'Axis' polarizes split
In recent days and weeks, it seems as if President Bush's "axis
of evil" has become the hot new phrase for the government (and subsequently
in the media as well), taking over after months of "bin Laden,"
"Taliban," and "al Qaeda." In many respects, that's
a good thing. However, at the same time, I think that we need to tone
down our rhetoric a bit and adopt a less inflammatory tone as we begin
to address problems outside of Afghanistan.
Sure, "axis of evil" is direct and clear (and sounds really
good in a speech), but it only further polarizes the current split between
those who are America-friendly and those who are not. If we're really
going to solve the problem of terrorism in the future, we're going to
have to stop fueling the fires of hatred toward the United States. Labeling
other countries and people as "evil" is no way to start.
Clearly, threats to the U.S. still exist and must be eliminated. This
can't be accomplished without the use of force, and we should utilize
our military when necessary, whether it's in Iraq, Somalia, or elsewhere.
At the same time however, we need to ensure that we do so in a specific, calculated, and most importantly, emotionless manner. Our military is a serious threat to any country in the world, and as such, when we make it known that we consider a country or group to be a menace, we need not tack on the stigma of some higher purpose, a "good vs. evil" cliché. Doing so only gives people a reason to fight with motivation beyond personal safety. It gives them a cause to believe in, not only during the course of hostilities, but in the future as well. When we label others as evil, we immediately cast the same pall on ourselves, in their eyes. In this battle against terrorism, where perceptions mean everything, that's a mistake.
The root cause of terrorism is misperception. Some perceive the United
States as an aggressive, imperial superpower, with no regard for the customs
or interests of others. We Americans, of course, would certainly disagree.
However, our actual motives are, in fact, unimportant. The way in which
others identify us is what shapes their opinions, not what we really are,
or what we believe ourselves to be. Therefore, when our leaders refer
to other states and citizens as "evil," they are not helping
to change the common perception of the United States as a superpower at
odds with all others.
Of course, I understand that there are strategic reasons for the government's
heavy language. If we make a commotion about a country's practices and
then threaten to invade, maybe we'll intimidate them into submitting to
our desires. Or, if we talk tough about certain leaders, perhaps that
nation's people will rise up and take those individuals out of power before
we have to.
However, there are better and more effective ways to go about such psychological
warfare, as opposed to general and broad-based threats. Present these
countries and individuals with specific requirements, and suggest the
repercussions of failing to act (namely, the unerring efficacy of the
U.S. military). Such an approach is clear and cold, with little room for
manipulation for the purposes of motivation. There's no religious context
and no larger issue.
In the wake of what happened in September, there's a lot of support for
action overseas with (understandably) plenty of emotion behind it. Thus
far our government-in particular President Bush and his Cabinet-has done
a great job of utilizing our military in conjunction with support at home.
However, let's remember that there's another war that we're fighting on
top of the military one: a war of perception. Win both the military and
image fights, and we will be successful. Conversely, win the military
war now, but lose the war of perception, and we'll have to fight this
battle all over again down the road.
So, as we employ our military might where it's needed, let's also tone down our talk and cut words like "evil" out of our international vocabulary. That way we'll win on both fronts, and for good.