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"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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Monday, 13 March 2006
Starting the week with alarms and chaos...
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Starting the week with alarms and chaos...

Monday, March 13th, two days before "Brutus Day" (the Ides of March, the day when bad thing happen to political leaders), we got the alarm from the president. Well, actually, David Sanger in the New York Times surveyed what the president had been saying in defense of the now moribund (as in dead) Dubai ports deal, and also in reaction to all the polling showing, consistently, that the majority here wonder what we're doing there - wondering just why are we in a war that more and more looks like a civil war where we may have to take sides in what is not our business, in a country in ruins we just cannot reassemble (and the locals aren't helping, what with their more pressing issues over who finally gets to be on top), and where, best case, we'll end up with a fundamentalist theocracy, with ties to Iran, that might or might not be willing to side with us on this or that issue in the future. Somehow that's bit discouraging.

The Alarm? A Bush Alarm: Urging U.S. to Shun Isolationism

Ah, as Sanger opens - "The president who made pre-emption and going it alone the watchwords of his first term is quietly turning in a new direction, warning at every opportunity of the dangers of turning the nation inward and isolationist..."

Quietly? Define that. The idea is we really shouldn't shun deals with foreign governments, especially with the United Arab Emirates (we should reach out co-opt them into helping us even more with thing like the port deal), and we should believe that it really is our business to rip out a pesky government, especially one that had be run by the murderous and destabilizing Saddam Hussein, and get those folks way, way over there to start up the first Jeffersonian free-market flat-tax deregulated democracy in the neighborhood. We should be involved in the world, and engaged. We can't always act alone. That would be wrong. Not prudent. Thus the alarm.

Sanger probably uses the word "quietly" because he is compiling things - there was no one central presidential speech launching a "campaign on isolationism." In the last two weeks or more there seems to have been a major shift in the way the president is talking about the world, and in how the administration chooses now to deal with the world. Sanger is reporting that. Nothing was actually announced. But the shift is blatantly obvious and should be noted.

There's something odd going on here, and it doesn't take rocket scientist to wonder what's up. Matthew Yglesias does the basics for us here, saying that what the president sees as an unfortunate isolationist reaction in Americans these days looks more like unfortunate opposition to the administration's policies -
It's worth saying as clearly as possible that this is entirely bogus. Before George W. Bush took office, zero American presidents launched wars against countries that posed no threat to the United States for the purposes of transforming an entrenched dictatorship into a democracy. After Bush took office, he continued in the noble American tradition of not doing that. Several years into his term, he invaded Iraq because, or so he said, its government was close to building a nuclear bomb that it was likely to give to al-Qaeda. Several months after the invasion, it became clear to everyone that this was false and he started pretending to have done it in order to turn Iraq into a democracy. Today, with Iraq in shambles, people are correctly perceiving that the reason no president has ever tried to do something like that is that it's a fundamentally unsound, unworkable idea.

His effort to paint himself as a free trade martyr is, if anything, more pathetic. The White House has embraced protectionism whenever - as in the case of the steel tariffs, the softwood lumbers tariffs, and the explosion of farm subsidies - the balance of K Street money favors protectionism. The farm bill he signed into law doomed the Doha Round of WTO talks...
And Yglesias goes on about CAFTA and so on, but you get the idea.

And it does seem like name-calling. Suggest that something is a stunningly bad idea and should be reconsidered and you're an "isolationist." As name-calling goes that's pretty good. You get lumped in with the "buy American" folks who want to destroy Toyota and Sony, or with those way back with those who thought we shouldn't have fought in Europe against Hitler (and were glad when FDR said we never would, even as he was working us into the battle).

The problem is that, like all name-calling, it's beside the point. The opposition has, for the last five years, since that historic September, urged that we should engage the world and work out how everyone could join in dealing with "the problem." But no. We'd have none of that - join us in what we've planned and don't ask question, or you're one of "them." Here, suggest security concerns that should be worked out and poof - you're an "isolationist," case closed and you're wrong.

It's the usual. The pattern is clear. Let's talk, as something here seems to need more consideration. No, no point in talking as it's clear that you're just an [insert name here].

You might point out that you were the ones saying we needed to work with the world and the administration was saying that was dangerous and things had to be done unilaterally, without considering the views of wimps, fools, the corrupt and the French. You might, but why bother? You'd just get called another name. Of course, in the fifties you'd be called a communist. The label stops the conversation, as how can you consider the views of someone who's a [insert name here]?

So much for political discourse. But then lots of people use this method to shut down discussions. It probably explains more than a few divorces.

Posted by Alan at 21:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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