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Three months after 

by Robert Herold

Three months later, it remains a work in progress, doesn't it? How do we feel and think about who we are and the world around us? Each day brings more insight, perspective, confusion, suspicion, fear and hope. I can muster us only a few headings -- call them the beginnings of an intellectual and emotional outline.

The primacy of political science

This month's cover article in The Atlantic, written by Robert Kaplan, is all about Professor Samuel P. Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. What makes Kaplan's review of Huntington's work notable? This isn't a hot book, just off the presses; it was published in 1996 and derives from an article that Huntington had published in Foreign Affairs three years earlier. Huntington argues that the "fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principle conflicts will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations." Until 9/11, Huntington's argument had fallen on deaf ears. Today, he is called a prophet.

More to the point, Huntington is a political scientist. For the past two decades, political science has been out of favor while economics and business administration have presumed to have all the answers.

The political ascendance of the "dismal science" began with Ronald Reagan and his army of supply-siders. Open up the markets, they urged, and rational self-interest will take over. To keep things humming all we needed was an ever-watchful Fed. And until 9/11, their theories seemed to be working.

The post-Soviet economic globalists didn't like what Huntington had to say. After all, hadn't the Soviet Union collapsed in the face of capitalism? Nor did his critics much care for his thoughts regarding the Muslim states that he predicted would pose the gravest threat. His thesis, they believed, had to be based on tidy oversimplifications. Nor was his identification of Islam as a problem for the West very PC. Worse yet, he drew attention to the power of religion. Moreover, he actually argued that western civilization meant something important. Very out of date.

But Huntington is back. And so is political science. And with them comes the age-old idea that the world is a dangerous place, and that people are driven by a range of motivations. What 9/11 showed was that we can no longer reduce human beings to "enlightened self-interest" and expect to have explained our world.

All politics are not local

Have we noticed how all of a sudden our institutions of government, especially at the national level, matter? Whether our concern is fighting a war in a far-off country or acquiring the intelligence necessary to fight that war; airline safety or stability of markets; "stimulus" packages or running down potential terrorists; picking up the pieces in New York City or figuring out what to do about an emerging public health problem. All of a sudden, the very same institutions of government that have been savaged, ignored, ridiculed and underfunded for the past two decades are expected fix things -- and do it immediately. Even professional government-bashers from the political right have found religion; the worry now is that they will turn their newfound religion into a barrel of pork.

Demographics matter

For these same 20 years, mayors from one end of America to the other have been accepting accolades for all that good crime fighting. Violent crime is down in all major cities. But for all the good work by many mayors, the truth is, as the baby boom passes us by, the pool of young men (who, let's face it, commit most of the violent crimes) has shrunk and will continue to shrink. Even when unemployed and poor, males over 50 don't stick up convenience stores or commit murder nearly so often as do men under 25.

Here comes the scary part: The most conservative figures are that 70 percent of the population in the Arab states is under 25 years of age, and 50 percent is under 16. Most also are unemployed, or unemployable. Most are poor. And what's more, Islamic fundamentalism takes women out of the political equation. Women have always served as a moderating influence, but if things don't change in a significant way, they will continue to be denied that role by the very demographic group that most needs them.

Americans crave resolution

Some years ago, I heard a British soccer coach offer his opinion that soccer would never be all that big in America. For all the participation in our thousands of middle-class, suburban neighborhoods throughout America, I continue to believe he is right. And his reason: Soccer was not an American sport, because it was a game of flow rather than resolution. Americans demand resolution, and seek evidence of it, most often through statistical measurements.

Consider American football. First the resolution: Every play gives us the satisfaction of a beginning, a middle and an end, with the results measurable. Ten yards for a first down.

Or baseball? It is a game of mini-resolutions. The pitcher throws. Ball or strike. The batter hits, or he doesn't. Resolution. We have three strikes and four balls and nine innings.

Soccer, on the other hand, knows no such clear resolution. Nor is it a game of measurement. Goals are few in number, ties are frequent and, for the most part, to appreciate the game you need be one who likes subtlety.

We transport our attitude towards sports into the world arena when we force resolution on ambiguity. We took this cultural proclivity of ours to the extreme with the nightly body count in Vietnam. The hope is that we won't do the same in Afghanistan. To avoid reducing a very complex, ambiguous and tragic situation to a nine-inning game (with commercials thrown in), we will need to think in soccer terms.

"Patriotism," said Samuel Johnson, "is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

In the fall of 1978, I found myself in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I had been invited to serve for a year as a senior budget analyst in the Comptroller's office. I was assigned several accounts, and my job called for me to make the final budget recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. One of my accounts, a small one, was the Court of Military Appeals. This court had been established because of the many excesses and mistakes made through the court martial process. You have heard the old line: Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.

Anyway, while the court was to be independent, its budget would be included within the overall Department of Defense submission. I read the court's request, recommended approval and passed my recommendation on up to the Deputy Secretary. It came back a few days later with some surprising adjustments -- downward. I looked into the matter. Why would a routine request be cut? I discovered that the budget cutter was none other than the Secretary of Defense's attorney. Seems that complaints had come her way from the military. The Court of Military Appeals had overturned a number of court martial convictions and that, said the military, had to stop. She was to send the court a message; don't mess around or we can cut you out of the picture.

When Bush issued his executive order regarding the expanded use of the military justice system in the interest of national security, I thought back to that Court of Military Appeals. I recalled why it had been established, and what they tried to do to it when the court didn't go along with their idea of military justice.

And then I thought about what Samuel Johnson said.

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