Somewhere down in their guts, and despite the bravado of Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric, the people who yearn for “change” in America are asking for leadership that will not turn its back on the wisdom of peace makers like Saul Alinsky. But last week’s killings in South Ossetia seemed to grin back at the young movement with the face of Randoph Bourne saying I told you so. “War is the health of the state.”
Out of the recent Caucasian (sic) war, a clear winner rises. Whether you look to Russia, Georgia, Poland, or the USA, the victor stands waving flags. His name is nationalism. And in the face of this victory, what are the chances that the people of the USA will be able to choose internationalism instead?
George Bush betrays USA commitments to internationalism, but he could not act alone. What he goes for is nationalism in alliance. What he calls coalition should be more properly termed a cartel, because a coalition is something you put together to fight a cartel, if you want language that respects liberation.
The Georgian (was the pun intended?) assault on South Ossetia was a repudiation of internationalism, and in that sense, it worked perfectly well. Prior to the Georgian glare of rockets, there was an international arrangement in place for the peace of South Ossetia. It was a weak arrangement, as we see. And it was dominated by Russian influence. Nevertheless, the peace of South Ossetia was formally monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And compared to this week, we can see that it was working in important ways.
The war over South Ossetia makes official what George Bush has been telling us all along. The cold war cannot be over, so long as there is an unstoppable nationalism on the loose. The cleverness of last week’s gun show was how it (once again) transferred the reality of that nationalism over to one side. My god! Look at what the Russians are doing!
What Russia’s doing is criminal. It counts as collective punishment of the Georgian people. But the problem is finding any principle of wrongdoing that George Bush has not already shredded. What Georgia did on Aug. 7 was criminal also, in violation of tautly stretched peace agreements. And when Georgian troops were retrieved from Iraq, who could not be reminded of the criminal-in-chief?
In place of this never-ending spiral of gang violence, I think there is a real and present yearning for a global neighborhood that thugs don’t shove around. Which brings us back to the roots of the Alinsky dream and the half-conscious attempt by the Obama movement to globalize it.
As Socrates once said to sweet Phaedrus, before you can persuade a person to do anything good for himself, you have to figure out how to speak to his particular kind of soul. In the language of the political battlefield last week, we learned something we might have thought we could ignore about the soul of America until November, 2008. Something, dare we say it, that Jeremiah Wright was on to.
The textbook answer to cycle of national belligerence, of course, is to get back in the business of international power and peace. A textbook answer won’t work, you say? In fact, the American voters have for the past several elections desired something other than a Bush-whacking nation. Getting who you vote for is difficult enough these days. But then getting why you voted for them? That’s the ultimate challenge that the movement for “change” faces in the world today.