President Obama with Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco (Photo: White House)
President Obama with Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco (Photo: White House)

By Harry C. Blaney III

There is an ongoing debate about how “dangerous” our world is today compared with some earlier and often undefined period. But in place of cool and dispassionate analysis we are getting a lot of ideological and partisan strife and accusations (especially from the Right) which is aimed more at gaining power by using this “idea” as a battering ram to gain power and money.

Looking back it smacks like the old saw of the 1950s when the Republicans used it against President Truman by asking “who lost China” or the accusations of the McCarthy era that there was a communist under every department office and desk. It also reflects the gain that is perceived by the Republicans of trying to make the Democrats, and today president Obama especially, look weak on national security issues. Frankly, this has had some success as our national media has played this theme up and the natural bent of public opinion is often to accept what is fed to it by a complicit media. Public opinion polls indicate that “national security” is a “weak” point of Democrats.

Yet the definition of “weak” has too often been used by these groups when President Obama chooses to use “soft power,” like sanctions, diplomacy, coalition building, and limited military tools. They see the world only in term of sending our troops into harm’s way willy nilly and mindlessly without consideration of the reality of the “dangers” we face or their true solutions. Strength is defined by the neo-cons and right-wing Republicans as putting Americans in harm’s way but not addressing the fundamental sources of our risks.

What is not taking place is a deep understanding of the differences between the “dangers” of yesterday and the “dangers” of the 21st century. The reality is that today our “dangers” are far more complex, ubiquitous, non-conventional, and often unseen in their depth and their impact. In the Cold War we focused mostly on the danger of the Soviet Union to the detriment of other emerging challenges that were still little understood or just simply ignored. The fact is that issues like climate change, global drug trade, global health crises, terrorism, starvation and poverty, ethnic clashes, environmental problems like growing lack of water, rapid urbanization, and the spread of  deforestation, and many other problem areas that were emerging, were given little attention compared to what was perceived as real and imminent threats, for example, a possible nuclear clash between America and the old Soviet Union.

There is also the question of what and how nations and the international community should address these challenges and “dangers.”  But a few decades ago, while there were differences, there was more consensus on how to address them, if not actual action to deal with them. Today we are seeing the horrendous costs of the corrosion of partisanship and ideological rigidity. This means that some extreme groups with great power and money now advocate for “solutions” that actually exacerbate the “dangers.” Often in America and abroad they seem to have won the day with governments and with the public. Today this is seen in multiple areas in terms of the decisions America should be able to take and in the capacity (or incapacity) of the international community to address real as against made up “dangers.”  The “sequestration” of the American budget levels has done more damage to the capacity of our nation to address real danger and challenges at home and abroad than all the terrorist actions we have seen so far. 

President Obama has been blocked from rational and needed actions by the obstruction of Republicans in Congress, by business groups with narrow economic and profit driven agendas, and not least, by a media which reflects a conservatism and ownership which panders to the interests of their paymasters.

So limits have been put by these interests on the ability to negotiate a global climate change treaty, funding of EPA for environmental and health regulations, and the ratification of the Law of the Sea and Comprehensive Test Ban treaty which support key American and global values that seek to address real dangers. At home Republicans attack Obama over his effort to deal with the Ebola crisis, but it was they who cut the budgets of agencies that are at the first line of defense in dealing with many such crises.  They did the same to many diplomatic programs that focus on a broad range of problem areas. Therefore their myopic actions put America in danger on many fronts.

We clearly need a new long-term perspective more driven by the reality of our landscape and by “facts” rather than narrow ideology and greed.  Sadly we seem to have a democratic system that seems to increasingly serve the interests of the few at the cost of the interests of the nation and the globe as a whole.  To achieve better decisions requires a more educated electorate, a fairer and more balanced media, and not least courage by our leaders and individual citizens to actively participate in a serious debate on what the real dangers are out there and what best solutions to pursue.

There are several elements that we need on an international level to immediately address.  The first is a rethinking of national security with a wider prism and with long-range and truly sustainable efforts.  The other is the recognition that solutions are not possible for any of our “real” dangers without some commitment of added resources and for that cost to be shared fairly by those that have the most and now monopolize the wealth of our society.  We need to give a greater voice to all of our people and begin to be “problem solvers” rather than “problem creators” that add to our dangers the elements of ignorance and greed.

We welcome your comments!


