I got up this morning and, while having a little breakfast, I decided to watch a bit of the morning news shows. First up was the Today show. Matt Lauer was busy interviewing Sen. Joseph Biden and Sen. Chuck Hagel about the buzz concerning the military draft. The gents were also kind enough to let us know that the administration is sitting on a $50 to 75 billion request for additional funds to maintain troops in Iraq. Biden was quick to point out that this is not money for Iraq reconstruction; it is strictly for the maintenance of troops, except that the Bush administration is a little hesitant, it seems, to bring this up in an election year.
Next, I checked out Good Morning America, which had a story on the controversial decision by the Seattle Times to run a photo of flag-draped coffins coming home from the Iraq war. Mike Fancher, Executive Editor of the Times, defended the decision of his paper; he felt the photo conveyed the respect and reverence shown to the dead. But Rep. Mike Castle (R) of Delaware said that this policy of restricting the publication of such photos has been on the books since 1991 out of respect to the families. Could it be that the Pentagon is just trying to sanitize the war for American consumption? Of course not.
Alas, we wouldn't want a repetition of the Vietnam syndrome, where daily images of death and destruction came flowing through the media, almost unfiltered, so as to turn even Walter Cronkite against the war. It prompted LBJ to say,"if we've lost Walter Cronkite, we've lost the country"
Once I'd gotten my dosage of the news shows, I opened up the paper. I read another installment of the NY Daily Newsinvestigation about the increasing number of US troops exposed to uranium dust in Iraq. The paper reports:"An independent test conducted at The News' request found that four of the men tested positive for depleted uranium, which because of its heaviness is used to make shells and coat armored vehicles. A study by the Army in 1990 linked depleted uranium to 'chemical toxicity causing kidney damage.'"
The possibility of a coming military draft. Troops in need of additional monies. Restricted access to coffin photos. And depleted uranium toxicity among military fodder. As the media gets un-embedded from the administration's ass, perhaps we'll learn more about how miserable war is—for those who are fighting it. Especially a war like this one that is causing far more"blowback" than was first anticipated.
Kirkpatrick points out what many of us here at L&P already know:
A growing faction of conservatives is voicing doubts about a prolonged United States military involvement in Iraq, putting hawkish neoconservatives on the defensive and posing questions for President Bush about the degree of support he can expect from his political base. The continuing violence and mounting casualties in Iraq have given new strength to the traditional conservative doubts about using American military power to remake other countries and about the potential for Western-style democracy without a Western cultural foundation.
Yeah, this is the same"traditional conservative doubt" that candidate Bush himself expressed during the 2000 campaign, when he explicitly renounced"nation-building" as a goal of US foreign policy. My, how times have changed.
Back to Kirkpatrick: The neocons" championed the invasion of Iraq as a way to turn that country into a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. ... 'In late May of last year, we neoconservatives were hailed as great visionaries,' said Kenneth R. Weinstein, chief operating officer of the Hudson Institute, a center of neoconservative thinking. 'Now we are embattled, both within the conservative movement and in the battle over postwar planning. Those of us who favored a more muscular approach to American foreign policy and a more Wilsonian view of our efforts in Iraq find ourselves pitted against more traditional conservatives, who have more isolationist instincts to begin with, and they are more willing to say,"Bring the boys home,"' Mr. Weinstein said."
The war has been responsible for"upending some of the familiar dynamics of left and right." Indeed, people like William Kristol of The Weekly Standard have stated explicitly that they'd"take Bush over Kerry, but Kerry over Buchanan or any of the lesser Buchananites on the right." Kristol claims that he is even ready to"make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives." He might as well, because this administration, with its welfare-warfare nation-building budget-busting deficits, Medicare reform, and constitutional amendment proposals, has spelled the total end of conservatism as it was once known. It is therefore no surprise to see his willingness to support Kerry. Kerry and Bush are almost indistinguishable in their views on the war in Iraq! As David Beito pointed out, Kerry is not an"antiwar" candidate. On his own site, Kerry publishes his recent Washington Post essay, where he writes:"Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission."
This is why I've maintained:"What does it matter who gets elected? What's the sense of it? Sure, you can register your protests by voting defensively, against this or that candidate. But until or unless this system is fundamentally transformed, it's almost immaterial who becomes President." This is why I've maintained that once a war is institutionalized, Presidents of either party almost never reverse course.
Big Deal: National Review reflects on the neocon"Wilsonian" error. Even they are now considering the long-term costs to"limited government and lower taxes" brought on by the prospect of"extended occupation." But their boys got into the White House, and, as Kirkpatrick observes,"President Bush appears to be sticking to [their] Wilsonian goals."
Of course, the problem is precisely as Colin Powell described it. In his 60 minutes interview, Bob Woodward tells us that, upon hearing of the planned Iraq incursion, Powell warned Bush of the unintended consequences (what the CIA likes to call"blowback"):"You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You’ll own it all."
