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Eight years have passed since that fateful day, a day which we will all remember; an historical pivot point, stirring the passions of people around the world, and steering the great American ship of state. Many have suggested that the concerted direction that the United States took in response to 9/11 was over-reaching, unwise and shortsighted.  

Overreaching. We now find ourselves embroiled in a continuing occupation of a nation not directly involved in the attacks (Iraq), and chasing down the fantasy of “nation-building” accompanied by military occupation in Afghanistan. Pentagon budget reaches higher and higher levels (2008: $607 Billion). Hundreds of thousands of lives displaced, lost; over a trillion dollars has been spent on this folly. Lesson? The highest levels of restraint and responsibility must be employed when considering war. Sending American soldiers into harm’s way with the inevitable consequence of lives lost should only be an action of last resort — especially so, after being thrown into a reactionary mode after being assaulted like on 9/11.

Unwise. Responding to an act of international criminality with traditional massed military deployments and occupations (Afghanistan and Iraq) is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. America has fallen victim to one of the most common military blunders: preparing for and fighting the last war (Cold War), instead of meeting the real and present threat on the field with which it resides.

Shortsighted. Our foes, structurally more akin to drug cartels than state actors, will continue to proliferate beyond the borders of our current occupations in a decentralized and asymmetrical fashion, effectively sidestepping most of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, America plods down the well-trodden road of waning military empires overextending themselves economically and militarily, depleting our resources, degrading our values and ultimately, losing sight of and defeating our purpose as a nation.

Was the way in which the Bush administration reacted to 9/11 the only option? Was there an alternative path we could explored after the heinous attacks that day?

Criticism of policy in a vacuum of no-solutions is empty, sensational and only instigates unrest, so I’d like to offer some ideas of a different path we could’ve taken after 9/11, and urge the consideration of moving in that direction today. I have always felt that there was a unique opportunity to foster unparalleled transnational cooperation after 9/11 in the formation of an international policing effort to combat criminal acts of terrorism. Needless to say, introducing the possibility of decades-long occupations in the Middle East and Near East would not be part of that alternate strategy. Squandering the sympathies of much of the world, Bush pursued old style war-making and missed this chance for America to rise to a new level of cooperative global leadership.  

When the Heritage Foundation began pumping its “Long War” doctrine in 2003, I recalled some basic war strategy I had learned, that to control your enemy, you make it do what it wants to do. If there was any mystery before 9/11 as to whether US militarism was ever reckless and trigger-happy, after the drum-up to war in Iraq, that was cleared up, playing right into the hands of our detractors.

This was laid out in Heritage’s Long War premise:

But it will take time. Before this is over, the time we spent defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s forces in Iraq will be to the timeline of the war on terror as the Korean war and the proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan were to the Cold War — relatively brief flashpoints of action in a long, sustained struggle.

With our current economic recession, is this really a mission we can afford? When factories are being shut down, people losing their jobs, their homes, shouldn’t we re-think where our money’s being spent somewhat?

Counter to ‘Long War’, there is a different path on foreign policy and “global relations” that may benefit America in the long run.  A fraction of the money spent on military spending could be directed towards alleviating extreme poverty in the world; good works would do well to rehabilitate an American image now weighted down by accusations of neo-imperialism.

At a recent gathering of interfaith leaders at Loyola Marymount University, attended by Cardinal Mahony and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Rebecca Tobias, delivered a keynote address on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, what they are, where they are today, and some examples of humanitarian legislation brought forward in Congress to articulate of different kind of empire; an empire of humanity, compassion and generosity.

On this anniversary of 9/11, let’s take pause and consider the totality of the trajectory we, as one of the most bountifully blessed nations on Earth, are travelling upon.

Does the constant hyper-vigilant maintenance of over 1000 military installations littered across the landscape of the planet truly reflect what we prioritize as a people?  Or is it possible that we have overreached, and that a little pruning and replanting would be healthy for the American orchard.

Here are the beautiful words Rebecca Tobias offered:

In the spirit of humility, I’d like to offer words of St. Francis of Assisi to keep in mind and to hold in our hearts as we travel together between our circles of connection, “You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” The power of your presence may hold the key to improving the lives of those you serve more than you may ever come to know.

Thank you for this opportunity to address the current status of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals — and to share some thoughts about Point7’s intention and achievables which embody spiritually sound principles of governance.

As communities of conscience we have been called upon to forward legislation and societal conditions which appeal to our highest sense of right. We recognize that peace, stability and prosperity are indivisible. In today’s globalized economy, all nations are far more closely tied together than ever before. The current global reach of poverty calls for prompt, decisive and coordinated action to address its causes and mitigate its impact-of paramount importance is the strengthening of necessary mechanisms that will support the Point7 initiative especially in this time of global economic challenge. Early indications show that, not surprisingly, the poor have suffered the most from the financial upheaval of the last year — we cannot allow this to undermine the MDG commitments made in 2000.

Faith and moral leadership has a vital role to play in not only stewarding the values of the MDG’s but also in assuring that practical means of support are made available to those in need. The UN system has come to recognize certain limitations in regard its “institutional memory”; to wit, political actors come and go, whether by election or appointment.  Faith leaders on the other hand, have a much broader and lasting influence in society, as the foundational values they impart, nurtured over a lifespan, help shape what it means to be fully human.