  1. Harry C. Blaney III November 2, 2014 / 9:50 PM

    I’m not looking for a adversarial “debate” you nor am I looking for a free lunch but thanks for the offer, but agree strongly that a wider dialogue is needed on the issues you raise. Do contact me and we will chat…you know my contact points.

    For all of our readers, we do need a more serious wider discussion about how our domestic politics hurts our role in the world but also how we need to reform our international institutions and most importantly have a more informed public. But it is likely the far right and especially our mindless bought, biased and irresponsible media will work hard to make our citizens even less informed of the reality of our situation and thus our country less effective or fair and our world even more destructive, dangerous, and risky.

  2. Harry C. Blaney III October 28, 2014 / 8:43 PM

    There is much to admire in Chuck’s perspective of our world’s problems and perhaps even of his view of humanity. The problem today is a world of nations states some of whom have been very bad actors and also often an authoritarian bent, plus some nasty non-state actors (which only proves that a world government may not be the answer yet). Sadly, a weakened United Nations unable to act due to vetoes in the Security Council which is not is own fault, but rather limits its ability to counter the greed, brutality, and rapacity of our world. But this condition existed even before nation states as such existed. And this has been the case for much of humanity on this earthly planet.

    The question before us is not the theoretical question of the desirability of a world government but how to order our current global environment into a true global community which take seriously responsibility, concern for the security and well being of all of humanity, and not least, has as its base respect for the dignity of each person and is run in some kind of fair democratic way. We are still a long way from that great goal unfortunately. The United Nations serves as a symbol for just that kind of global order but not yet its realization.

    Chuck says “we are in a new era of permanent war, still dragging persistent poverty with us into the future, and maintaining an unwavering dependence on fossil fuels and militaries to ‘keep’ things running as they are.” I may agree that we have a sad conflict ridden world with much inequality and some bad governments and people around the globe, including here in the US, who care not a bit about others. We see this even within nation states and other non-state actors.

    However, I do not accept that the trend is inevitable and that many of the problems you cite, including mitigating conflict, inhumanity in our behavior, dealing with and global warming, etc. all can and should be addressed in creative and focused ways…….even in a nation state world we have and which will not change soon. If, and only if, we reform both ourselves and start to seriously strengthen our international institutions like the UN.

    But nations who have the power to act need, whenever possible, to act wisely to stop warfare and genocide and poverty. Here in the US we have one of the brightest most well meaning presidents we have had in decades, but partisan, and frankly often a racist based politics, that destroys any decent effort to help others either at home or abroad, seems to be the order of the day. This vitriolic right-wing politics pushes for unthinking military action at a drop of a hat without regard to consequences or on the ground reality. I remember that old dictum “heal thyself” which is a first start in making us a better nation and the start of creating a saner, cleaner, more safe world.

    In any case keep hope, and work for here and now solutions and thank you for your thoughts.

    • chuck woolery October 28, 2014 / 10:38 PM


      Thank you for your thoughtful response. And, I know you are aware of the humorous definition of ‘insanity’. “Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.” In my cantankerous view any hope that our “global community which take seriously responsibility, concern for the security and well being of all of humanity” is lethal optimism. (Ever seen those dare devil stunts go wrong? And they likely completed the stunt without error 100 times.) UN efforts to stop pandemics, genocide, war, revolutions, hunger, environmental destruction, terrorism or other murderous human rights violations is probably batting 25% or less. And all it takes is one war (or Ebola virus) to ruin your whole day (economy, environment or UN ideal).
      Significant UN reform seems self evident. Particularly around the protection of human rights. Yet there is NO conversation, legislation or media attention on this glaring need.

      Opportunity!!! December 10th is Human Rights day marking the anniversary of the UN passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I invite you to speak (at a forum I’ve not yet organized- but soon will) regarding the UN’s role and capacity in this context.
      Are you game? If so. Please brain storm with me (and any others interested) on a venue and speakers.

      I’ll buy you lunch.