More pointedly, he said:"If you break it, you own it." Yeah, Iraq was broken to begin with, under Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship. But it wasn't a US welfare state and it wasn't an imminent threat to US interests. As Woodward said, the administration is now faced with the awful reality that they may have achieved"victory without success." How many more Americans will have to die in the name of this"victory"?
Yes, David Beito and Jonathan Dresner, our Volokh Conspiracy colleagues are way behind the times. I too presented the possibility of the three-state solution on November 26, 2003. At this point, I doubt that anything will solve the mess that the U.S. has created.
I do like the fact, however, that a number of people who supported this fiasco of a war, are now grasping the insanity of it all. Perhaps someday the Volokh people will take their heads out of the Iraqi sand and come up for a much-need dosage of Liberty (& Power). Richard Cohen, whose essays I've cited here a number of times, once supported this war too. He writes in today's NY Daily News that this desire to use Iraq to" change the world" (something that has led Justin Raimondo to call the President, the"Neocon Napoleon") is Bush's Pipe Dream. Cohen writes:
Like a kid who has been told otherwise, Bush persists in believing in his own version of Santa Claus. The weapons are there, somewhere - in a North Pole of his mind. What matters more, is the phrase Bush used five times in one way or another:"We're changing the world." He used it always in reference to the war in Iraq and in ways that would make even Woodrow Wilson, that personification of naive morality, shake his head in bemusement. In Bush's rhetoric, a war to rid Saddam of his WMD, a war to ensure that Condoleezza Rice's"mushroom cloud" did not appear over an American city, has mutated into an effort to reorder the world."I also know that there's a historic opportunity here to change the world," Bush said of the effort in Iraq. The next sentence was even more disquieting."And it's very important for the loved ones of our troops to understand that the mission is an important, vital mission for the security of America and for the ability to change the world for the better." It is one thing to die to defend your country. It is quite another to do that for one man's impossible dream. What Bush wants is admirable. It is not, however, attainable.
Cohen concludes:"This is Bush's cause, a noble but irrational effort much like the one that set off for Jerusalem in 1212. It was known as the Children's Crusade."
It's reported by the NY Times that the"Islamic terrorists responsible for the Madrid train bombings financed their plot with sales of hashish and Ecstasy ..." This article, by Dale Fuchs, tells us that the terrorists used"traffickers as intermediaries," swapping"the drugs for the 440 pounds of dynamite used in the blasts ... Money from the drug trafficking paid for an apartment hide-out, a car and the cellphones used to detonate the bombs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said."
There is also this article about Afghanistan's opium poppy crop, which is skyrocketing to levels"twice as large as last year's near-record crop." The country is responsible for three-quarters of the world's opium production. The US has talked routinely about"eradication" of the crop, because the profits are used to prop up"an undemocratic narco terrorist-controlled state," benefiting warlords and a resurgent Taliban. But it is under the US watch that opium production has become the chief means to stabilize the hand-picked"Northern Alliance" regime. That profits from the sale of narcotics are now making their way into Al Qaeda coffers is therefore no surprise.
Remember those anti-drug commercials that drew a direct connection between drugs and terror, laying the blame for the funding of terrorism squarely on the plate of drug users? Those commercials told users: Stop using! Terrorism is your fault (driving many of them to drink, no doubt)!
Of course, few are suggesting that the criminalization of drug use has created a world-wide network of illicit drug producers, whose profits are derived from the very fact of government drug prohibitionism. The original Mafia itself was born in the days of alcohol prohibition. Why should current developments be any surprise?
Instead of decriminalization, we are offered, year after year, a new front in the"war on drugs," which only continues to destroy civil liberties at home, while doing nothing to diminish the profits abroad that are funneled to terrorists. Indeed, Attorney General John Ashcroft was so obsessed with prioritizing the drug war (and various" civil rights" issues) in the first seven months of his tenure, that terrorism barely registered on his radar. Now, of course, with the powers bestowed on him through the Patriot Act, he gets to use his office to eradicate drugs and civil rights all in one fell swoop.
As Nebraska attorney Don Fiedler, former director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has put it:"This fanning the flames of narco-terrorism is something that has some merit. ... Narcotics are one of the tools that terrorists use to fund their operations, but the other question that should come out of it, other than increasing the penalties for use, is to go and re-examine the policies in the first place."
Amen. Perhaps drug legalization should be proposed as a means of combatting terrorism, taking the profits out of the industries that fund terrorists. But this would require an extraordinary act of mental integration: Politicians would have to start thinking about the interconnections among the various aspects of a system that they continue to support. Terrorists emerge from the context of US intervention overseas; they are recruited en masse because of increasing intervention overseas; they get funding from various current (and former) US allies and from industries whose profits are derived partially from prohibitionist controls. The whole system of interventionism, from top to bottom, domestically and abroad, is reinforcing cause and effect.
