Washington is Broken

Washington is broken.

I came to this brilliant conclusion as I was taking my shower the other morning. This is not unusual for me, meteor showers of thoughts slashing through my brain while I’m standing under a pelting faucet. I think that this is where all great thoughts come from. No, you say? Well, you don’t have my shower. Mine has a secret pathway to the Great Beyond. But that’s another story, one for the books.

Here is why Washington is broken, and I challenge you to tell me I’m wrong. By the end of this year we will have spent approximately $800 million. In five more years, we will have spent $1.5 trillion fighting a war on terrorism, on only one front.

For the record, when we entered Afghanistan and Iraq I was 100% behind the President. And I support our troops 100% while we are there. If we have men and women with feet on the ground it is our duty to help them in the best way possible. Also for the record, I think that a public timetable for withdrawal just makes it easier for our foes.

Make no mistake. This is a cultural war, an ideological clash of global proportions. And we can never allow the freedom or our nation’s citizens to be sucked away by the hatred of others. Nor, should we ever have to live in daily fear like our allies in the Middle East.

I am not pointing fingers. I am not saying that the heroic work done by our military in Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as many other places around the globe) has been in vain. These brave men and women are doing everything within their power to preserve our freedom in the best way they know how. And they have put some serious hurt on Al Qaeda, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but all around the globe.

What I am saying, is that our system of government, and what it asks of our military has to be completely re-engineered. We have to do things in a better way.

Washington is broken, and many brave young men and women are paying the price.

I will begin my explanation with an analogy. Let’s imagine that, in your town, there is a giant swimming pool. It is the middle of the summer and the air is hot and muggy. It is sweltering. Tempers are short. Anxiety is high. But there is this pool, where everybody can swim. The water is cool and clear. The air around the pool is comfortable and dry, with a slight breeze that makes the day feel perfect. This pool is open for everyone to swim. And it is large enough to hold every man, woman and child for miles around. The gates to the pool swing open and the town’s people swarm in, delighting in the cool, fresh water and the perfect air within the pool’s gates.

Then the pool springs a leak. Then another. And another. Upon close inspection, we find that the pool has been built upon a hazardous landfill. The ground underneath is not solid. So, pieces of the pool begin to slide into the earth, first cracking, and then opening into bleeding gashes. At first, we try to fix the pool. The early cracks are small, and fixed with a little duct tape and chewing gum. But, as the cracks grow larger, water seeps out with greater and greater volume. Then, the old garbage (from the landfill) begins to seep in, flooding our pool with toxic waste that turns it into a cesspool.

What would you do? You call in the experts.

Your expert engineer determines that the original premise for the town pool was flawed. It should have been built in a different place, a place where the earth is stable and won’t crater under the great strain of humanity.

However, says our engineer, the pool can still be fixed. It will mean raising town taxes. People will die from disease. And it will poison the town’s citizens for generations. But it can be fixed, only with a steep cost. And it will have to be fixed, hole by hole, forever, as long as it is used.

Also, fixing each hole will cost more than the price of a new pool, if you built it just a short distance away.

What if this happened in your town? Your town council would have a quick huddle. There might be a full town meeting. But it wouldn’t take long for your town to decide that the expense of keeping the town’s current pool is simply not acceptable. No town leaders will not stand by while people die. They will not stand by as people’s taxes shoot up by thousands of dollars per year. And they will make an honest assessment of the value of the pool to the community. They might decide to build a new pool, in a safe place, so that all of the town’s people can enjoy their lives.

This is what is happening to our nation’s foreign policy. Our nation’s freedom is vital. The safety of our citizens must be protected. But, just like the pool, we must fully understand the foundation upon which this freedom is based.

When George Bush (41) liberated Kuwait, and stopped just short of Baghdad, many people complained, saying we should have gone all the way and liberated Iraq from its dictator. But there was a strong contingent of military people (among them, Colin Powell) who advised the president against occupying the country. Perhaps they foresaw the slippery slope it would become. We were not Nation Building, we were Liberating only.

With $1.5 trillion dollars spent on this one front of the War on Terror. (I see no way that we won’t hit this figure relatively soon. Because if we cut and run, everything we have done will have been in vain.) That is $5,000 for each citizen of this country. About $15,000 per taxpayer. And where has it gotten us?

Much of the Muslim world hates us more than ever. And our nation’s behavior gives the radical Mullahs more and more fuel to stoke the engines of hatred. There are other, more dangerous fronts in this war, with Iran Syria heading the list. Just behind these countries we have Pakistan and North Korea, and a host of other countries with a large, anti-American sentiment.

There was a serious miscalculation in this war, by the executive branch and the legislative branch. And by the majority of our population, me among them.

