. Once sufficient momentum was gained, it kept moving and expanding. Nations that tried to opt out found themselves at grave disadvantages; those who opted in found themselves markedly improving their lot. Yes, of course rational thought had to be applied, but it was at a pretty basic level: Do I want to eat today?

    I’d dispute, too, that globalization was an American effort. I think it more, well, global. The US has certainly gained from globalization, but it’s not among the biggest winners. Take a look at Ireland. Twenty years ago, it was one of the poorest nations in Europe; today it has the highest, most favorable economic ratings, whichever ones you choose.

    New technologies, new theories–and the death of some really toxic ones–simply changed the way the trade world worked at a fundamental level. It’s pretty obvious that concepts like merchantilism and protectionism just don’t work anymore, at least for any length of time.

    Your choice of India as an example is excellent. IT, including both software development and call-centers, not only improved the lot of the IT professionals, but was a sufficient tide that it raised a whole lot of boats. IT workers in Bangalore became rich, by Indian standards. They didn’t tuck that money into their mattresses. Instead, they bought things, built new houses, started hiring their own workers, even if these were just domestic servants. The regions around the new IT centers saw dramatic increases in the standards of living, not just for the IT guys, but for the whole region.

    New money brought in more and better services, like better quality doctors and construction workers. Those end up making more money, which they go on to spend, both locally and internationally.

    The world just isn’t a set of discrete islands anymore. It really is linked in many, many dimensions. If you’re not in that network of links, then the only direction your economy can go is down, like N. Korea.

  • I don’t think that America was alone in promoting globalization but I think it was essential. I’d be satisfied if it were just acknowledged that we’d played a positive role.

    I continue to maintain that globalization continuing is not inevitable. Consider Japan in the 16th century, for example. One day it was opening itself to outside influences. The next that was over for 150 years. Such things could happen again. Sometimes people think that heavy prices are worth paying.

    Yes, India really is the poster child for globalization. That’s why the Indian response to the recent attacks in Bombay was so important. We don’t really know what the fallout from that will be.

  • expat Link

    I recall a report on the tsunami relief in which a young Indian IT worker described how that group was initiating its own aid efforts. They felt that they had been lucky and needed to share that with tsunami victims. Maybe this is a sign of another globalized value. At any rate, it was wonderful to see the brightest and most ambitious take such a hands-on approach.

  • It also means that freedom of thought and belief are respected with more than mere words and don’t result in people being killed for their beliefs.

    I know that’s what all the Chileans still say about that whole “Pinochet” affair. Or does ousting leaders who won’t do what we like not “globalization”? What is that called? That whole “Iraq’d” thing, where we decide to get rid of leaders we don’t like to install “democratic” government? That whole “Guatemala” thing. What is that called again?

  • Rob Link

    Nezua Limon Xolografik-Jonez, I love that name. The associations run off in all directions.
    Chile has been a great example. Pinochet grasp that the key to development was globalization and economic liberalization. But his was an authoritarian government. Now Chile is beyond that and one of the success stories of the world, like Ireland.
    China is only half way there. Can they too pass beyond the economic-liberal-only stage to democracy?? Or will they exist as a hybred of political supression and economic freedom. This is one of the great questions of our new century.

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