Boy, it is very difficult to be a political radical. Radicals, by their nature, seek to go to the root of social problems; they trace the connections among social problems, and think in terms of fundamentals and principles. The system that they oppose is one that has been built piecemeal, brick by brick, over decades of political machinations. But the system itself blocks comprehensive reform; it promotes political tinkering as surely as it promotes atomistic thinking.
It is time to start thinking comprehensively, dialectically, as I would say; it is time to start thinking about all the things that must be done to change this system fundamentally.
A very nice piece by Richard Cohen on"The Iraqi Quagmire" appears in yesterday's New York Daily News. Cohen is careful to distinguish between the Iraq and Vietnam situations, but he sees that in both cases, there is the same operative principle:"We don't know what the hell we're doing. ... The lesson of Vietnam is that once you make the initial mistake, little you do afterward is right."
What's the sense of saying anything about the President's press conference? He's just going through the familiar motions and will never admit to any mistakes. Well, at least you have to give him points on stubborn commitment.
Everything he said and everything I could have said is summed up here. But for a look at some unfortunate future possibilities as the U.S. stays the course in Iraq, it is always good to look at history.
There is a very good article, written by James Traub, with accompanying decorative illustrations by Peter Max, in today's NY Times. Traub's"Making Sense of the Mission" raises some very important questions—even if I don't agree with many of his answers—about the nature and complexity of nation-building in Iraq. Pointing to the failures of nation-building in such places as Haiti, Traub argues that the task is not impossible, but it"is very hard, and ... it demands a great deal of both patience and modesty—qualities that do not come naturally to American policymakers or, for that matter, to Americans."
It is ironic, of course, that"[d]uring the 2000 Presidential debates, George W. Bush mocked the idea of nation-building as a dangerous Democratic folly. The function of the American military, he often repeated, was 'to fight and win wars.' Bush gave the impression that nation-building was something Bill Clinton and his team of woolly-headed multilateralists had dreamed up. But the truth is that while the term is new, the endeavor is not ..."
Traub discusses a bit of the history of nation-building. He writes that Maj. Gen. William Nash, who first commanded the American division in Bosnia, had discovered that he couldn't separate peacekeeping from nation-building."'The first rule of nation-building is that everything is related to everything,' Nash said, 'and it's all political.' Everything, that is, impinges on somebody's power, and in order to establish stable democratic institutions you have to deal with, and often confront, the political structures that provoked the conflict in the first place."
Ah, yes, that ol' dialectical insight, that in any given context,everything is related to everything. The problem is, of course, that we don't exactly know how things relate in any social order, and, in fact, much of what constitutes social relations is tacit and habitual, having never been formally articulated or even understood by the social actors themselves. A fundamental epistemological weakness of central planning, as F. A. Hayek has shown, is that planners cannot grasp the tacit dimension, which relates to knowledge possessed by individual actors who pursue their own purposes while situated in a particular time and place.
The same principle is just as relevant when considering foreign intervention into a country in which the locals have their own customs and habits. Unintended consequences, which are a normal part of what it means to live in society, are a particularly insidious effect of such intervention. (What we're seeing in Iraq, of course, was not necessarily intended, but many of us have been predicting the chaos for over a year."Unintended" does not mean"unpredictable".)
There is no greater or more forceful form of political intervention than military action. Indeed,"war," observed the 19th century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz,"is the continuation of politics by other means." And like all forms of political intervention, it too generates unintended consequences. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, those who remain to keep the peace are now arguing that there is a need for"about 20 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants to stabilize an unsettled population.'' This could translate, in Iraq,"to almost half a million troops. And yet," says Traub,"this overwhelming military force must be coupled with a nuanced awareness of local conditions. 'These places tend to be chaotic, dynamic,' said Frederick Barton, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a veteran of many peacekeeping operations. 'Our own institutions tend to be static. You have to head things in the right direction rather than controlling them.' One cannot easily find a peacekeeping mission that exemplifies this peculiar mix of characteristics."
While candidate Bush argued that"nation-building represented the triumph of the nanny state on an international scale," it's pretty clear that the neocon nannies have exerted a strong influence on the stated policy-making goals of his administration, which now aims to foster"political transformation, first in Iraq, then throughout the Middle East. This is, of course, a call to the most ambitious kind of nation-building." It is a call, in other words, to a formal knowledge of conditions of a complex foreign society that central planners of whatever sort will never fully possess.
And so let's not be too surprised by the unintended ripple effects that are now on display in the wake of such folly.
Via Atrios (who draws from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and who provides an entertaining comments section), comes this little tidbit on President Bush, who threw out the first pitch on Opening Day for the St. Louis Cardinals:
BACK AT BUSCH: A somewhat hostile crowd complained mightily about the problems the presidential motorcade caused with regular fans trying to get into the park. A Cards employee tipped moi that the team was so concerned about Bush being booed that they piped in fake applause when he strode out to the mound. [Cardinals president Mark] Lamping flatly denied it. ...
