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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 29 July 2006
Drawing Inward: Some Notes in Isolationism
Topic: In these times...
Drawing Inward: Some Notes on Isolationism
With the new war in southern Lebanon - we're only three weeks or so into this one - and the rockets raining down on northern Israel and the bombs falling from Beirut to the Syrian border, some items in the news got short shrift. One would be the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Yeah, yeah - bad news for the Republicans as people are unhappy with how things are going in the world. The party in power in the most powerful and influential nation in the world seem to have a mess on their hands. They cannot blame the Democrats for screwing things up, and everyone knows that. The Democrats aren't running anything they may never run anything ever again - and there's only some much lipstick you can put on this particular pig, as they say.

So this was not news, until you look at the poll more closely. That's what Jim Rutenberg and Megan C. Thee did in the New York Times on Thursday, July 27, here, saying that once you get past thinking about what the results mean in terms of the upcoming midterm elections, there's something else going on. Americans are showing a new but quite definite isolationist streak. It seems we, collectively, don't want to be the most powerful and influential nation in the world, spreading freedom and democracy willy-nilly where we're not wanted. It just causes more problems. The administration and the neoconservative idealists who direct it, with their massive project to remake the world - the famous Project for the New American Century - have hit a wall. The question seems to have come down to asking why we are doing all this, and what good had come of it, or is likely to come of it. Pinky and the Brain was a funny cartoon series, but this is real life.

Quick aside - Pinky and the Brain centered on a genetically engineered mouse (who sounded a whole lot like Orson Welles) and his quite amusingly insane mouse cohort making nightly attempts to take over the world. This was a co-production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers that ran from 1995 to 1998. There were sixty-five episodes, and it wasn't really for kids - the dialog was far too witty and subtle, and there were all those references to classic films like "The Third Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" and such. It was about power and insanity. Pinky: "Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?" The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world." They couldn't run it these days. The Brain, as drawn, looks too much like Dick Cheney and Pinky shares traits with George Bush. Bill O'Reilly would be incensed.

In any event, the Times item on the poll opens with this -
Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush's handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.

Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.
Election implications aside, the data are startling. Fifty-six percent of us support a timetable for a reduction our forces in Iraq, and more than half of that group says they support a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq "would fall into the hands of insurgents." Screw it. It's going to happen anyway. This turns on its head the notion that Democrats should stay away from those ideas completely, lest the Republicans point out they're cowards and out of touch with the mainstream. The mainstream has moved on. This isn't a cartoon. Folks aren't amused.

In fact, by a pretty wide margin, the poll found that Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general - as in fifty-nine percent saying that was something we shouldn't be doing, and only thirty-one percent siding with the administration. That's less than a third. Back in September 2002 it was fifty-fifty. Enough is enough. And in more broad terms, only thirty-five percent of respondents said they approved of the president's handling of foreign policy "in general." On the other hand that was a bounce, up eight points since May. But a clear "expressed doubt about whether the president had the respect of foreign leaders." No kidding. The thrill is gone.

The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted July 21 through July 25, and world events have spiraled down each day since then. This won't get better. More than twice as many people in this poll believe the country is heading in the wrong direction than believe it is heading in the right direction. That may be hard to turn around.

And there's this -
Support for the president's staunch backing of Israel goes only so far: 39 percent indicated they approved of it, but 40 percent said the United States should avoid saying anything at all about the conflict (Only 7 percent said the United States should criticize Israel, though many respondents cast blame for the conflict on both sides).
We don't need to get involved? Maybe it's more like we shouldn't take side do dramatically. There's a bit of that - asking why we're opposing most everyone in the world, saying there should be no immediate cease-fire, and encouraging Israel to continue to disassemble Lebanon and traumatize its people -
In a common refrain among respondents regarding the Israel-Hezbollah war, Sharon Schierloh, 62, a retired factory worker from Ottawa, Ohio, said: "Let the Israelis take care of the problems in their area. We need to stay out of that because our troops are spread too thin." She spoke in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll.
Basically there was agreement, 63 to 30, the Iraq war "had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost." Only a quarter of respondents said they thought "the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region" - over forty percent said the whole thing "had made the Middle East less stable." It was fifty-fifty on whether the invasion was the right thing to do in the first place. People are discouraged.

Actually, diving beneath the political business - the implications for the upcoming midterm elections - the Times writers seem awfully worried about this new isolationist mood - we don't want to be engaged in the world, or want to be less engaged. But there is something more basic going on here, and a bit more worrying. It's that pessimism. The idea that the Democrats could fix any of this is shown here as a halfhearted wish that no one believes is more than a delusion. Congress generally polls much lower than the president stuck under forty percent approval. There is not one opposition leader with any plan and lots of uplifting hope to hand out all around. There are no heroes on the horizon, no sense that anyone can fix all this.

The isolationism is not the problem. It's only a symptom of a larger problem, a kind of existential despair. Think Camus and Sisyphus and that rock. What's the point?

That's not to say Omaha will turn into the Left Bank in Paris in the fifties, with beefy ex-salesmen sitting around drinking bad coffee, smoking endless cigarettes in shady sidewalk cafés, dissecting angst and the absence of meaning in life. It just means the defining conservative position that Ronald Reagan summed up in one key concept - "Government doesn't solve problems. Government is the problem" - has finally taken hold. Everything the government does in the world is crap, and just makes things worse, and next hurricane or major earthquake, you're own your own, as the government cannot be trusted to help anyone much. You're on your own. Why even vote? What's the point? Many see we now live in this new "you're on your own" world. They call it the new YOYO world. Acronyms are fun.

__

Other Voices:

Bill Montgomery here -
Most Americans like and support Israel, and dislike or hate Arabs and Muslims, but they don't want to actually go to war for the Jewish state. They also don't like it when their president openly abandons the traditional U.S. role of cease fire maker (I know, it's mostly for show, but in this case appearances matter) and actually urges the Israelis to go on bombing the shit out of Beirut.

This wouldn't be a problem if Israel were winning, but it's not. So now it needs even MORE support from Uncle Sam, at a time when the political and diplomatic costs of the war are getting astronomical.

… At the end of the day, there is a fundamental difference of interests between the Israelis and the Americans, as much as the neocons would like to deny it. The war with Iran and its allies and proxies is an existential issue for Israel - or at least, so the neocons seem to see it. It is NOT an existential issue for the USA - or at least, so American public opinion seems to see it. And more and more garden-variety conservatives are beginning to see it that way too.

September 11 and the war hysteria over Iraq's mythical WMD allowed the neocons to elide that difference for a time. But only for a time. Now it's reappearing, despite the increasingly frantic propaganda spinning.

… But the fundamental difference of interest (existential versus optional) remains, and the isolationist tide continues to build. This wouldn't be a problem if the allies were winning, but the losses are mounting up. As in any marriage, adversity doesn't decrease the chances of divorce, it increases them.

So if the gang really wants World War III/IV, and expects the USA to be there in the trenches next to Israel, they'd better get a move on.
It may be too late for that.

Will this help? - Presidential adviser Karl Rove said Saturday that journalists often criticize political professionals because they want to draw attention away from the "corrosive role" their own coverage plays in politics and government.

Oh. People don't think government can do anything right because journalists report on what's happening. Hey, maybe so.

Posted by Alan at 19:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006 10:19 PDT home

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