Allow me to relay some of the on-going victories and challenges in meeting MDG benchmarks.(Most Statistical citations are from the updated 2009 UN Millennium Development Goals Report).

Goal 1:  Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Prior to the current economic crisis, the depth of poverty had been reduced in almost every region. However bold strides need to be taken to alleviate the suffering of the nearly 1.4 billion people around the world who subsist on less than $1.25 per day.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education.

Political will coupled with targeted investments, have yielded widespread primar
y school enrolment (90%) in all but two regions of the world– we have seen great strides in securing universal primary education, but we are still falling short of the 2015 target when we consider that half of the 72 million children out of school have never been inside a classroom.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

Women are slowly gaining ground, but progress is again marked by regional differences. Girls still wait for equal access for primary schools-most women remain in positions of low status and face significant social barriers.

Close to two-thirds of all women employed at all toil in vulnerable or unpaid jobs which add to the already heavy burden carried out by women in households in all regions.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality.

Some good news here — deaths in children have declined steadily worldwide — but it still remains that a child born in a developing country is 13 times more likely to die before their first 5 years of life than a child born in an industrialized nation.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health.

Giving birth safely is still largely a privilege of the rich, and consequently, little progress has been made in saving mothers lives. The key to improving outcomes relies on the presence of skilled health workers at the time of delivery.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

The plight of those affected by AIDS is inspiring new approaches directed to children, their families and their communities. However, knowledge and education about HIV is still unacceptably low. On average only 35% of young men and 19% of young women aged 18 to 24 in developing countries have a thorough and accurate understanding of HIV.

This must change.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability.

Spreading awareness of global warming and the dangers of climate change have increased over the last nine years, but far more effort is needed to protect all species and ecosystems under threat. It is important to demonstrate that the world can handle the climate change problem even in the midst of the global economic downturn and seize the innumerable opportunities that exist for green job growth in all regions. This I believe is the new economy that will bring the world together in purpose.

Goal 8: Global Partnership for Development.

Advanced communication technologies bring new opportunities for development. Today, more than one-fifth of the world’s population is now online, but the digital divide is still cavernous in terms of insuring access to information and the tools for resource management that internet connectivity provides. Increased connectivity will help realize goals for health, education, employment and overall poverty reduction.

When I consider the gravity of this condition I am reminded of a passage from an article by Dr. Robert Gilman who describes the perpetuation of poverty as the result of structural violence–and how economically driven processes have conspired to constrain individual agency and collective morality. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress. This is inhumane and our rigorous pursuance of the MDGs  seek to ameliorate this spiritual and ethical dilemma.

Gilman argues with clarity that, “Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of this whole tragic situation is that essentially everyone in the present system has become a loser. The plight of the starving is obvious, but those who exploit their conditions don’t have much to show for their efforts either – not compared to the quality of life they could have in a society without the tensions generated by this continued exploitation. Especially at a national level–what the rich countries need now is not so much more material wealth, but the opportunity to live in a world at peace. The rich and the poor have become each others’ prisoners. Today’s industrialized societies did not invent this structural violence, but it could not continue without our permission.”

A new social ethos, thankfully, is wielding a profound impact on circumstances and societal mechanisms which will help steward the changes we seek as we work together to realize a more humane system of governance and assuage the suffering of those facing extreme poverty.  

It’s an evolution of sorts which promotes thoughtful and compassionate reflection when decisions are made in the marketplace…it’s the concept of the Triple-Bottom Line–the consideration of human, environmental and organizational needs–weighted in equal measure–when decisions are arrived at in every area of progress as they affect people, planet and profits. This lexicon of governance carried forward offers a broader criteria of how we truly define sustainable economic and societal success by those of us who possess the capacity to share much. Introducing and expediting the Triple Bottom Line in our organizational relationships stand to foster conditions which will serve to legitimize our highest ideals; this Copernican shift deserves our attention–as it has been embraced with much success throughout the UN system, civil society and private enterprise.

In essence, we are legislating compassion. Cultivating a plan. Implementing a practical ‘strategy of generosity’.

In the same regard Point7 is the cornerstone of multilateral legislative initiatives which serve to recognize ‘the Other’ as an embodiment of the Sacred, and affirms that that all in the human family are fundamentally valuable for who they are–and not merely instrumentally valuable only for what they do/or for what they consume in the marketplace.

Here in the US, faith and democracy are at their best when in partnership. One of many legislative offerings posited in the spirit of Point7 is HRes 1078 which calls for the adoption of a Global Marshall Plan in express concordance with the UN’s MDG’s and also stands as a noteworthy example of interfaith collaboration which concretizes the highest ideals of our faith traditions. Championed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, the bill was introduced in April 2008 by our first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison and co-sponsored with Jim Moran (Catholic), and Emanuel Cleaver (Protestant) in a campaign to change the direction of American foreign policy. The cornerstone of the Plan invites safety and security wielding the genius of our best and out brightest.

Legislating compassion ministers to the arrested part of our souls–it encourages individuals to express their innate tendencies of generosity and caring, rather than those of domination and control, strengthening human relationships, creating stronger bonds between communities and nations.  

Our call to action is well-defined by Rabbi Tarfon of the Pirkei Avot-Ethics of the Fathers:

‘The time to repair the world is short, the task is great, those engaged in the work are weary-and the Holy One, Blessed be He is impatient’…and so are we.