Okay, so let's just say we believe Lamping that such fake applause was not pumped into Busch Stadium. The fact that anybody could think this is, itself, a desecration of the Great American Pastime.
Baseball fans can be among the most brutally honest in the world. Then again, honesty is not exactly a valued commodity in the world of politics, unless the honest feelings of the fans suit the politician's purposes.
When Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, back on October 30, 2001, he received what has been rightly described as a"thunderous cheer." That's because New Yorkers, who had been shattered by the experiences of September 11th, were still expressing their support for a man who, three days after that tragedy, had stood on the rubble of the Twin Towers to tell the world that"the people who knocked these buildings down are going to hear from all of us soon." That"King Arthur Moment," as Chris Matthews has described it, left an indelible mark in the minds of many. (Little did we know that, as Richard Clarke and others have testified, Bush, at that time, was already obsessing over Iraq, hoping to use 9/11 as a pretext for invading that country.)
The point is that baseball fans will cheer you when you deliver. But if you don't, they won't. And they'll boo you for the most mundane reasons. So, if your motorcade knots up traffic around the stadium, be prepared to be booed by honest"regular fans." It doesn't matter if your President or Pope. Even life-long Yankees fan Rudy Giuliani got used to the boos he received when he visited New York Mets' territory. Those boos turned to cheers in tribute to his humanity and leadership during a time of unimaginable horror. But Rudy actually valued the fans' honesty. Post-9/11, he remarked:"Things will be back to normal when I hear boos at Shea Stadium."
As a postscript to Wendy's discussion of Al-Sadr, I would like to point out a NY Times report that"Generals in Iraq" are considering"options for more troops." Since many current U.S. troops are National Guard or reservist in origin, I'm still counting the days before the administration decides that a military draft is going to be required because"failure in Iraq is not an option."
This same NY Timesreport also points out that while John Kerry, presumptive Democratic nominee for President, won't make"analogies to past conflicts," his chief supporter, Senator Edward Kennedy, has boldly declared:"Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new president."
It may be, Teddy, it may be. But, really, what will John Kerry do differently from George Bush? Will Kerry really want to go down as the President who"lost Iraq"? How many more (conscripted?) troops will he commit to the conflict because"failure is not an option"? Indeed: Remember Vietnam? The Vietnam war was institutionalized by the U.S. government, regardless of which party was in power. What difference was there between Republican President Richard Nixon and Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson? Yes, Nixon was committed to"Vietnamization" and gradual troop reductions, but not before he widened the war. Despite the Mantra that the U.S. needed"Peace with Honor," tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen came home in body bags ("transfer tubes" hadn't been invented yet).
We are now witnessing the institutionalization of the war in Iraq, where"failure is not an option." The institutionalization of that goal, regardless of the means by which the U.S. hopes to achieve it, is a sure prescription for catastrophe.
A year ago, I voiced my concerns about the consequences of a U.S. occupation of Iraq, being told by a number of pro-war advocates (many of them"libertarians") that such concerns were irrelevant because an invasion was"necessary" to topple a hostile Hussein regime in possession of WMDs and with ties to Al Qaeda. I never really doubted that the invasion itself would be a" cakewalk" because I believed that the regime was a paper tiger. But my understanding of integrated, long-term thinking went beyond the month or so that it took for"Top Gun" Bush to fly onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, which sported a now-notorious banner:"Mission Accomplished."
The mission could have been"accomplished" without an invasion and without the commitment of an occupying force and billions and billions and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. The WMDs didn't exist. The ties to Al Qaeda didn't exist. And the concerns I expressed last year are the same concerns that I have expressed this year. Merely screaming"I told you so" won't suffice, so let me revisit my own words, written in March 2003:
Iraq is a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, constructed at Versailles in 1920 out of three former Ottoman provinces; its notorious internal political divisions are mirrored by tribal warfare among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and others. ... For those of us bred on Ayn Rand's insight that politics is only a consequence of a larger philosophical and cultural cause—that culture, in effect, trumps politics—the idea that it is possible to construct a political solution in a culture that does not value procedural democracy, free institutions, or the notion of individual responsibility is a delusion. Witness contemporary Russia, where the death of communism has given birth to a society of warring post-Soviet mafiosi, leading some to yearn for the good ol' days of Stalin. Clearly,"regime change" is not enough. But even if procedural democracy were to come to Iraq, it may be no less despotic than the brutal dictatorship it usurps, for majority rule without protection of individual rights is no check on the political growth of Islamic fundamentalism.
That growth proceeds. With the Sunnis killing Americans and calling for the return of Baathist butchers in central Iraq, with the Kurds wanting an independent voice in the North, and with the majority Shi'ites pressing for a more fundamentalist resistance to the U.S. in the South, the situation is deteriorating.
