Small World: When traffic comes to a halt

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

The game for today is to find the correct metaphor expressed by the following real life incident:

Driving south on I-95 through Delaware the other Sunday afternoon, we suddenly saw that the three northbound lanes were virtually void of traffic. The cause soon appeared: A hook and ladder fire truck was parked in the middle of the roadway, parallel with three or four large cargo vans on the far side. Police had stopped all vehicular traffic coming toward the open space.

From that point onward — or backward — cars and trucks were immobilized. None could move forward; there were no off ramps for escape. The jam-up went on for miles and miles — maybe 10, maybe more. And behind it were battalions of cars speeding happily along, and then without warning forced quickly and firmly to apply brakes. These poor souls had no idea of the origins of the stoppage, no hint of how long they might be held up.

What did it mean — surely some significant message, far larger than a mere interruption in traffic flow? Just as the plagues visited on Moses’s people or Noah’s flood meant more than mere adverse weather conditions, the Delaware gridlock must have carried a message, but what message and for whom?

Something that big was plainly more than personal, it had to be national in its intended meaning: Was the U.S.A. coming to the end of its rapid advance? Were we suddenly blocked by impedimenta that we could hardly imagine or understand? Trying to inch forward to the right or the left was futile; blowing horns was foolish.

I immediately thought of the Middle East where futility and foolishness prevail. Was there some flaw that we could blame on President Obama’s leadership? There was no evident leader in the Delaware mess, but someone — some decision-maker representing law and order — was surely responsible. We look to our president to keep the country moving; we blame him if the wheels of progress grind to a halt.

We have the horsepower and all the advanced technology that we can’t afford to buy. We aim to achieve peace and respect. Then, some murderous gang starts an ideological fire and we rush to put it out. And in doing so with some success, we find that we have blocked movement on a lot of other initiatives.

We successfully recruit monarchs and their civilian look-alikes in the region and give them starring roles to play in defeating ISIS, the terrorist gang they funded to start with. We bow to their sectarian wish to bring down Syria’s cruel, but secular regime — although it has long been fighting ISIS and its fellow terrorists.

Our coalition partners are, in fact, a large part of the problem. They have had the funds to finance modern states with the infrastructure of effective education; they preferred rote religious lessons. Memorization, not analysis. They might have allowed some measures of democracy; they offered repression instead. These are our allies!

Just as the onrushing vehicles had no choice but to speed forward into the jam-up, so Obama had no choice but to hurl American and allied forces against the ISIS savages. He was driven to act, even though the consequences might be damaging in as yet unforeseeable ways.

Even if we succeed in defeating (what does defeat mean anyway?) ISIS, the spreading cancer of discontent will persist and accelerate. We may retake ISIS-controlled cities and towns; we are a long way from retaking the minds of the region’s youth. We think we are loved when royals join our forces; we ignore the hatred we foster when we timidly allow Israel to kill hundreds in Gaza. As our bombing of ISIS targets increases, the inevitable “collateral” deaths of innocents will breed new recruits against us.

If some wise leader had constructed a cheap and convenient rail or bus service along the eastern seaboard, there might not be so many autos and trucks on the road. A difficult, almost impossible decision, you say? Hardly. All it takes is the right ration of intelligent foresight and the courage to fight the opposing interests.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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