on population, reproductive health & ethics

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Metamorphosis of Power

by Professor Daniel C. Maguire

History shows that when the nature of power changes, the political
leaders are usually the last to in the United States today.
Like the kings and czars who failed to understand a power shift even as
their palaces were being stormed, our leaders are mired in anachronistic
notions of "superpower" status. While focusing on our preeminence in
kill-power and cash power we are hobbled by multiple forms of
unacknowledged impotence--some self-inflicted, some inherited. The
military power that makes us "a superpower" is a Maginot Line that global
insurgency is showing it can easily circumvent.

The purpose of national power and the twin goals of statecraft are the
defense and promotion of life--survival and thrival. Our de facto power
is in default on both counts.

There are threats to our national security before which our nuclear
missiles and technical military prowess stand mute and helpless.

First, defense

Information warfare specialists at the Pentagon say that a well
coordinated attack by thirty computer whizzes with a budget of less that
ten million dollars could bring the United States to its knees, shutting
down electric power grids and air traffic control centers.

The more food we need, the more vulnerable we become. Mega-farms and
fish farms provide newly accessible targets that small farms and the wild
fisheries did not.

The nuclear, biological, and chemical genies are out of the bottle,
available for trading on the open market. The weapons on which we base
our superpower claims failed to defend our buildings (9/11)and our ships
(USS Cole) but these are mere harbingers of a deeper, growing
vulnerability. A single rifle in the hands of a disturbed man could
change life for 22 days in the nations capital and in Virginia.
Terrorist groups followed that story on CNN. Several hundred trained and
motivated terrorists with rifles could devastate our economic and social

Through the strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and Indonesia, passes a
quarter of the world's trade in largely unprotected ships, ships that
could be rammed like the French Limburg near Yemen by a speedboat loaded
with explosives. Osama bin Laden praised this tactic in a recent audiotape,
sending the signal that it is a paradigm, not an isolated event.

In other ways too, our power is not super. Since oil is our energy
resource of choice, we are weak dependents on those who are

The very term "war on terrorism" is an oxymoron. "War" assumes a
visible enemy that can be found and defeated. (That is why Iraq is so
attractive to the Bush warriors. It would let us play the old game.)
What we face is a preter-national insurgency driven by deeply felt
grievances, and the insurgents hold the trump cards, invisibility,
unpredictability, and an infinite variety of weapons choices. There is a
power to deal with this but it is not in our missile silos.

American Maoism

American leadership is Maoist in its belief that the truest form of
power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Hence the recent surge in our
war budget. Other forms of power are needed to face the current global
insurgency. As feeble as these may sound to warrior ears, the forms of
power that bring security today are economic power, moral power and
alliance power.

Gorbachev noted that the battlefields of the futures are in the market
place. Our militocracy doesn't get it. The mounting hatred of us
abroad, shown dramatically in recent polls, limits overseas marketing and
turns U.S. businesses into terrorist targets. Meanwhile nations like
China are following Gorbachev's advice. The U.S. since 1945 has
intervened abroad 67 times causing twelve million deaths by overt and
covert action. Even a mobster might advise us that "this is not good for

A compassionate America could be a moral superpower. Moral power is
manifested by compassion and understanding. American moral power is at
low ebb, shrunken by our current arrogance toward all nations and
indifference toward the world's poor. In 1969, The Commission on
International Development, chaired by Canada's Lester Pearson, said that
in this new world, if we wish "to be secure and prosperous, we must show
a common concern for the common problems of all peoples." We do not
show that and so our prosperity is brittle and our security is threatened
on all sides.

The power to understand the needs and cultures of others is crucial in a
shrinking world. This includes the needs and cultures of our enemies.
Our nation no longer inspires, it subdues. Once we were seen as a
realization of ideals. Not now. As Harold Laski said, social power
comes "from idealism", not from pragmatism, from "spiritual promise" not
from "materialistic prospects." "Evil empire," "axis of evil," is the
crude fundamentalist language of theocratic American foreign policy.
George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden both evince this crude religious
dualism. It is deemed heresy even to admit that al Quaeda or other
groups may have legitimate and negotiable needs and grievances. We seem
the poorest of candidates for sensitive diplomatic outreach and for
sophisticated understanding of the needs of other peoples. Hands grown
rough from bludgeoning are poor candidates for doing needlepoint.

Alliance power is the only realistic power in an interconnected world
bristling with abundantly available weaponry. The decision to go it
alone is provocative, making us an increasingly more likely insurgency

It is no longer the case that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Ironically, our only hope may lie in our growing fear, which as the
Hebrew scriptures said, can be the beginning of wisdom.

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