I do not wish to see the mass murder of American citizens to score debating points; I am second to none in my own wishes that not a single American life should be snuffed out on foreign soil. I am second to none in my own hopes that Iraq will somehow embrace a free society. But that is not what the United States is bringing to Iraq, unless one considers" crony capitalism," grafted onto cultural tribalism, to be the embodiment of a free society. As I suggest here, the attempt to impose"democracy" as a means to pacify a region is misplaced. Ludwig von Mises cautioned the Wilsonian generation of World War I that the embrace of"democracy" without a similar embrace of"a system of private ownership of the means of production, free enterprise, and unhampered market economy," only serves to extend the system of statism. For"[w]here there is no economic freedom, things are entirely different."
The U.S. stands at the apex of a far more complex system of statist intervention than existed when Mises made those comments. Success will be possible only if there is a fundamental alteration in the current system of domestic and foreign intervention, a system that has bred anti-American hostility abroad. If failure is not an option in Iraq, then it is no more an option in the United States of America.
So, if yesterday was April Fool's Day, today is another historic date that people should never forget, lest they be made into fools. It was on this date, the NY Times reminds us, that President Woodrow Wilson declared war against Germany, marking the United States' entrance into World War I.
Before Congress, Wilson stressed:"The world must be made safe for democracy." And even as he promised to act with humanity toward loyal Germans, he emphasized:"If there should be disloyalty it will be dealt with a stern hand and firm repression."
World War I was one of the worst conflagrations in the history of humankind, ushering in an unparalleled era of state repression. Ayn Rand, who drew from the work of historian Arthur A. Ekirch, argued that the war was the by-product of a rise in the"spirit of nationalistic imperialism," which had"influenced the policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson":
Just as Wilson, a"liberal" reformer, led the United States into World War I,"to make the world safe for democracy"—so Franklin D. Roosevelt, another"liberal" reformer, led it into World War II, in the name of the"Four Freedoms." ... World War I led, not to"democracy," but to the creation of three dictatorships: Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany. World War II led, not to"Four Freedoms," but to the surrender of one-third of the world's population into communist slavery.
Rand had the advantage of judging U.S. intervention abroad by relating it to the ripple of events that followed in its wake. And that is crucially important: History is never to be judged in terms of what is happening at this very moment. It must be judged in terms of the consequences—intended and unintended—of the actions that human beings take. We can all revel in the fact that a bloody dictator, such as Saddam Hussein, has been toppled. But we do not know the shape of things to come, and if we act in ways that show no appreciation of the complex factors at work, we will be doomed to similar nightmarish results.
When Wilson declared war, 87 years ago today, he ushered in what Murray Rothbard has called"the critical watershed for the American business system," a system of"war collectivism ... which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state corporate capitalism for the remainder of the twentieth century." The economy was cartelized, prices were raised, production was restricted, monopolies were granted, labor was tamed, and whole systems (e.g., railroads) were nationalized by the government in league with corporate planners. This served as the fulfillment of the Progressive movement in America, a"triumph of conservatism" as Gabriel Kolko had called it, a triumph of"political capitalism." It is no coincidence that the Wilson administration integrated greater government intervention—including the establishment of a cartelized banking structure in the Federal Reserve and the curtailment of civil liberties—at home, with greater U.S. intervention abroad. Each became organically linked to the other.
The welfare-warfare state has matured over the past century. And so, it is also no coincidence to see the same dynamic at work in the administration of George W. Bush. Why do pro-war bloggers have difficulty grasping this fact? For example, Andrew Sullivan rails against Bush's anti-gay constitutional shenanigans. Feeling betrayed by the Bush administration, which had claimed it would never"use anti-gay sentiment to gain votes," he states:"We were all lied to." Sullivan is upset with Karl Rove for leading the way in this constitutional"brigade," and admits that he has been" culpably naive about this administration on this issue."
On this issue?
This is an administration that has led the same activist brigade into Wilsonian"democratic" nation-building in Iraq—on the basis of either faulty intelligence (in which case it has failed the test of preserving American security) or outright lies about alleged WMDs and alleged ties between the Hussein regime and Al Qaeda.
This is an administration that has forged a hugely expensive Medicare corporatist boondoggle, and countless other government programs.
This is an administration that has created the greatest government budget deficit in history.
This is an administration that has eaten away at civil liberties, all in the name of American PATRIOTism.
As my fellow blogger David Beito has stated, the"president's foreign and domestic policies are not contradictory but entirely consistent with a long Wilsonian tradition in American history." On the occasion of this Wilsonian anniversary, we need to understand the nature of this consistency—as a means to overturn the system of political economy that makes it possible.
