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Sunday, April 3, 2011

FRINGE POLITICS AND THE LEADERSHIP VACUUM

A recent article in the Colorado Springs, CO Gazette described a number of people in the state who are busily stockpiling assault rifles, and food and building rural compounds complete with solar panels for power. These "survivalists" are planning for some kind of catastrophe the nature of which they can‘t identify. They just want to be "ready". Perhaps given the onslaught of "catastrophic" news deluging the nation this is an understandable, although not a reasonable, reaction. Economic meltdown, unending wars, Middle Eastern uprisings and a nuclear disaster in Japan, certainly give the impression that events that impact our lives are unmanageable and out of control. Survivalists are nothing new and for decades have been regarded as an anti-government "fringe" not to be take seriously. There is no reason to reevaluate this group but a brief survey of national and world events seems to indicate that other "fringe" individuals and groups are impacting public discourse and public policy in unmanageable and serious ways.

Essentially, the "fringe" seems to becoming more than the just the extreme borders of the political "rug". In the nation's capital, the budget debate has exposed recalcitrant minorities on both the "right" and "left" edges of the rug, whose simplistic ideological commitments to massive all at once budget cuts or to a belief that all cuts to government programs are mean spirited and will unfairly harm "children", "the poor", "working Americans" and "the middle class". The resulting impasse may well cause a failure to pass another “continuing resolution” to fund government operations thus resulting in a "government shutdown". Those politicians willing to accept such an outcome apparently believe that the failure to provide government services will only affect those on the opposite side of the ideological chasm which separates the Left and Right fringes.  Until one unified political party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, compromise is an essential and fundamental responsibility of those in charge of public policy. Ideological purity is not an option.

Things are not much better on the international scene. After a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which the original goal of regime change has been transformed into attempts at "nation building" within democratic structures, the extremist fringes are still very much dictating the outcomes. In Iraq, almost daily suicide bombings claim the lives of scores of people, government officials, members of the Iraqi military and civilians alike. When large numbers of individuals are willing to blow themselves up to punish those who don't share their religious beliefs, the prospect for a political order based on the rule of secular i.e. non-discriminatory, law are greatly diminished.

But what can only be described as a "psycho war" is now occurring between a clearly intellectually challenged minister in Gainesville, Florida and mobs of religious extremists in Afghanistan. The cause of the conflict? The good reverend Terry Jones thinks that the religion of Islam is an affront to the Christian world and thus he felt compelled to carry out the symbolic act of burning a copy of the source of that religion, the Koran. In the real world of common sense, a self important crank in a Florida city has burned a book; not an act of great importance and in itself utterly devoid of consequences. But in the world of the "peaceful religion" ( just ask Obama) of Middle Eastern Islam the Koran in all its manifestations requires special treatment not only from the believers but from the entire rest of the world. So outrageous in the eyes of the mullahs and their lemming like followers was this individual act of stupidity eight thousand miles away, that violent revenge had to be taken out against someone. Since the kooky American minister wasn't available, the murder of scores of Afghans associated with their own government and United Nations workers seemed appropriate. As of this date, the rioting is in its third day and the casualties are mounting.

While hopefully, this will become an isolated incident, it sends a stark message about the viability of the "hearts and minds" strategy currently employed by the U.S. military and diplomatic corps as an adjunct to the "search and destroy" tactics currently underway in the Spring offensive against the Taliban forces. The Obama Administration seems committed to perpetuating the politically correct myth that the Afghan and Iraqi versions of Islam are compatible with the fundamental precepts of democratic governance. Fundamentalist Islam, which is the dominate strain in these countries, cannot be separated from politics and the law. It governs the daily lives of its adherents in all things. It is harshly intolerant of all non-conformity and thus by definition makes political opposition based on individual human rights impossible.

The only possible remedy to the extremist agendas both in national and international policy is clear headed and vigorous leadership. Political leaders starting with President Obama must make hard choices based on realistic goals and American interests and then lead in the face of the inevitable strident opposition from the Left and Right fringe. Political correctness, electioneering, ever changing and fickle world opinion and domestic public opinion polls should no longer drive public policy in these critical areas. The American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will have to be significantly reduced in the short to medium term whether or not democratic governments have been created. The domestic American financial situation cannot be deferred as the debt crisis continues to grow but a common sense federal budget must be passed and the government of the American people must be kept functioning. Pain free remedies are simply not available in either area. President Obama is watching, not leading. That has to change.

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