American mainstream media often report that leaders of other countries aggravate foreign conflicts to consolidate their power. Rarely do they apply that same analysis to the United States.
Identity, both personal and national, is often based on opposition to “the other.” We worship Saviors, like Obama, and we scapegoat Demons, like Trump — or vice versa — and identify with supporters of the Savior over against supporters of the Demon, whom we dismiss as hopeless, irredeemable, deplorables whose needs we can ignore.
The same binary approach applies to foreign policy. We take sides and support the good guys against the bad guys. Why do we take sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or the Sunnis against the Shiites? Do those conflicts threaten the survival of the United States?
Did Communism really threaten Capitalism? Why did Kennedy exaggerate the nuclear power of the Soviet Union? Does North Korea really pose a threat to the United States or our allies, since they know an attack would be suicidal?
How much of a threat are “radical Islamist terrorists”? With our bombing, don’t we create more terrorists than we kill? Didn’t England survive the I.R.A.? Haven’t domestic terrorists killed more Americans than Islamists have? Why do we call the former a crime and the latter an act of terror?
The decision to declare a “war on terror,” rather than treat those acts as crimes, was fateful. The result is a self-perpetuating military conflict that appears to be never-ending. A global Marshall Plan to fight poverty would be far more productive.
Pledging to stop seeking regime change and apologizing for past efforts would help as well. Russia, Iran, and North Korea have good reason to be paranoid.
The mainstream commentary on North Korea offers some sign of hope. Numerous pundits have acknowledged that we may need to accept some North Korean nuclear capacity, rather than demanding that they eliminate it entirely.
But the political is personal. So long as we base our individual identity on opposition to enemies, we will be vulnerable to being manipulated by appeals to our national identity. Once we demonize, the more easily we demonize.
Affirming our membership in the human family offers more potential
Then perhaps we could declare an end to the “war of terror.”