Okay, I admit it. I was wrong. I am now in favor of the War in Iraq and a full, open-ended Period of U.S. Occupation. I think the invasion was justified. Forget all that nonsense about nonexistent WMDs and nonexistent ties to Al Qaeda! What matters is that we are building a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and a powerful military base from which to launch future campaigns against Islamo-fascists who threaten Our Way of Life. And bring on Patriot Act II! Let's dispense with civil liberties! And let's finally embrace censorship. Not just against Janet Jackson's breast and Howard Stern's rantings! The real enemy is this new liberal radio network. Bah!
But the most important thing to be resurrected in the Spring is: Baseball. And today, Baseball is Back. Not in America, mind you. But in Japan! My New York Yankees just went down to defeat against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 8-3, in the Tokyo Dome, the first game of the 2004 Major League Baseball Season.
It was the first time in the illustrious history of the Yankees that team members wore their pinstripes in a game outside Yankee Stadium, a game in which they were not the home team (the Yankee Home Opener takes place on Thursday, April 8th).
Baseball is all about Coming Home. The Home Run. Home Plate. Home. If only US foreign policy were like baseball, we'd be welcoming Yankees from all over the world back home. Someday ...
First, there was former CIA weapons inspector David Kay. He had the audacity to say"that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction before the war and that U.S. intelligence agencies missed the signs that would have told them as much."
Then came Paul O'Neill, former Bush administration Treasury Secretary, who had the colossal gall to claim that the"administration was planning to invade Iraq long before the Sept. 11 attacks and used questionable intelligence to justify the war."
Now comes the President's former counter-terrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who shows utter disloyalty in claiming that President Bush himself pressured advisers to come up with a link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack. Clarke tells us that the administration was hell-bent on attacking Iraq, despite the fact that Al Qaeda was the gathering threat in the months prior to 9/11. On 60 Minutes, Clarke charged that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz rejected any need"to deal with bin Laden ... to deal with al Qaeda." Wolfowitz went ballistic over the suggestion:"No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States." Clarke responded:"Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!" And the deputy director of the CIA agreed:"There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States." Clarke added:"There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."
Needless to say, Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is now being attacked mercilessly in a concerted White House spin campaign of Shock and Awe. Dick Cheney targeted Clarke on Rush Limbaugh's show and Condi Rice said simply that Clarke just doesn't"know what he's talking about." They're now all savaging Clarke as a"disgruntled former employee."
Kay, O'Neill, Clarke... how many more"disgruntled former employees" will there be?
Perhaps more of them will surface as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States begins high-level hearings on the failure of US intelligence in the days before 9/11. Over 2 million pages of documents have already been examined and over 1000 interviews have already been conducted. Today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell will be on the hot seat, along with the Clinton administration's Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Stay tuned!
As most of you know, I am a staunch supporter of the War on Al Qaeda. I think the US should have staged an all-out campaign to destroy that group 11 years ago, when they first attacked the World Trade Center on US soil in 1993. They have been an imminent threat to US security and should have been squashed. (Of course, I do believe that the history of how that group became an imminent threat is important: for answers to that question, just take a look at the history of US interventionist foreign policy, which is an"incubator" for anti-American terrorism — a history of propping up regimes from the House of Sa'ud to the mujahideen in Afghanistan...)
This said, I have not been a supporter of the War in Iraq, because I believe that Iraq was (a) not an imminent threat to the US; (b) not in possession of imminently-threatening weapons of mass destruction; and (c) not in league with Al Qaeda. If it had been proven to me that the Hussein regime was an imminent threat and in league with Al Qaeda, I would have supported a war against Iraq. But I still would not have supported the Wilsonian"nation-building" campaign that the neoconservatives in the Bush administration have been championing: a campaign to build a political democracy, at the cost of many American lives, and billions of US taxpayer dollars, on the shaky foundation of a culture steeped in internecine tribalist conflict, which has no understanding of individualism or human freedom.
I have expanded on these subjects in at least two articles, and countless posts to the Liberty & Power Group blog. Check out my Not a Blog for a listing of essays, including A Question of Loyalty and Understanding the Global Crisis.
All of this said: IF it should happen that Al Qaeda was, indeed, involved in the bombings in Madrid, what did the War in Iraq do to undermine that group?
If anything, the US toppled a murderous"secular" regime in Iraq that even Osama Bin Laden condemned as a home to"infidels." If anything, the possibilities of an emerging theocratic movement in Iraq have been multiplied. If anything, Al Qaeda is simply using this US occupation as a pretext for recruiting more and more terrorists to its murderous cause.
No, I'm not"implicitly" supporting the return of Saddam Hussein — who, I believe, was being, and could have been fully contained without a US invasion. But I live in the real world as it is, not as I would like it to be. Good riddance to him and his sons and to the Ba'ath killers.
Nevertheless, for those of us who are in support of the war against Al Qaeda, opposition to the Iraq war last winter was not a vote of support for Hussein; it was a strategic decision by some of us who believed that the Iraq war was a diversion from the true sources of Al Qaeda terrorism, with its roots in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, ironically: two US"allies."
