Four theses plus one on current affairs
Why Iraq is like America
- As distressed as Washington is by the prospect of North Korea
possessing nuclear weapons, among the most troubling implications of
the current crisis is the prospect that South Korea will come to
possess the bomb when the peninsula unites, as it undoubtedly will
someday. In effect, by developing nuclear weapons capability North
Korea is creating for itself an asset that transforms the equation in
any reunification negotiations. It is no longer the pathetic failed
society, another East Germany poised to drag down the powerful West.
Instead, by undertaking a development effort that the U.S.-dominated
South cannot, North Korea becomes a partner offering military synergy
to the South's economic power. That's a wedge between the U.S. and the
South, which has to be undesirable for the Americans (not to mention
the Japanese), and it would make Korea a powerhouse that can't but be
viewed as a destabilizing.
- Republicans are ruthless. Democrats are wimps. Unlike the
Republican Party, the Democrats have never recovered from Watergate.
Having once almost destabilized the country by cutting the legs off the
presidency, they now never fail to pull their punches for fear of going
too far. The right understands this weakness and has sustained a
decades-long offensive to keep Democratic liberals, along with the news
media, afraid of their own shadows. The Democratic Party cowers before
the specter of a popular backlash (a racialist concept that harkens
back to the Civil Rights days) and Wall Street retaliation. The media
fears state regulation and public disdain for supposedly elitist (that
is, progressive) opinion.
The Republicans show no compunction, as their treatment of
Democratic presidents demonstrates. Consider the fates of Reagan and
the first Bush vs. Bill Clinton. Caught red-handed in constitutional
crimes arguably as serious as Nixon's, Reagan and Bush remained
untouched as a handful of underlings took the fall (and not very steep
falls at that). The Republican harassment of Bill Clinton, for far
lesser infractions, began before he entered the White House and
climaxed in an impeachment trial over an issue whose pettiness was so
obvious as to be universally laughable. Whatever one's opinions of
these presidents and their deeds, the response of their respective
adversaries couldn't differ more as indicators of political spine.
The right wing has no fear at all of cutting the legs off the
presidency -- that's precisely their goal when liberals rule. They will
do what it takes to limit the enemy's ability to do damage. Where the
Democrats always play the good soldier and fall over themselves to
demonstrate their ultimate loyalty, the right is savage as it
incapacitates opponents. Consider this scenario: Had Al Gore lost the
election but been installed in the White House by the apparent
machinations of a state his brother dominated, blessed by a Democratic
Supreme Court, would the Republicans have rolled over for the good of
the country, in the spirit of bipartisanship? Given their relentless
vilification of Clinton, and Jimmy Carter before him, we can be sure
that they would have fought the usurper in the Electoral College and
Congress to the bitter end, and in the court of opinion after that. The
right would still be screaming for impeachment, or worse.
If the Republicans create chaos by devastating the executive
branch (or Congress, for that matter), what do they have to fear? An
authoritarian push to restore order? That would hardly give pause;
many would find it desirable. Liberals, by contrast, have a tangible
and legitimate fear of any state of affairs that could prompt extreme
and draconian responses from what are generally known as the "forces of
order." They are terrified of a capital strike, in which financial
powers withdraw support and funding from key institutions. Worse, there
is the ultimate threat of political intervention from the military. The
first of those threats doesn't exist for the architects of Republican
strategies, because they are co-terminus with capital. The second can't
be a source of alarm for those who understand on whose side the
military would be intervening.
- The notion that the September 11 attack was an Israeli
plot seems entirely absurd, preposterous enough that it can be
explained most plausibly by the traditional anti-Semitic view of Jews
as the world's ultimate string pullers. Yet there is fertile ground
for conspiracy theories in the fact that the one person who benefited
the most from the attack is George Bush, who was elevated from
ineffectual usurper to wartime leader. It's hardly plausible that Bush
or his minions would have the imagination, much less the lunacy, to
stage such an event. But the payoff has been what an administration
lunatic might have imagined. Not least among the benefits was the
opportunity to declare a state of war, the great political silencer.
9/11 has enabled a vast conservative offensive: The conspiracy that
matters was ex post facto.
- The upshot of items two and three: A mandate-less Bush
guts environmental protection at an accelerating pace; lines the
pockets of the rich with tax cuts that unconscionably beggar not only
future generations but our ability to cope with current social ills;
deconstructs affirmative action; and generally pursues a scorched-earth
policy toward whatever social achievements have been gained in the last
three decades. Not to mention gears up for a war of breath-taking
heedlessness. And the Democrats' response, at best, is to politely
- One more thesis: If the administration is extremely lucky
and war in Iraq is both short and relatively painful (for Americans,
anyway), it is still likely to leave an enormous mess for this country.
First, as in other nations with longstanding dictatorships, Iraq is
without a strong, unified opposition or an obvious leader to step into
the post-Saddam vacuum. The United States will have to contend with a
chaotic, contentious and dangerous situation for a long time to come.
Second, a victory will most likely fuel even more hostility toward the
U.S. in the Arab world. After all, if the U.S. can invade an oil-rich
Arab country without immediate provocation -- but with the stated
purpose of deposing an unfriendly leader -- to what Arab state will it
turn its attention next? In the first Gulf War Iraq was guilty of an
unquestionable act of aggression against a neighbor. The rationale for
the current intervention is mostly strategic, and the strategy it
advances is mostly America's.
And another thing: He lost the election!
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Copyright William Swislow 2003