Interesting Ideas

Four theses plus one on current affairs

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. 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.
  5. 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 disagree.
  6. 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!
Why Iraq is like America

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