Monday, July 21, 2008

To Heck And Back

“It’s a serious situation, but there’s a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I’m afraid that it’s a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border.”

-Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, on an interview this morning on the ABC program Good Morning America.

* * *

Oops. This was one of those signs that the candidates are human and get tired. Diane Sawyer asked him a question about Afghanistan and he was probably referring to the turbulence on THEIR border with Pakistan. Of course, I hope we all understand that Iraq and Pakistan do not actually border one another. One is the region we call the "middle east" and the other is in South Asia.

Yet in a weird way, they DO border each other now, in the sense that political rhetoric has conflated the military mission in Afghanistan with the occupation of Iraq and a generalized confrontation with the middle-east itself. We aren't known for our meticulous understanding of world geography anyway, us Americans, so the slip-up is is a bit sad even if it is understandable. Especially coming from the candidate whose signature brag is his unassailable understanding of foreign and military affairs.

So, to the maps!

Iraq is that BLUE THING right in the middle. It is surrounded by Jordan and Syria to the west, Turkey on the northern end, Iran all the way along its eastern border, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on the south.

So where in the heck IS Pakistan? It is sandwiched between Afghanistan and India, underneath China:

Nowhere on the map do I find a region called "Terrorism," and yet Senator Obama (the other overtired nitwit running for President) has been running around Afghanistan proclaiming it a central front in 'the war on terrorism.'

Groan. The war in Afghanistan is a war against the Taliban, the brutal regime that harbored an international terrorist who had organized large and deadly attacks, and would presumably do so again if they resumed power. Okay, let's grant the argument that the military mission in Afghanistan is important - it still is a war against a material enemy, not a tactic. World War I was not "The War Against Trench Warfare."

Declaring war on non-material enemies is the kind of open-ended military commitment with no boundaries that will be the legacy of the Current Occupant and Richard Cheney (the man who has effectively become his own branch of government).

So the candidate of experience is getting his maps mixed up, and the candidate of change is gamely adopting the concepts and rhetoric of the Bush administration.

Here is a map of where this might be leading:

Awww. Okay, that's one way to look at it.

Another way to look at it is to consult local geography - and to get very, very local, starting with one's own inner cartographer. A tired mind can draw a map where Pakistan borders Iraq. A lazy mind can conflate all the nations and cultures of Central America into one vague Spanish-speaking region. A hurting mind can look at historical maps, point to regions around oneself, and say, "That's mine." Every map contains the perspective of the mapmaker.

I'm not sure there's much we can do about these Presidents-in-waiting at the moment. I assume they'll get tired when they actually have the job - what kind of weird errors and language can we expect while they are in power? This, like 2-party rule itself and the lack of diverse, high-quality choices of candidates, is not something I can control.

Great changes have always tended to start from the local and the grass roots, and moved up. Instead of looking up to the politicians at the top, we had better look around - at ourselves and one another. We can make an effort to know where we come from and take an interest in seeing that our local affairs are run decently and that our inner cartographer is rested and clear. That's a place to begin the long march back from Heck.

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