I shudder to think that the Madrid bombings, 2 1/2 years to the day after 9/11, are a prelude to a similar multi-pronged attack on NYC subways in the coming months. If that were to happen during rush hour, Al Qaeda would take out thousands of Americans. They could conceivably cripple the city's underground transportation, destroy underwater tunnels, and fracture the city's infrastructure.
And the Iraq war would have done nothing to stop it.
I'd like to highlight another fine Chronicle of Higher Education article, which appears in this week's issue. Jonathan Brent's"Gucci Shoes and Khachapuri: Power and Belief in Russia Today" deals extensively with a topic that has preoccupied many of us: the relationship of politics and culture in the movement toward a free society. In an era when Wilsonian central planners are nation-building in Iraq, without a firm understanding of the cultural prerequisites for political change, Brent's article is a welcome addition to the literature.
Brent interviews Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev of the International Democracy Foundation. A World War II vet, former Soviet ambassador to Canada, and Columbia University graduate, Yakovlev was an"architect of perestroika during the Gorbachev years ..." Yakovlev argues that, historically, the Soviet system, from the time of Lenin through the Great Terror and beyond, was based on the"institutionalization of strakh—fear—as the ruling element in the psychology of the Russian people." This is a fear, says Yakovlev, that" continues to this day in all but the youngest generation."
Indeed, fear has even shaped the historiography of the post-Soviet era. Yakovlev tells us that"an honest textbook on Soviet history could not be written for at least a generation. Why? People are still too afraid of the consequences of telling the truth ..."
Fear. The ruling element in Russian psychology. I'd venture to say it's the ruling element in the psychology of any oppressed people.
Yakovlev is hated by those"who would like to see a return to the old Communist system." He himself fears"that the windows of reform have been closing gradually over the last several years." In Russia,"[t]he past is dead, but not dead enough."
Yakovlev is one of those visionaries who had"provided Mikhail Gorbachev with the theoretical framework for the demise of the Soviet system because he thought it was better voluntarily to give up power than to retain it illegally and ineffectively." Squeezing Communism out of Russia,"drop by drop," has required a"slow turn toward truth," which is bringing"about the collapse of an entire system of belief. Truth is dangerous still, and the masses of people remain empty and disoriented. Nothing yet has taken the system's place. There is need for a new mythology. That is partly why Yakovlev believes that only the complete debolshevization of the country can save Russia from sliding backward."
But because the central government retains control, the rule of law is forever undermined, as is liberty and productivity. In the time before collectivization, Yakovlev remembers,"people had potatoes but didn't have socialism. Afterward, they had socialism but no potatoes." Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin"has wrapped himself in secrecy, closed down the only liberal television station, and changed the way elections for the State Duma are conducted—all of which, Yakovlev points out, no one intent on democratic reform would have done." Brent continues:
The last elections, marginalizing the liberal parties and endorsing Putin's vision of a strong central government, suggest that the people themselves may want despotism in the guise of democracy. A tragic outcome. Yakovlev understands that true democracy cannot be based on force—only on the shared values of an educated public. Although the Russian population enjoys an exceptionally high level of education in many areas, history is not among them. Knowledge of the history of the Stalinist past and the cold war is particularly lacking." (emphasis added)
Unfortunately, this historical blindness to"the menacing organ of the Soviet, and now Russian, government" has led to the assertion of even"greater authority in the daily life of the people." Russia is in a downward slide, in many ways. And authoritarian traditions seem to be on the upswing."Fascist newspapers are no longer publicly on sale in Red Square, but more than 100 publish openly in Russia today. Calls for limiting the influence of Jews and members of other minority groups are a steady feature of that literature."
Yakovlev emphasizes that a democratic culture must"give heart to democratic policies. But Russia is vast, its history is long and dark, and the work of one man, or 100 men, can be swallowed up in an instant by a tide of intimidation, threat, and terror. If that happens, a precious moment for Russia and the world will have been lost."
The point at which knowledge is transformed into action is the nexus of education and political commitment. But neither knowledge nor political commitment can be sustained in a vacuum. The self-critical, democratic culture that Yakovlev seeks depends on traditions of thought that extend far beyond Russia's borders. If reform is to prevail, Russia cannot remain isolated from the West, he says. He sees Russia's sinking back into isolation as the greatest danger.
I am reminded of some points made, back in 1998, by a Hegelian thinker, David MacGregor, who sensed that my own approach to the system of thought of another"Russian Radical," Ayn Rand, had critical application to the case of Russia. MacGregor wrote:
Rand's three-tiered methodological approach, as expounded by Sciabarra, may help account for the apparent failure of unregulated capitalism in the former Soviet Union. Russia's economic and political realities are conditioned by cultural and individual factors, so that market disruption and the rise of the Russian Mafia may be traced, in Rand's schema, to cultural and personal aspects of the Russian people. The market experiment has faltered, not because of any problem inherent to it, but because residues of mysticism, collectivism, and altruism are a miserable heritage of Soviet power.