  3. chuck woolery October 23, 2014 / 11:58 PM

    UN Day! A day of celebration? Condemnation? Or Education?
    Today is UN Day! Many will use this day to promote this polite global agency that once held so much promise for human kind. Others will use it to proclaim with some merit that the UN is virtually useless in today’s world of increasing risks and failed states.
    Ebola, ISIS, climate change. WMD proliferation, Russian expansion… all competing for attention and world action. Which US national security threat is the greatest? Which should we work on first? If you are concerned at all about these and/or the fate of humanity…or just want to protect your own family and personal fortune, you might be thinking ‘so many threats, so little time’. It seems hopeless.
    But, please note there is one sliver of possibility. There is one change, a major change, that if we could pull it off, we could best prevent most of the threats we face and most effectively reduce the costs in lives and dollars from most of the other threats we cannot prevent. This singular change however, requires a clear understanding of what the common thread is that now that sources and sustains nearly all of these threats and several others not listed.
    Drum roll….national sovereignty (NS). NS is the antiquated global governance structure that was first established at the Treaty of Westphalia approximately 400 years ago and enforced today by the founding documents of the United Nations. NS is essentially, the right of each nation, to do whatever it want, whenever it wants, and to whomever it wants (usually within it’s own borders) without accountability for any gross or minor violations of basic human rights. The same rights that all nations agreed to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but have only gotten lip service at the UN by even the most powerful government leaders.
    Unfortunately, the UN has absolutely no power, capacity or resources for the protection of humanities God given rights. It was designed that way. All it has is flowery words, comprehensive documents and principled agreements that have no enforcement mechanisms to hold individuals accountable for their crimes. Crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, torture or reprehensible environmental destruction cannot be stopped by any UN institution. That’s the way world governments like it…most of the time. The UN only has the force of good ideas and noble summits. Summits where people of power, knowledge and ‘interests’ can talk. At best, the UN has hope. The hope of the world’s people and many working within the UN that nations working together can resolve many world problems. But all they have now to hold nations, leaders and corporations accountable are war, threat of war, sanctions (which can be more deadly than war), and diplomatic harsh words or feeble actions that are more likely to hurt the citizens of a nation than the leaders who are ultimately irresponsible in their activities.
    The change we urgently need is to move from the current law of force the world now operates under (those with the most force make the rules). To the ‘rule of law’ — where laws are created by a democratic process with ‘we the people’ representing far more than nice words in the UN preamble. Enforceable laws applied equally to all (ensuring justice) and holding individuals accountable for their actions (or lack of action) instead of entire populations. And most importantly, laws that are primarily for the protection of the inalienable human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead of existing national laws that protect those fortunate enough to be endowed with political, economic or military power.
    If the universal human rights had been enforced at the end of World War II as intended by the heroic leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and others also working to prevent another holocaust, world war or usage of unprecedented weapons of mass destruction, the world today would be far more peaceful and free than it is now. But now, with each passing day, our world is less secure and less free.
    Inadequate or nonexistent health care systems in West Africa are now the driving the call by Ebola free nations to quarantine West African nations. Restricting air travel and increased surveillance isn’t isolated to the Ebola threat. The NSA surveillance powers are focused on ISIS and other potential murderous extremist groups spreading their infectious ideology to receptive ears. Our best ‘intelligence’ institutions are now pleading with Congress to prohibit social media sites from blocking their backdoor cyber access. Something they claim is essential to quickly identifying suspects who may wish (or are actually planning) to do us harm. These agencies appear to lack the wisdom the First Lady had in 1945 – of eradicating the conditions that lead to war (violence between nations), genocide (mass murder within nations) and any global insecurity (abuses by any nation) or horrendous (torture) or murderous (Drone strikes) national tactics where innocent people may be caught in the cross fire.
    Their ‘ideal’ hopes back in 1945 were to create a global social, physical and psychological climate in which the number of sick, illiterate and/or psychopathic extremist individuals would be minimized. And the numbers of healthy, intelligent and physiologically well balance individuals would be so enlightened, that they would understand it was in their own self-interest to insist on the freedom, security and ultimate welfare of all others — as well as their own kin. Unfortunately, we missed that boat in this unprecedented globally interdependent world.
    An sound argument can be made that we may be too late to create such a world now that we are in a new era of permanent war, still dragging persistent poverty with us into the future, and maintaining an unwavering dependence on fossil fuels and militaries to ‘keep’ things running as they are.
    Fundamentalist Christians assure us that end times are near. Fundamentalist world federalists want the world to know we should instead end any negative self-fulfilling prophecies and act on the same ideals that our own nation’s founding fathers risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all humanity.
    Woody Allen once said, “humanity stands at a cross roads. One road leads to utter hopelessness and despair. The other. To complete annihilation.” He said “I hope we have the wisdom to choose the right path”. I’m gambling that our children, and our children’s children, are hoping we will choose the right path. World federation, where the fundamental rights of all people are superior to any nation states’ rights.
    There is no doubt that things are changing rapidly. The key question is, “Can we?”.
    Chuck Woolery,
    Former Chair, UNA Council of Organizations.

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