Friday, March 10, 2006

Can we ever let go of "National Security"?

Some days, the extent to which the "debate" about "national security" paralyzes the country overwhelms me.

Since 9/11, all we've heard from the government is constant invocations of "national security" and "the war on terror." It's gotten to the point now where completely sensible, rational deals get turned into some critical issue of security. It's nonsense - but now the mood of the country is such that all you can do is talk about security. I'm sure congressmen know that really, the Dubai ports thing is not at all a bid deal, but because the public expects the government to be putting national security first, it's a way to score points, no matter how stupid they are.

After all, if the Democrats had stepped back and said, hey, national security is important, but this deal has nothing to do with it - the Republicans would have argued that they're soft on terror.

What horrifies me is how "national security" overpowers everything. So we have terrible health care, crumbling social services, increasing poor, crime, we're missing a city, a national debt spiralling out of control - we don't have time to discuss those things.

Let's get it straight. The US is arguably one of the safest countries in the world. There aren't bombs going off every day here. There have been exactly ZERO attacks on the US since 9/11 - and Bush may claim he's "thwarted" others but the absence of detail is just a touch suspicious. But here, it overpowers us, unlike other places.

I lived in the UK when Canary Wharf was bombed and when Heathrow Airport was shelled by the IRA. Still, "national security" was never the overwhelming debate. There was still bandwidth to talk about healthcare, about the environment, about the economy. Not here.

But then, it's amazing how Americans are encouraged to be afraid. You can't turn on the TV that there isn't some breathless newsreader discussing how to protect yourself from natural disasters, theft, terrorists, earthquakes, credit card fraud, identity theft, restless-leg-syndrome. Heck, even children are being told they need to be constantly vigilant. You recall those stories of people in nowheresville who asphyxiated themselves by covering their windows in plastic?

So what sort of surprise is it that Americans are a people living in constant fear of something, that they can't discuss other priorities?

And so, while the country hurtles towards bankruptcy, makes ridiculous investment decisions, makes enemies of the world, watches its rich get richer and its poor get poorer, all we do is obsess over national security in its countless meaningless invocations.

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