Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How some liberals embrace neocon thinking

Whether it was the USSR during the Cold War or the Axis of Evil during the Bush administration, the failed strategy of the neocons was to try to scare us all into thinking of them as our enemies in order to justify making demands and expecting compliance or going to war. Any talk of diplomacy by those of us on the left was labeled appeasement. Of course, the idea of talking to and treating the opposition with respect was met with cries of naivete.

This has always been infuriating because we know that underneath it all, it is fueled by a deep misunderstanding of human nature, as well as a total lack of comprehension on what diplomacy and negotiation can accomplish.

So I have to wonder why, when we turn from foreign affairs to domestic issues, so many liberals want to embrace the exact same kind of thinking.

Are Republicans all that much more of a threat than the likes of Nikita Khrushchev or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Kim Jong-il? So much so that we should not attempt to even talk to them or try to explore common ground?

To tell you the truth, it amazes me to hear so many liberals throw the exact same language at Obama on domestic issues that we heard for decades from the neocons and imperialists about foreign affairs. It makes me wonder just how deep our values run when we reject their ideology so thoroughly in one sphere and embrace it in another.

Here's what I think: like it or not, we are all in this boat together. Before we go off half-cocked thinking its our job to destroy anyone who gets in the way of what we believe is the truth, it might be helpful to see if we can find a way to increase the number of us who are working in the same direction - even if it means giving up a little of our own ground. THAT's the challenge of any kind of meaningful negotiation...knowing when to accommodate and when to draw the line. But to merely assume that the opposition is evil and therefore not worth the attempt is way too reminiscent of the very things we are trying to change with respect to politics and diplomacy.

I'm no more of an optimist than anyone else in thinking that's all there is to it - either in foreign or domestic affairs. But the truth of it is, we've learned that the neocon way of doing foreign policy leads to nothing but failure at best and death and destruction at worst. And lets not even talk about the blowback it engenders.

Isn't it time that we showed the world and ourselves a different possibility? That, regardless of the Republican's lack of maturity when it comes to governing, we can demonstrate what grown-ups act like? Or does even listening to the opposition qualify as appeasement - as the neocons would like us to believe?

I have to wonder how confident we are in our ideas that we think merely being open to dialogue will somehow corrupt them. And when the Republicans either come up with the same-old, same-old failed policies of the past or simply obstruct, do we take that on as our failure or theirs?

For me, believing in my ideals means doing so no matter where they are applied. I no more see Obama being weak and naive in talking to Republicans than I see him as appeasing by being willing to talk to Iran.

I personally would like to challenge the neocon idea that strength is demonstrated by distancing from the opposition and and waging wars of aggression against them when they don't comply with our wishes.

So what is an alternative kind of strength? I think that AikidoPilgrim defined it beautifully in his diary Obama's Soft Power: a primer on Aikido.

Creating this change requires four things from us

1] We must maintain our own balance while taking theirs
2] We must react fearlessly
3] We must enter into the very center of the conflict
4] We must understand our opponent's intentions in order to achieve resolution

When we follow these four steps for creating change, we don't just change the situation, we change our opponents.

They began the interaction wanting to attack us - believing us to be their enemy. By demonstrating our desire to understand them and by manifesting enough concern for them to make sure they don't get hurt - we change their mind, we change their anger, and we change their role.

I think this concept is not only loaded with wisdom, but is just the kind of alternative our world is in need of today. Its pretty foreign to how we've been taught in this culture to think of conflict and will take some practice and getting used to. But haven't we given the neocon alternative enough of an opportunity to show us what a complete disaster it is?

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