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Sympathy for the Secretary of State

It was like trying to keep the Titanic afloat with party balloons - Colin Powell's visit to the Middle East.
Sympathy for the Secretary of State


So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to
give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions,
see wise and good men on the wrong as well as the right side of
questions of the first magnitude to society.
Alexander Hamilton - The Federalist

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed ,
our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.
This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic
society is organized. - Edward L. Bernays - Propaganda

Let the good times roll.
Ric Ocasek - The Cars

It was like trying to keep the Titanic afloat with party balloons - Colin Powell's visit to the Middle East. Once Sharon was elected and the Bush Administration refused Arafat's request for a chat at the Camp David Bed and Breakfast, which was the early warning of the iceberg. The avoidance of a Palestinian Holocaust, at this stage, will require a better effort than a good will tour from our beleaguered Secretary of State. Where to start?

I've a suggestion. Let's try to make Mr. Powell's job a little easier. He is burdened with the task of defending an indefensible proposition . . . the idea that "Terrorism" is something that poor people do with homemade bombs. Face it, in the wrong hands even something as benign as an aircraft carrier can be used to inspire terror in a targeted population.

When Colin Powell visits other nations to discuss questions of the first magnitude for the sake of harmonious international relations, how might he reply to the question: What is your definition of Terrorism? How could he possibly give an objective answer to which would not, to the un-invested observer, implicate America? He might try:

Terrorism is what other countries (not America or its affiliates) do when they inspire terror in the hearts and minds of innocent people.

Or perhaps

Terrorism is that which undermines global peace, except for what America does to undermine global peace.

Whatever. I'm convinced that our Secretary of State, one of the few intelligent politicians afflicted with moral intuition, feels philosophically disadvantaged while traveling beyond the American cultural umbrella. People living overseas, in their own countries, might properly expect an objective definition.

Let's say, for the sake of comedy, that relations between America and Cuba begin to mend on the strength of the Soviet Union's recent demise. The embargo was placed on Cuba because it was a client state of the Evil Empire. Evil Empire go phut. So what's preventing us from establishing normal relations? Seems reasonable enough. The competing rum and cigar lobbies can't be so powerful as to sustain international ill will.

So Colin packs his bags for Havana. Maybe he brings a gift basket of hard-to-acquire American-made commodities for Fidel . . . Viagra and Geritol perhaps. What does he say after the cigars are lit and the boat drinks are tasted? How does he define Terrorism so as to exclude the monkeyshines of the Mongoose Teams?

Let's take Nicaragua. I lived in Nicaragua for a while during the reign of our man Anastasio Samosa. I watched the news footage of an American journalist approaching two of Samosa's soldiers who ordered him to lie on the ground. Then they shot him in the head. They didn't realize they, as the L.A. police didn't realize in the Rodney King incident, that such things can be recorded for later public viewing.

Samosa was a client of The United States of America. The people of Nicaragua chased him out of the country. As I recall, he moved to Florida for a time and then to South America where a delegation from his homeland ushered him into the hereafter with the aid of a bazooka. Few tears were shed. He wasn't a nice man. Oddly though, he was our man.

How might Colin treat with the elected representative of Nicaragua? Nicaraguans don't want another American appointee to run their country. Their scars haven't healed from the last one we provided them. How might the funding of the Contras and the mining of their harbors be explained in terms that do not objectively exemplify Terrorism?

In the quest for international credibility, here's my suggestion. The next time The President takes a rest cure in Texas, Collin Powell and Noam Chomsky should get together at Camp David and moot out some ideas. I picture them on a veranda somewhere in the compound - their feet up on the railing, eye's gazing into the cosmos, and bottle of single malt scotch showing signs of usage. After a period of establishing rapport, perhaps discussing how the last two Popes named themselves after a chain-smoking French existentialist and the possibility that Rumsfeld was grown in a vat in the basement of the Pentagon with the DNA of Niccolo Machiavelli and Cardinal Richleau, they'd get around to gently solving the problems of the world.

I'd like to think that they might consider the improper employment of magic words in government. "Communism" was used, historically, to transform the various international toads into either angels or demons and to lower the real wages of American workers. Now "Terrorism" is pronounced with established intent. In a short conversation, anyone who might feel sorry for unwashed and downtrodden of the world can be publicly branded as either "Pro-Terrorist" or "Soft on Terrorism."

Noam and Colin might view the disparate visions of Hamilton and Bernays' visions of democracy. Whereas the genius of democracy, in empirical consideration, depends on the informed, reasonable and collective evaluations of the individuals, the Bernays view is that Americans should remain ignorant and led. This provides a manufactured mandate by which powerful people can become evermore powerful at the expense of the duped.

With each viewing for the destruction of the World Trade Center I became a little angrier. With fifty viewings burned in my mind, I was prepared to walk to Afghanistan with my target pistol and shoot anyone sporting a beard. But the World Trade Center wasn't destroyed fifty times. I wonder what images are disseminated among other cultures regarding the evilness of America. Anger might not be the very best well from which to draw wisdom. The balance of wisdom, just maybe, might be found in the millions of conversations between reasonably-informed individuals.

If the theory of democracy is correct, no single one of us needs to become expert in all of the pertinent philosophical documentation. But each of us needs to care enough to interrogate some of the text and share it in conversation.

In the meantime, let's view Colin's failed effort fairly. He didn't have a chance. Let's let him off the hook and let him do his job without the embarrassing definitions provided by a thoughtless administration.