I can only add that as long as Russia is a country ruled by fear, it will never prosper. No nation can ever be built on fear. As I say in this post, there is a"reciprocally reinforcing relationship between fear, anger, hatred, dependency, malevolence, and suffering." If the Russian people, or the Iraqi people, wish to build a democratic nation, it is they who must transcend the fear. It is they who must embrace those cultural values that will sustain human life and liberty.
The Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, is a bit of a comedian. Since he took office, signs have been springing up all over my hometown. When you come off a city bridge, say, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Brooklyn to Staten Island, you are greeted with"Welcome to Brooklyn" signs that feature classic"Brooklyn" expressions, like"How Sweet It Is" (for the uncultured, that slogan was coined by the Great One: Jackie Gleason).
But if you happen to have the misfortune of leaving Brooklyn, you see other signs:"Leaving Brooklyn: Fuhgeddaboudit." (And for an education on the meaning of the phrase, consult the film"Donnie Brasco.") It seems, however, that some Italian Americans are pissed off, since they consider the phrase an Italian slur. A similar sign saying"Oy Vey" was apparently, uh, Passed Over ... because some thought it might offend some Jewish residents. (Markowitz, who is Jewish, thought the"Oy Vey" sign would have been a terrific idea. Bravo!)
Sometimes the PC-minded police tap dance on my last nerve. So, for the hearing of the world: I am Half-Sicilian and Half-Greek, and a life-long Brooklyn resident, and I like the signs that say"Fuhgeddaboudit." I must use that expression 300 times a day.
You got a problem wit dat?
In the midst of all this, I've come upon an interesting article that I wanted to highlight here at L&P. The piece is available only to subscribers of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Written by Daniel Del Castillo,"The Arab World's Scientific Desert" tells the story of how the region was once a leader in research, but that now it"struggles to keep up." Del Castillo writes:
Eleven centuries ago an Islamic renaissance occurred in Baghdad, attracting the best scholars throughout the Muslim world. For the next five hundred years, Arabic was the lingua franca of science. Cutting-edge research was conducted in cities such as Cairo, Damascus, and Tunis. In the ninth century, algebra (al-jabr) was invented by a Muslim mathematician in Baghdad under the auspices of an imperial Arab court dedicated to scientific enrichment and discovery. Ibn Sina's monumental Canon of Medicine was translated into Latin in the 12th century and dominated the teaching of the subject in Europe for four centuries.
Today, no one looks to the Arab world for breakthroughs in scientific research, and for good reason. According to a number of highly self-critical reports that have come out in the past few years, the 21 countries that make up the region are struggling to teach even basic science at the university level. For poor countries, such as Yemen and Sudan, the problem is a lack of money and resources. For wealthier ones, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, complacency and a relatively new and underdeveloped university system have hampered progress.
One wonders how much more advanced the Saudi system would be, for example, if the Saudis spent as much money on science education as they do on Wahhabi indoctrination.
In any event, Del Castillo argues that many Arab universities are deeply"burdened with a bureaucracy that stifles innovation and bases promotion on cronyism, not research ... The lack of significant private industry throughout the region also means that universities are essentially dependent on governments to pay for research and provide jobs for their graduates." Moreover, the pedagogy is"outdated and archaic," and teacher morale is low.
Unfortunately, the appearance of specialized private universities has been met with suspicion by Arab scholars,"who question the quality and motives of for-profit institutions of higher education." What has resulted is a virtual brain drain, as"the most promising and successful Arab scientists and researchers end up in the West."
Del Castillo notes the presence of a vicious circle:"Without top-notch scientists, [the Arab region] cannot produce the research necessary to develop a strong private sector. But without a dynamic private sector, there is little money to invest in scientific research."
I have been saying for well over a year now that the Wilsonian"nation-building" project of the Bush administration is doomed to fail in the absence of a deeper movement from within the Arab world that would transform its intellectual and cultural milieu. (On related points, see today's New York Times' worthwhile editorial,"The Axis of Reconstruction.") New political institutions require new intellectual and cultural ones. These cannot simply be imposed."Democratic nation-building" is not feasible in a tribalist atmosphere that is stifling to human knowledge and freedom. We ignore these realities at our peril.
I'm no conservative, but there is nothing conservative about the activist methods that this President has used to enact his interventionist agenda.
In that Farewell Address, Washington warned against the peril of foreign entanglements. He understood the necessity of certain alliances in dire emergencies, but his general view of foreign policy encapsulates a wisdom that has been forgotten by today's generation of political leaders. As we near"President's Day," I thought I'd post an excerpt from Washington's famous address:
Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. ... In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded, and that in place of them just and amicable feelings toward all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.
So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity, gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. ...
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the Government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that by such acceptance it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.