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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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Friday, 25 June 2004

Topic: World View

Discussing what is real and what is not. Contrasting rhetoric. Differing levels of discourse.

In a week when the polls shifted and now, for the first time, more than half of Americans (fifty-four percent) do not think this war was worth the costs incurred, it's time for some thinking.

The cost was in lives (over eight hundred and fifty and counting, with perhaps eleven thousand grievously wounded), in billions of dollars, in the good will of much of world that was once on our side, and in the loss of much of our credibility (we did get some things wrong even if we meant well and still maintain these things - WMD and links to al-Qaeda -might have been so).

We have come to tolerate, if not embrace, the idea that some of us can be tagged and locked up without charges forever, for the greater good, on one man's word. We have abused, if not tortured and murdered, those who might, or might not, have information - to protect ourselves, in spite of international laws to which we have agreed. Many think this is necessary. And now (late afternoon, June 25) UN human rights investigators have demanded access to prisoners held by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guant?namo Bay to check that international standards were being upheld. Don't they trust us?

No. They don't.

Are we the good guys? Of course.

Don't we stand for decency and the rule of law and fair play and all the rest? Of course.

What's the problem then?

Here are some voices.

Duke and Princeton: Robert O. Keohane is a professor of political science at Duke University. Anne-Marie Slaughter is dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and author of "A New World Order."

Bush's mistaken view of U.S. democracy
Robert O. Keohane and Anne-Marie Slaughter, The International Herald Tribune - Tuesday, June 22, 2004
... If the struggle against terrorism were to be carried out consistently with the institutional theory embedded in the U.S. Constitution, America's leaders would be well aware of the potential for abuse - even by decent patriots. They would have ensured not only that the Constitution was upheld at home, but that the more limited protections embodied in international law would have been conscientiously applied to people living under American occupation, or otherwise within U.S. control.

Behind the debate about the conduct of the war in Iraq, and the occupation, is a larger divide - between those Americans who believe that their unique virtues should permit them to act above the law, and those who believe that people in authority, necessarily imperfect, must be constrained by institutions and by law. Those who understand and believe in the theory of the American Constitution should reject the Bush administration's political theory of personal good and evil. We must continue to insist that the United States is a "government of laws and not of men."
Is that then the divide?

Maybe.

Dennis Prager is a prominent Jewish political commentator, widely ready on the right. He writes, mainly, on what is moral. He sees it another way.
There are many ways to philosophically divide Americans. Liberal-conservative and religious-secular are two obvious ways. But there is another, no less significant, division: Those who are ashamed of America for being hated and those who wear this hatred as a badge of honor.

... Either America is evil and hatred of it is merited, or America is a decent country and the haters are evil. The correct explanation is so obvious that only one who already hates America or who is simply morally confused would choose the first.
Reduce it to its absolutes - either our country here is totally evil, or we're not, and thus we must be totally good. Choose one or the other.

Decided yet? Of course.

We're right. You're wrong. Nayh, nayh!

And do we even have a grasp of the situation?

I suggested to my friend Ric Erickson at MetropoleParis in the items he contributed to Just Above Sunset he was wrong. His May Day and D-Day items (here and here) must have been reporting Paris protests that didn't actually happen, or didn't represent the real truth about public opinion. And that Bush visit to the UK last year? We were lied to. By CNN and everyone else. The British people all supported this war and had no problem with Tony. They agree with Bush there. Always have. Germany has always been behind us on the Iraq business. Always. France disagreed on some matters, but they always voted with us. Don't you remember?

You see, Bush stopped off in Ireland on his was to that NATO summit in Istanbul - and he cleared this all up. They asked him a question. He answered. Clear enough.

Bush Says Europe Supports U.S. on Iraq
Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press Writer - Thursday, June 24, 2004 9:00 PM PDST (Friday in Europe)
... Bush was asked whether he was satisfied with the level of political, economic and military support coming from European nations in Iraq.

"First of all, most of Europe supported the decision in Iraq. Really what you're talking about is France, isn't it? And they didn't agree with my decision. They did vote for the U.N. Security Council resolution. ... We just had a difference of opinion about whether, when you say something, you mean it."
If he says it, well, it must be true. And once again one is reminded of that famous line from Graucho Marx - "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes."

Bush is not delusional. He has proudly says he does not read the newspapers. He listens to what his staff tells him, because they are closer to actual events.

This just shows you cannot trust the media? You trust your leaders? Bush says most everyone WAS behind him and implies you can either trust him, or....

Ric shot back - "This is the leader of the funky Western World? I am wondering if this guy could be trusted to run a lemonade stand."

The next reaction was from my friend Joseph, also in France.
Dennis Prager.... Well at the risk of sounding anti-Semitic, that used to be a quite Jewish point of view, that is to say that the hatred of the world is proof of one's righteousness and god's favor. Presumably Muslims feel the same way... the other way to look at it is "perhaps if everyone hates me, it's because I'm doing something to deserve it." Perhaps it would be healthy to at least consider it.

