Monday, June 4, 2012

Our Love of Enemies

David Rothko at Foreign Policy:
The United States is a bit like a 375-pound, middle-aged man with a heart condition walking down a city street at night eating a Big Mac. He's sweating profusely because he's afraid he might get mugged. But the thing that's going to kill him is the burger.

Since the end of the Cold War, America has been on a relentless search for enemies. I don't mean a search in the sense of ferreting them out and defeating them. I mean that America seems to have a visceral need for them. . . .

By far, the greatest threats to the United States right now are internal ones -- like that Big Mac. They don't come from terrorists. They come from political obstructionists and know-nothings who are blocking needed economic and political reforms, whether fixing a health-care system that poses a debt threat many times greater than the immense U.S. budget deficit or tackling the growing inequality in American society or overhauling the United States' money-corrupted, dysfunctional political process.

If America stopped searching for goblins under the bed, it might actually be able to reset its economic priorities and start investing in the things that would make the country stronger, more prosperous, and safer again, from infrastructure to energy security to better schools. What's more, Americans might find that a foreign policy that identified real risks but kept them in perspective and was more about deepening ties, finding common ground, and avoiding unnecessary conflict would work better than the tired us vs. them formulations of the recent past. 
Enemies give purpose to life for many people, and Americans in particular seem to need bad guys in their lives. The notion that we might have no enemies of any consequence -- which is, I think, our situation right now -- strikes people as, I don't know, absurd, or maybe empty. But I would argue that it is the truth.

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