Monday, February 16, 2009

The Deja Vu Syndrome

Most Americans know and celebrate February 12 as the birthday of A. Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States.

Lincoln's presidenc,ymoreso than that of George W. Bush, was linked to war. Even before he reached Washington, the first states of the deep South had declared themselves free of the Union and were banding together to form the Confederate States of America.

Lincoln not only presided over the conduct of the American Civil War, he so dominated -- figuratively and almost literally -- American history in the period 1861-1865 that Americans in general must think hard to identify any of his contemporaries. The first shot fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor came on April 12, 1861; Lee surrendered to Grant April 9, 1865. Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1865 and died from an assassin’s bullet April 15, 1865.

Lincoln’s vision of the post-war United States rested on what I call the “three Rs” of Reunification, Reconciliation, and Reconstitution. All were elementary efforts toward developing and implementing a re-ordered set of moral principles that recognized the inherent equality of all humanity and, in so doing, renounced the institution of slavery for all time.

On that same February 12, 1809, Charles Darwin entered the world as a British citizen. Darwin, author of The Origin of Species, was the person who finally saw through the mist of time and developed the theory of evolution to explain the variety of species – including homo sapiens – that inhabited the globe and the governing principles of the process by which some flourished while others faded.

Regrettably, Darwin’s conclusions and principles pointed to a distinctly negative trait in natural evolution: the propensity of the most physically fit in every species to survive and flourish at the expense of the less fit. Within the species, the weak are abandoned, expelled from the group, or killed. If accosted by a predator, the less agile within the group are at greater risk of falling prey – unless the weaker are able to compensate for their lack of physical strength.

It is this ability to find a substitute for the lack of physical power that has marked the rise of homo sapiens and the distribution of “power” – with the concomitant increase in the survivability of the numbers of this “tribe” which seems to be the only one that makes wholesale killing of its own species a regular part of daily life.

Put these reflections about human dignity and Nature into the context of the increasing intensity of the fighting along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border between the Taliban and their al-Qaeda supporters and the U.S. and NATO and today’s news:

- In the four years from June 2004 to June 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the U.S. Army failed to account for 87,000 rifles, other side arms, and mortars sent to Afghanistan;

- Over the same period, the Pentagon failed to maintain complete records on another 135,000 weapons donated from other countries allied with the United States;

- Of the 87,000 rifles sent by the United States, the serial numbers of only 46,000 were even recorded while the balance – 41,000 – are unknown and therefore will be untraceable.

Back in August 2007, the GAO reported to Congress that the Pentagon could not account for another 190,000 rifles and pistols provided to Afghan security forces.

There is, of course, the very real possibility that most if not all of the missing weapons have fallen into the hands of the Taliban and their allies.

That this is more than mere speculation is borne out by the increasing numbers of insurgent fighters crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan, the ability of the Taliban to maintain control over territory inside Afghanistan during the day, and the provision of “government services” to the rural population.

More pertinent is today’s announcement that the Pakistan government has negotiated a deal with the Islamist leaders of the Swat Valley in Pakistan to let them use Sharia as the basis of law in the area in return for which the tribal leaders will require the insurgents to stop fighting Islamabad.

But what about those rifles; will they be "traded" for what the insurgents are using now? Stay tuned: this could get quite conflated.

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