Thinking good; ideology bad.More of my opinions (dating mostly from 2003-4; this may be a little obsolete now)
Here in the United States, the "war against terror" has me badly scared. Free speech and fair, open trials are two of the things that I think makes America great, and I'm horrified at the way that these ideals have been abandoned in the urgency of the moment. Ben Franklin said that people who give up essential liberty for temporary security won't get either one, and I think that fair, open trials are an essential part of American liberty. Secret trials are the signature of a dictatorship, and freedom of the press is what keeps us free. When the administration told us that it was going to take these freedoms away to stop terrorism, how come nobody objected? It's almost enough to get me to hold my nose and join the American Civil Liberties Union. I'm really thinking about it.
This is important: Pay attention to the words that you hear yourself saying when you justify why you should take away the rights and free speech of people you think are your enemies. You're going to hear these words again, when they take away your rights.
However, the invasion of Iraq has happened, and it's pointless to rehash a done deal. We will avoid bad consequences only if we can succeed in rebuilding Iraq so well as to make it clear to every observer (even the biased ones) that the population of Iraq is much better off now than they were before. This is, unfortunately, a vastly more difficult task than the war itself, and a much longer term project. But it's our best hope.
A 2002 survey showed that 87% of American high-school students can't even find Iraq on a map (note added later: in 2006, after Iraq had been in the headlines for three years, two thirds couldn't). What in the world made our politicians think that we know how to solve the problems in Iraq, install a new regime, and make Iraq a free and democratic society? Were they smoking crack?
Unfortunately, it's too late for second thoughts now. Unless it's rebuilt, and rebuilt well and fast, Iraq will be a fertile breeding ground for millions of terrorists. You think Al Qaeda-- less than ten thousand at its absolute high point-- was bad? Think about hundreds of Al Qaeda organizations, every one of them with ten thousand soldiers that thinks of America as the evil occupying conquerers.
So we don't dare leave Iraq a mess-- we have to rebuild the place better than it was, and make it clear to everyone that it's better than it was.
But we have to do it as quickly as possible, and then we have to get out, and stay out, and eventually let them rise or fall on their own. And resist the urge to go in and fix things.
I've heard people claim that the war in Iraq may be expensive, but it's needed to help against terrorism. It makes us safer.
In the long term-- and I mean the next few hundred years-- invading Iraq is the same thing as painting a target on the back of every single American, and telling the world "Listen, everybody, the rules are changed. If you feel threatened, the new rules are that you can strike any time you feel like it." We have just told the world that we believe that rules don't apply if you think you're in the right: you're justified in hitting first if you can.
And you think that this isn't going to bite us back? You think other people aren't going to think, hey, I should strike first?
I don't like having somebody paint a target on my back and then tell the world "bring 'em on." I think this is an ignorant, dangerous, arrogant thing to do, and I don't like it.
Tax cuts: "cutting" taxes without cutting spending at the same time isn't really a tax cut; it's just increasing the tax next year. If spending increases, it's no more a tax cut than if you say you "cut" your own spending by spending less money, and max out your credit cards instead. So don't tell me about your politician's idiotic tax cuts; I don't care.
copyright 2003, revised 2009 by Geoffrey A. Landis