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logo    How to Make Solving Problems Impossible

Last week President Obama ordered the closing of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay and numerous obstacles to doing it were quickly brought up. What is to be done with the enemy combatants detained? They can't be transferred to the American legal system to be tried, because the evidence against them was illegally obtained. They can't be released because they would return to their terrorist activities. They can't be sent to other countries because no other country wants to admit them. So if they can't be sent to other countries, transferred to the American legal system, or released, the camp can't be closed. So the order to close the detention camp is effectively nullified.

The American political system has made a practice of making it impossible to solve its social problems. For decades, Americans have unsuccessfully fought a "war on drugs." Why has it failed? To win it, America must secure its borders, a difficult task even with the cooperation of all Americans. The border is huge. But securing it becomes impossible if American self-interest groups oppose it. To win the "war on drugs," the border must be secured, but securing it would prevent American businesses from profiting from the labor of illegal immigrants, and, of course, American politicians don't want to do anything to alienate their commercial supporters. Policy nullified!

Americans want to reduce the cost of medical care and make it available to all residents, but American politicians don't want to diminish the profits of the businesses that run up the costs. Policy nullified!

There is a pattern in these examples. Burden a proposed policy with contradictory goals and the policy can not be effective even if enacted. That's what happens in a two-ideologically-based-party system, and as a result, America has not solved a major social problem in more than half a century. What better definition of a failed state is there?

The detention camp at Guantanamo Bay can be closed. If Americans can pick up detainees in foreign countries and fly them to Cuba, Americans can fly them back to where they were picked up. Will some of them return to their "terrorist" activities? Of course. What would anyone's attitude toward those who illegally imprisoned and tortured them be? But the number is small, about five hundred. The organizations that are engaged in anti-American actions around the world recruit far more than that number every time American bombs, missiles, and bullets kill ordinary people, especially women and children.

All that is necessary to solve a social problem is to ensure that the policy's goals are consistent. (1/28/2009)