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Sherman, War, Hell and Terrorism

General Sherman is one of those politically incorrect historical figures who remind us that when the stakes are high, plain speaking is one of the greatest contributions that can be made by a leader. Sherman of Ohio, Grant of Illinois and Lincoln of Illinois were all "westerners" to use the characterization of the time. Men who were raised in an environment much harsher than one could imagine today and which by comparison to their eastern cousins were country bumpkins. They were in a word, realists.

This sort of plain speaking has been out of fashion for many years. It used to be referred to as calling "a spade a spade", but we can’t use that sort of short hand anymore. Maybe, just maybe, the massacre of 911 has forced us to be more realistic about the way the world actually works. Rumsfeld uses sharper and more specific words like "kill" or "destroy". The President has spoken many times of "evil men". This is rhetoric that harkens us back to a time like WWII, when our very survival as a free nation was an open question. While the appeasers of the 1930s spoke of understanding Hitler’s grievances, or being open to Japan’s lust for Asian empire it is easy to see in hindsight that all we did was feed the appetite of powerful bullies.

General Sherman’s advice speaks volumes to us today. Western democracies are not very good at preparing for war. But they are terrible at making peace. We need look no further than our own pacification of the South following the Civil War. Our operating principle was in consonance with Sherman’s thoughts, our execution was poor at best. I would even venture to say that our policies were the worst possible combinations of vengeance and conciliation.

The more I reflect on it, the more I am convinced that our prosecution of the war on terror will take many, many years. We should begin to recognize that we have embarked on the most significant military and diplomatic venture since the Cold War, and it may take longer than 50 years. It will lead to an imposition of a Pax Americana in the third world because to do this work with half measures will only lead to a replay of the 1930s. Our strategic approach should be equal parts carrot and stick, military destruction of states that sponsor terrorism and diplomatic/economic pressure to subvert and replace non democratic governments. This will require a tremendous amount of foresight, treasure, sacrifice and patience. I am dubious if our nation has the long range vision to finish what must be started.

The military challenge is the easiest so I will pass on amplifying other than to say that a combination of action and threats, coupled with aggressive intelligence and covert operations will satisfy our national lust for vengeance.

We must make it our specific and unalterable policy that we will work actively for true representative governments around the world. We will spare no effort to assist those nations in making the difficult transition required to empower the people of any nation. But we will couple this with a strong statement of policy that those who persist in the exercise of power for the benefit of the few will earn not only our scorn but will feel our displeasure in their wallets. It may be necessary, for reasons of realpolitik, to supply nations like Egypt with foreign aid but we should begin to fashion a means to tie their national policies (both economic and political) to our stipends. For far too long we have tolerated the squandering of billions in economic aid to oligarchs and strong men so that they might keep food cheap or build public works of questionable value. I am not advocating a return to Jimmy Carter style "human rights concern" as much as I am proposing that we look upon our largesse as investments in the future and our disbursement as a portfolio. Those nations who move in the correct direction, toward free markets and democracy, will see more investment and those who do not, less will follow. As a side note we should make our participation in international organizations like the World Bank and IMF contingent upon the adoption of free market principles. It is no surprise that many of the economic tragedies in the past 40 years can be laid at the feet of organizations that enshrine "balanced budgets" as good policy and preach the Poisson of devaluation as solutions to what are systemic economic problems.

Probably the most creative thing we can do diplomatically is free ourselves from the tyranny of old dead guys who made our maps. Looking around the world one can see that many of the troubles we face today are exacerbated by these lines that were drawn by former colonial administrators in London and Paris many years ago. Ethnicity is a powerful force and leads to much bloodshed and oppression. Much of the third world is rooted in ancient tribalism. Why not color outside the lines? We should work for the adjustment of national borders to include, rather than divide, tribal and ethnic groups. Most nations of the world do not have a history of tolerance and protection of minority rights. We are wrong to assume that Pashtuns and Tajiks will live together in peace and harmony. Let us be realistic about what can be done and work in those areas where groups can be consolidated. The price for our good offices in mediation is economic support and a guarantee of protection of minority groups. This is certainly a radical proposition, but when you look around the world at the fractiousness caused by ethnic strife one can only conclude that perhaps we should abandon the ideals of our own nation and settle for a more practical settlement that might bring a measure of peace and stability.

It appears to me that we are on the brink of a dramatic shift in the world and we should adopt original and creative solutions with clearly defined goals.

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