It is easy to criticize this war. That is not my point here. I am not saying that this war is unjust, or even unnecessary. I am not privy to classified information, or part of the think tanks that proliferate deep thoughts, like Dorothy’s Scarecrow. It may actually be the one and only true course to the long-term protection of our citizens.

But make no mistake. That this war is like a town pool that has been built upon a hazardous dump site. Unless we shut it down, too many of our citizens will die, more will be poisoned, and our town will go bankrupt.

Make no mistake. A portion of this world is about oil. If the Middle East had no oil, we wouldn’t be very interested in the place. There are plenty of other dictators around the world who cry “death to America” and get nothing but a snicker. But, oil feeds the engine of our economy. Without it, the world would sink into a global depression. We need oil. And Congress won’t give the oil companies (No judgment here, just fact.) permission to drill where all the big oil deposits lay waiting.

Oil also means revenues for our enemies. Big revenues. Enough revenues to build nuclear power plants and secret processing facilities to make big bombs. Enough revenues to buy a suitcase nuke from some poor Russian peasant soldier guarding the old Soviet stockpile. “$20 million, you say? For this old piece of junk? This little bomb I can throw into the trunk of my car and deliver to you in my garage? You sure you don’t want two of these? I’ll give you the second one at a 50% discount.” I can hear the Russian now. Twenty million? That’s pocket change to thousands of terrorist groups.

This is also about religion. When I wrote my first novel (one not yet published) I spent a great deal of time studying the Middle East. About 400 pages of this book take place in “Arabia,” a mythical country based upon Saudi Arabia. My story begins in the year 1900 and ends some time in the future. Islam, assassins, oil and politics all have their part in my book. And this radical Islam thing? It’s been going on for centuries. The “enemies” change, but the methodology remains constant.

Think of Jesse Jackson. Where would he be without racial discrimination? He bangs the same drum, over and over. I am not saying that he doesn’t have justification. He does, in some cases. I heard a story recently, in church, about how a black man, wearing a suit and accompanies by two whites, who was refused service in a restaurant in New Orleans. This was witnessed by people I trust to tell the truth. So, I know that racism still exists. This is what gives Jesse Jackson his power. And, it is what has helped him make millions for himself and his family.

When I was growing up, I was afraid to tell anyone that I was part of the Wampanoag Indian tribe. When I was growing up, cowboys and Indians was a big game. And there were lots of TV shows and movies depicting the white man against the Natives. I always rooted for the Indians. But did I ever tell my friends? Hell, no! It was only in the last decade or two that it has become a non-issue.

Sunni Wahhabism began in the 1700s, and it is based upon the creed of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. This is the conservative foundation upon which Saudi Arabia was built. Just like Christianity, there are different ways that his religion is celebrated. Where radical Christians might try to blow up an abortion clinic, radical Wahhabis might try to blow up a New York skyscraper or a jet. People like Osama Bin Laden have twisted this religion into something far different than the peaceful portion of the Quran. There are many other radical sects that use portions of the Quran to build their power and instill hatred. Ancient writings (and this includes the Old Testament of the Bible) often had a strong crime and punishment theme, and can be interpreted with the idea that God is calling for certain people to be punished (severely), and even fully eliminated. We have this same issue in the Old Testament of Christianity.

So, for our nation’s leaders to think that this war was going to be a short-term operation, utilizing a relatively minimal amounts of troops, was a gross miscalculation. Our leaders simply did not understand that our “enemies” would fight this war for centuries and not think twice about it. We should have learned from the Russian problems in Afghanistan. We should have understood the tribal nature of the Middle Eastern cultures. We should have understood that the vast majority of these people are peace-loving doves, who do not raise their hands to commit violence, even if it is to defend themselves. We should have believed Saddam Hussein when he said the fist Gulf War was just the beginning of the Mother of All Battles. He has turned out to be right.

As a result of what the military has learned in the Middle East, our military has now made an extraordinary change in Army doctrine. Stabilizing a war-torn nation now is considered equal importance to defeating an enemy on the battlefield. Whoa! Does this mean that nation-building is part of the Army Operations Manual? Sounds sort of like that to me.

Now we have a choice to make. Do we keep patching the holes in the town pool, knowing that the expense will go on forever? Or, do we build a new pool that is far safer and more cost effective?

Tell, tell, you say?

Imagine what we could have accomplished with $1.5 Trillion spent on alternative energy. Imagine if, rather that invading Iraq, we had build some large Hadron Colliders that would better help us to understand nuclear energy, paving the way toward cold fusion, with water as the energy source? Imagine if we had used some of the money to develop clean nuclear fusion, controlled by electro/magnetic fields. Imagine if we had put a hundred billion toward better solar panels and battery technology. Imagine if we had used this money to find more domestic oil and gas. Or, develop cleaner technologies to harness our own massive coal deposits. Imagine if we had an energy policy that actually allowed our oil companies to go where the oil is.

