The Fear of Liberalism (part 2)

Political marketers have of course become quite adept at pushing our buttons softly. We don't actually get censorship, for example. It's just that Americans are not interested in stories about, say, damaged nuclear reactors. We don't really understand why the British are interested in reports coming across AP wires even when the reactor in question is in Ohio:

Damage to the reactor head of the Davis-Besse power plant in Ohio ranks among the top five most serious nuclear plant accidents or near-accidents since Three Mile Island, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday.

Just another one of those odd things about being British, I suppose. Me, I'm headed for the mall.

But here's a seeming contradiction: we hear scare stories about weapons that don't exist, about how massive is the possible destruction from chemical weapons, about the danger of terrorists striking again. Some of these stories are reality-based, but it's sometimes hard even for acute observers to tell which ones. It's beyond me why, for example, but a number of respectable politicians were convinced to sign onto the Iraq war because they believed in the non-existant weapons. Of course, Chomsky long ago said something memory renders as: you can't reach a position of power in the US political establishment without believing that the US is unique in history in that it acts purely from altruistic motives. If you can manage to wrap your belief system around that proposition, you gain some real flexibility.

We don't, on the other hand, hear stories about real and easily documented dangers like accidents in nuclear plants. I understand that NBC is not going to report on nucular plant problems, since it's owned by GE, but where's the Post?

Overall, what I advocate is a calm examination of the big picture. For example, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility of the past repeating itself in the form of rigging elections or profiteering from another war. But it's easy to misunderestimate the changes in the situation wrought by four years of incompetence. Our allies, current and possibly about-to-be-former, are not reacting with amusement to our Iraq adventure:

...Turkey has fretted about Iraq's possible fragmentation, Kurdish separatism, and the safety of Iraq's ethnic Turk minority.

When US forces attacked the city of Tal Afar, home to many Turkomen, last week, Ankara finally drew the line.

Unless they called a "total stop" to the fighting there, the foreign minister Abdullah Gul said, Turkey would suspend all cooperation, closing the vital supply lines to northern Iraq.

The Spanish and Polish governments have both changed since they publicly supported the US war effort. At their conference in Britain,

Liberal Democrats have called on Tony Blair to resign for "misleading" the country in the run-up to the Iraq conflict but they botched an attempt to make the demand party policy.

The party leader, Charles Kennedy, insisted they had not yet "reached the resignation issue" but some activists - and the former frontbencher Jenny Tonge - lined up yesterday to insist the prime minister should stand down.

At least one speaker called for Blair's impeachment.

Back in the US, the neo-con hawks are pushing for a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. This job is widely considered too big for the Israelis: Iran has distributed its nuclear facilities widely, they're far from Israel, and many are underground.

But America certainly could do it---and has given the idea some serious thought. "The U.S. capability to make a mess of Iran's nuclear infrastructure is formidable," says veteran Mideast analyst Geoffrey Kemp. "The question is, what then?" NEWSWEEK has learned that the CIA and DIA have war-gamed the likely consequences of a U.S. pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. No one liked the outcome. As an Air Force source tells it, "The war games were unsuccessful at preventing the conflict from escalating."

Instead, administration hawks are pinning their hopes on regime change in Tehran---by covert means, preferably, but by force of arms if necessary. Papers on the idea have circulated inside the administration, mostly labeled "draft" or "working draft" to evade congressional subpoena powers and the Freedom of Information Act. Informed sources say the memos echo the administration's abortive Iraq strategy: oust the existing regime, swiftly install a pro-U.S. government in its place (extracting the new regime's promise to renounce any nuclear ambitions) and get out. This daredevil scheme horrifies U.S. military leaders, and there's no evidence that it has won any backers at the cabinet level.

Resistance to the war machine is not confined to Iraq. The one Bush ally still in power is struggling to hold that power, and countries we've longed counted friendly are refusing to let us use their territory. This is not your father's war machine; it's suspected and constrained by internal and external forces.

Unfortunately, here in the US support for continuing the war machine is not confined to one party. If it were, November's elections would be a true referendum on this issue—not simply the war the UN Secretary-General has called illegal, but the war machine itself. But it doesn't seem that we're given a chance to vote on that question. We're only asked to choose which driver the war machine should employ. One side says, Choose us or terrorists will strike. The other side says, Choose us or he'll start another war.

Likely they're both right. Terrorists probably will strike again, especially if we continue the policies that anger so many people around the world. Whether the next President is a Democrat or a Republican, it's not hard to imagine him finding himself in a war for any number of reasons, starting with the deteriorating situation in Iraq. It's also possible that both Republican and Democratic candidates have plans to withdraw from Iraq immediately after either the US or the Iraqi elections.

This is an election in which “the vision thing” seems a bit more relevant to me than usual: we need a new vision of the US role in the world. Yet the Democrat is running on the issue of competence. If I'm not mistaken, the last Presidential nominee from Massachusetts also ran on competence, against the original “vision thing” President, father of the current office-holder. Didn't work that time. Makes no sense now. My take on Kerry's Iraq strategy is similar to that on his health-care strategy. I don't want competent management of a failed system. I want a different system. Or as Bob Kerrey said, “We do not need a little more of the same thing. We need a lot more of something completely different.” I don't want universal health insurance, I want universal health care. Insurance companies add nothing to the equation. Competent management of the building of fourteen permanent bases in Iraq is not the problem. Building permanent bases in Iraq is the problem.

Historical comparisons can often be useful, though of course they're not predictive. For example, comparisons of the strengths of the United States today with those of the Roman Empire (during, say, Gibbon's golden age) seem to indicate that we've got issues, but we're not about to keel over. I have more faith in the system at this moment than in the particular pair of participants at center stage. I think the system can survive any likely outcome. We're not about to become a military dictatorship. I think that was closer to reality during Vietnam times, when the military command structure mostly believed in the mission, than it is now, when the military and intelligence communities were trying to put the brakes on and are now bearing the brunt of the difficulties. Current US actions and strategies show no evidence of the politicians having learned from Vietnam; but the military certainly did learn, and that institutional memory, while hardly bought, is a national boon.

(To be continued…)

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