The real problem, as I've said before, is that the moment we talk about countries as if they are groups of like-minded people who share common interests, we are in fantasyland. America is full of righteous people. It is also full of child-molesters.

And so Bush isn't totally disingenuous when he claims that Europe was with us. He's talking about Tony and Gerhardt, and even Jacques... because Bush doesn't read the papers, he doesn't often have a long heart-to-heart with the guy on the street, or rue or strasse or any other damn thing.

America is a good county. But some of its citizens, corporations and politicians have done evil things abroad. Is that such a contradiction? To deny this fundamental truth smacks of "My father- drunk or sober!"
Of course it does,

Well, Dennis Prager may not be worth discussing. We get the idea. Yes, slowly realizing that almost everyone hates you can lead to that "noble martyr" crap. An easy trap. Or it can lead to thoughtful self-evaluation. But no one likes being uncomfortable - and the latter can be uncomfortable. Why bother? Other than trying to stay connected to reality.

Which way your react - proud and defensive or doubtful and introspective - is probably a function of your personal psychological make-up - having to do with your childhood and the culture in which you were raised, and probably with congenital and heredity factors, or maybe even your diet. Who knows? One might argue that if you react to discovering you are widely hated, and always now distrusted, with scornful pride, and this hatred and distrust only proves, conclusively, that you are right and good - well, one could argue that's a form of psychotic behavior, or at the very least a developmental disorder. There's a disconnect somewhere.

But this not particularly Jewish. Bill O'Reilly is a practicing Catholic - although for all the practice he hasn't gotten it right yet. Franken mocks Bill. Various lefties say awful things about him - and he revels in it.

As for Bush and what he knows about the world, I should look up the articles from his trip to the Asian summit last year where various people explained to him there might be demonstrations and things could get hot. He was startled. He actually had not heard of any demonstrations there, or of the previous ones in Europe protesting his war and his policies. He was also completely unaware of any public opinion polls, anywhere, showing the overwhelming public opposition to any of that. Well, there were more than a few. No one had told him. Similarly, a few months ago I came across an item where someone explained to him how Chalabi had been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan and had been sentenced, in absentia, to twenty-two years in prison and could not set foot in Jordan, Syria or Switzerland ever again. They said Bush was pissed off and demanded why no one told him.
True? Who knows?

But it seems likely. He likes to keep his focus on his own agenda.

This of course involves ignoring specific, pesky things for your greater idealistic purposes - and that can be dangerous.

Putting it more bluntly, Bob Harris says this - "Understanding the bad guys is how you defeat them. Pretending you do, then attacking an entirely different enemy, while making up shit to justify it, is how you get your ass kicked."

Are we making things up?

Here's a more measured view from Leon Wieseltier:
I continue to support the war. But I have come to despise some of the people who are directing it. History, and we have been punished with a good deal of it on their watch, has not enlarged them. They are rigid and sectarian and righteous. Mentally, they do not live in the wide world. They do not see that the leadership of the most powerful country on earth demands a certain cosmopolitanism of mind. Main Street is all they wish to know. They think that French is funny. The more I observe Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, the more I discover the deep and unwitting similarities between unilateralism and isolationism. Like the isolationist, the unilateralist believes that the United States is alone in the world, and that there is honor in its aloneness. Like the isolationist, the unilateralist regards international alliances expediently, cynically. (When he finds himself frantically relying upon foreign countries and international institutions to assist him in difficult circumstances, like George W. Bush in postwar Iraq, he thinks no second thoughts about the blandishments of "foreign entanglements." He merely exploits the entanglements.) Like the isolationist, the unilateralist thinks that we can provide for ourselves everything that we need, everything that is precious.

It is no wonder that this administration has presided over a new flourishing of anti-Americanism. It accepts anti-Americanism as a compliment. It holds that all anti-Americanism is like all other anti-Americanism, and is in no way to be imputed to American behavior. In this way, the Bush administration has transformed anti-Americanism into one of the most urgent, and least addressed, problems facing American foreign policy.

... The rule of Saddam Hussein was uncommonly brutal. Its destruction represents a triumph of the idealistic strain in American foreign policy. Americans may be proud of having rid the world of such a horror. But the Bush administration's mistakes, many of them the consequences of its various theologies, have somewhat disgraced idealism, and this, too, is a disservice to America.

The course of the war in Iraq may persuade many Americans to revert to America's inward-looking habits. And the Bush administration is singularly ill-suited to teach those Americans about the glories of internationalism. Though the president and the vice president are acting with force internationally, they are not exactly internationalists. They are not national greatness conservatives, they are national smallness conservatives. But who are the national greatness liberals?
They're hiding, Leon. They're hiding.

That position is too dangerous. Adopt it and people will think you are unpatriotic.

And one should, obviously, not trade too many emails with Ric and Joseph in France.

Posted by Alan at 19:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 25 June 2004 19:48 PDT home

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