Kids these days

I was at a party the other night, and when I walked in there was a guy to my right who was wrapped up in a conversation with a woman about the United States’ position in the world. I of course eavesdropped and listened to his very heated rhetoric and arguments. I wanted to get involved (I love arguments) and almost did, but I considered myself off-duty, so I restrained myself and went about my party business. Anyway, here’s what went down.

This guy was being pretty dramatic. At one point he seemed to be trying to blame the U.S. for terrorism (not in the way of saying the U.S. causes all terrorism, but trying to shift the debate toward U.S. policy) by saying that we gave Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban during Soviet invasion. That policy really bothered him.

The problem here I think is many-fold. As I understand it, the U.S. didn’t supply weapons directly to Al Qaeda, but to the Taliban, which, at the time, was a big difference. Indeed, they were fighting the Soviets who were, and let me just skip the apocalyptic rhetoric, dangerous and threatening people. Should we have cared about Afghanistan? I’m not sure. It probably didn’t matter that much, but should we feel bad about having then destroyed their regime? Should we feel like our reversal of support for these people indicates some moral taint on America? Not really. At the time, we thought arming these people would help achieve a foreign policy victory with the minimal amount of cost. We may have even known that these people were bad news in the long run, but that’s just an issue of policy, not perfidy. And surely a regime that sheltered the largest security threat to the U.S. in decades didn’t honestly believe that they could count on our support simply because we sold them weapons fifteen years ago.

In short, my point is that things change. It was productive to arm Taliban and more accurately Mujaheddin insurgents. But once the Taliban started running a failed state for terrorists and the Soviet Union collapsed, it no longer made sense to keep working with them. Simple as that.

Second, this guy was going off about how the U.S. is using most of the world’s resources, and I think his point was about energy. Now the thing that bothered me here was that he seemed to think that just because we use an overwhelmingly greater amount of energy per capita than any other country, we were already a selfish and greedy country. Kind of, but its more nuanced than that. First, the issue of pollution is a real one. If we are polluting much more than our population should indicate than that’s a cost we’re putting on the world (and we probably are doing that, but this point goes unmentioned by this nameless person). But just because we’re using a lot of energy doesn’t really show anything. The question would be, are we using it well, and are we paying a fair price for it? The answer to the first question is that yes, we have used a lot of energy to make a prosperous, and mainly just society for a huge amount of people. That is better than having oil sit in the ground in these various countries (which would happen if we didn’t have a demand for it). Also, are we paying a fair price for energy? The answer again seems to be close to yes (in places like Nigeria we are probably exploiting people and taking it unfairly, and probably in other countries too). We pay Saudi Arabia, Norway, Venezuela, and other countries a ton of money, and in fact, if OPEC is a well-organized cartel (which it probably is not), then the U.S. is the one BEING EXPLOITED when it comes to our oil situation. We’re paying monopoly prices.

Lastly, we’re not only paying for the energy we use, but we provide side-benefits to he world in the form of our innovative technology and the military we provide to places like South Korea, Japan, and for a while, most of Europe. Thanks U.S.

Be aware, I’m not trying to sing a jingoistic song about how the U.S. is God’s gift to the earth. We clearly are not. But what all this shows is that stuff is complex. Very complex, and before people go off spouting about how terrible the U.S. is at parties, they should think very carefully about what their views are, and, maybe this is just my idle fantasy, they could appreciate the difficulties of their position.

In the end, as I’ve admitted many times before, I probably come down on the liberal side of issues, but I’m open to change, and it bothers me just as much to hear conservative arguments I don’t agree with (and sometimes I do agree with them) as it does to hear liberal arguments that I do agree with that are simply elaborated in a careless and dogmatic way.


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