If at the end of this gloomy summer you heard me say that I have two credible reasons why you should be optimistic about world affairs, might that grab your attention?
Or would you respond skeptically-as you certainly have a right to do-by asking: "Who said so?" For if the whole basis of your newfound confidence were the say-so of Joel Belz, your hopefulness is standing on a skinny scaffold.
But if I were to tell you that two kingpin authorities of the mainstream media have just announced (1) that the war on terror is over, and we've won, and (2) that global warming is real but not to be feared, wouldn't you agree that we're due at least a minor end-of-August celebration?
Those are precisely the startling messages from James Fallows and Gregg Easterbrook in the September issue of The Atlantic. "We Win," proclaims the influential magazine's cover. "Al-Qaeda's mistakes, and our successes, have sharply reduced the terrorist network's ability to harm the United States. Its threat now rests less on what it can do itself than on what it can trick, tempt, or goad us into doing. Its destiny is no longer in its own hands."
Over 11 straightforward and persuasive pages, Fallows weighs what the terrorists have done right against what they've done wrong-and concludes that the United States should simply declare victory and get on with life. He alludes to serious mistakes in the conduct of the war in Iraq, but even when he does so seems to offer the Bush administration an occasional backhanded compliment for what has been achieved. Fallows admits that more terrorist attacks are likely in the future, but suggests they be seen-and responded to-as isolated events rather than as part of a global and ongoing war. To continue the war in Iraq, he says, negatively distorts our ability to be persuasive in our discussions with moderate Muslims elsewhere in the world. (The Fallows article obviously could not take into account the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.)
But what if the same $4.95 you spent for that issue of The Atlantic could also reassure you that all the fuss over global warming is just a tempest in an admittedly warmer-than-usual teapot? That's what Gregg Easterbrook tries in his much shorter "Some Convenient Truths," an obvious slap at Al Gore's current movie aimed at scaring everyone into thinking that New York City and San Francisco are about to be flooded by melting icebergs.
"All previous air pollution problems," Easterbrook argues, "have been reduced faster and more cheaply than predicted, without economic harm." Urban smog in the 1960s, CFC emissions in the 1980s, and acid rain in the 1990s all seemed overwhelming, he points out-until scientists and politicians took reasonable steps to resolve them. While Easterbrook advocates some governmental regulations, he disavows what he calls "the cumbersome Kyoto Protocol." The free market will work, he suggests, even in settings like Mexico, China, and India.
It's startling to see two of the biggest issues on the public agenda so casually and easily resolved in the mainstream media-without a whole string of caveats. While Fallows (national correspondent for The Atlantic) and Easterbrook (a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution) are not exactly known as raging liberals, neither are they right-wing ideologues.
What is noteworthy about both writers is their willingness to stand apart from the mainstream crowd. Easterbrook notes: "One reason the global-warming problem seems so daunting is that the success of previous anti-pollution efforts remains something of a secret. Polls show that Americans think the air is getting dirtier, not cleaner, perhaps because media coverage of the environment rarely if ever mentions improvements. For instance, did you know that smog and acid rain have continued to diminish throughout George W. Bush's presidency?"
Fallows is fallible, of course. And Easterbrook is not inerrant. But you have to appreciate them both for being willing to go against the grain and to swim upstream. They keep the conversation alive.
For Christians, of course, there's an even bigger picker-upper at the end of a summer when only seldom has been heard an encouraging word. It's the Bible's repeated promise that God still reigns-over all the nations, the confusion, the war, the heat, the brokenness, and the destruction. That too is against-the-grain, upstream thinking. And that too will keep the conversation alive.