With what we spent on this war, we could have grown far closer to becoming energy independent. At least, we could have gotten the day into our sights. As it is, we are pouring more and more into this hole, with no real end in sight. Yes, we are making Iraq a safer place. But the minute we leave there, the radicals will exert their will against the vast majority of Muslims who will refuse to fight.

The original Abdul Aziz ibn Saud took over what became Saudi Arabia with an army or six to eight men. He crawled into the mud castle of the king (at the time) and killed him. The many soldiers inside the castle immediately pledged their allegiance to him. This is not a Western concept. It is not something we can understand. In the Middle East today, this sort of thing still happens. In Iraq, the conquering army of Iraqis wanted to allow their former enemies (Saddam’s former troops) to join their side, as if all was normal. To them it is. The allegiance of many can change with the wind. Except for the radical Mullahs. They never change. And they will battle us (and actively recruit among our current allied soldiers) forever. We need a radical change in our policies to keep from making this problem worse and worse.

But, Washington is broken. There are too many lobbyists in Washington who represent the status quo, companies that would be hurt by alternative fuels or energy independence. I mean, with all the problems we have with our energy dependence, such as skyrocketing prices, wouldn’t you think we would launch a Manhattan style initiative to get us out of this mess?

Not with Washington as we know it. Last year Exxon earned profits of more than $40 billion. I say, good for them. This is not a bad thing. That means they also paid about $20 billion in taxes. That, my friends, is a windfall profits tax. In some ways, Washington profits by the rise in oil prices. And, we should not get mad at Exxon for making profits they can’t really control. These profits were made on investments the company made years, decades ago, back when oil was far cheaper, below $20 per barrel. And those profits? Much of them will go back into the ground to find more oil, to keep our economy’s hungry engine fed. If you take more money away from them, you will eventually slow down the discovery of oil and hurt America.

We can’t expect the oil companies to invest in risky technologies that might work out twenty or thirty years from now. Clean, cold nuclear fusion on a massive scale? Yes, it is probably possible. (Remember Mr. Fusion in the car that comes back in time in the movie Back to the Future?) But don’t expect Exxon to plunk down $20 billion or $30 billion to build a particle accelerator, or the hundreds of billions it will take to build the facilities to make this technology come true.

This could be done. But Washington is broken. Money is the milk of politics. Some big money doesn’t want Washington to travel this road. But it is more than that. Clean, endless energy is viewed as a luxury, maybe even a pipe dream. And it is too big for us to see. We see windmills. We see solar panels. We see better batteries. We see more energy efficient light bulbs. This is like an eye dropper of water in a swimming pool. It has substance, but it is relatively minor, when compared to the true energy needs.

We do not understand particle colliders that lead us to understand how matter really works. We cannot conceive of an “Energy Internet” (my words) that powers our lives with clean, low-cost fuel. Because it will take hundreds of billions to achieve. Oops. We’ve already spent that in this war, haven’t we? And where has it gotten us?

If our new military doctrine includes the long-term occupation of conquered enemies, then we better start redefining ourselves as a world power. We are not an Imperialistic nation. We are not interested in occupying other lands, just keeping our citizens safe.

Fighting forever in the Middle East will cost our nation dearly. And this strategy shows no sign of getting cheaper. Perhaps it is time to consider a new strategy. Why don’t we really consider making our nation energy independent? The Mullahs will have to find a new bad guy, maybe China. I don’t know. Sure, there will always be those who will want to kill us. We have pornographic movies and song lyrics. We have Britney Spears and Madonna. Never mind that some of these so-called religious leaders have pictures of Hollywood stars on their PDAs, or Blu-ray disks to watch at night. Never mind that Middle East allies have funneled hundreds of billions into Madras schools that preach anti-American sentiments.

As long as we are joined at the hip by oil, we will never have the moral authority to claim innocence or outrage at what happens in the Middle East. As long as we set ourselves up as a target, we will be easy fodder for the Mullahs to breed hatred. We will be an easy source for religious power.

We need a radical energy policy that devotes enormous sums of money into solving the problem, as only a government can. Because this terrorism problem will only get worse and more expensive if we don’t. It will continue to kill and maim our finest men and women.

As in my example, we have built a pool that is poisoning our nation. And it will be far more efficient to re-engineer the pool than to keep on trying to patch it. If we can spend trillions to free a country of people we will never ever meet, we can certainly spend the same sum of money on creating a pathway to long-term energy independence on alternative, clean fuel.

But we will have to fix Washington first. Any suggestions on how to do it? I have some ideas, but now is not the time to express them.

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