Sunday, February 03, 2008

Business as usual

Every now and then, it is salutary for both mind and body to read an article like this one. It deals with the long-term, describes real issues and communicates a very simple message: calm down.

It dispels 3 myths about the decline of the US: that it is going to be taken over by a non-white, largely hispanic, majority, or by right-wing Christian fundamentalists and that, with the retirement of the baby-boomers its pension system is going to collapse.

To save you reading the whole lot, here is a quick summary. About the fear of a non-white majority.

[There is no] long-term danger of the US becoming permanently polarised between anglophones and Spanish speakers. Among second-generation Hispanics, roughly half speak no Spanish at all, while fewer than 10 per cent speak only Spanish. By the third and fourth generations, Hispanics in the US are almost completely anglophone.
The right-wing Christian fundamentalists are much abused and feared, unjustifiably, it would seem. The US is, in fact, becoming more secular.
[T]he number of North Americans who believe that the Bible is "the actual word of God" has fallen from 65 per cent in 1963 to just 27 per cent in 2001. At the same time, attitudes among Americans toward homosexuality, sex out of marriage and censorship are growing steadily more liberal.
One exception, a very interesting one.
Abortion is the major exception; younger Americans tend to be more opposed to abortion than their elders. Possibly this reflects the growing use of ultrasound by parents to view their offspring in the womb, a practice which may be inadvertently undermining the distinction that supporters of liberal abortion laws have tried to make between foetuses and babies.
Do you remember the rubbish about Bush believing he was told by God to invade Iraq? And the consequent panic that the US was going to end up like Iran? Bush is mild compared to such religious bigots as FDR.
Franklin D Roosevelt tended to use the phrases "western civilisation" and "Christian civilisation" interchangeably. At the 1941 Atlantic summit in Newfoundland, Roosevelt and Churchill joined the British and American sailors in singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers," "O God Our Help in Ages Past" and "Eternal Father Strong to Save." Bush and Blair may have prayed together but they never would have sung hymns together in public.
Even in the south, the use of the word 'christian' as an identifier has more to do with ethnic-style description along the lines of Italian-American or Chinese-American than religion per se.

Finally, there is the 'incoming' bomb of the baby-boomers and their pensions, which, supposedly, will send the US tax bill into freefall. Lind says that this worry is based on Government forecasts that rely on very low growth estimates of 1.7 per cent, a figure that has been exceeded in almost every year since 1996. At worst, government spending might have to rise by 2%, which would take its share of GDP to 32%. Compared to the European average of 47%, it is still remarkably slim.

Even the general economic picture looks good for the next century. Sure, China and India will be vastly more important than they have been, but even so, the North American (Mexico, US and Canada) share of global GDP will be almost a quarter, just as it was for the US alone 20 years ago.

Attached to this article is an editorial from the conservative magazine “Commentary”, whose normal tone is one of despair at a disintegrating society. However, here it is more one of puzzled optimism thanks to the relative decline over the last decade of the following 'social pathologies': violent and property crime, teenage drug use, divorce, welfare and abortion. In some, the change is dramatic.

27 comments:

Riri said...

Whether the US is on the decline or not is not really that disasterous. I feel more important issues are if it is going to change the way it deals with the rest of the world any time in the near future. I find it worrying that it is still bullying Europe and criticising Europe's much more democratic culture as being dangereous in the long term. Then you have China and Russia on the other hand, if the US is not going to change its arrogant, self-righteous attitude one can only feel very nerveous about the future. Especially under increasing pressures of declining energy supplies.

NoolaBeulah said...

I am well aware that everything I am about to write will meet with your intense displeasure, but just this once, I will run the gauntlet.

The stability of the US is important for everyone. They are the foundation of the world market. Look for instance at the latest blip caused by their happy-slappy credit sloppiness. That is nothing to what could happen if something really serious went wrong there. They would suffer, but many, many more people all over the world would suffer as well.

In addition, they are the guarantors of the trade lines of the world. Japan, China and Europe get their oil because the American navy keeps open the Straits of Hermuz and the rest of the Indian Ocean, and the other oceans as well. None of the other 'big players' are able or willing to take on this role.

Including Europe. Europe is 'more democratic'? I'm not sure what you mean by that. Is it just a way of saying, 'I like Europe more.' Because as far as democracy goes (ie. structures that allow the will of the electorate to be heard), America is way ahead. Witness the EU constitution avoiding popular ratification at every turn.

Europe is certainly more given to the rhetoric of 'peace', but that's because it is incapable of anything else. Its air forces couldn't mount a single operation in Kosovo without US back-up. Europe is a disabled superpower, something I find more dangerous.

I understand why the Americans are not well liked in the Arab world. But dislike them or not, the alternatives to American hegemony are not in the least attractive. Being the decadent, capitalist running-dog that I am, I hope that they stay in that position for a very long time.

[Remember that it's no good swearing at me in Arabic - I'll just take it as harmless, if passionate, effusions of a hot-blooded Mediterranean temperament.)

Riri said...

Na, am not daft, I know my passionate swearing will be ineffective on you. You will never changed, too deep into your decadent ways unfortunately - beyond salvation.

Righto, I've a few darts with little messages I'm going to throw at ya:

1)- The US is "really important" only for those who make a living out of speculating on imaginary money and goods and making money out of no labour. For the rest of us mortals, it won't make much of a difference. A few colourful products off the shelves? Good riddance I say.

2)- Saying that the US must remain the ruling power no matter how people dislike it (and for the capitalist reasons that you state) is not convincing. Granted, the world economy will experience a huge dip, but why not be optimistic and see that as an opportunity for regaining a bit of balance. This could be the kick others who do not want to take the US role need to do something. Also, what would happen if the US no longer wants to do that role? Say after it wages all the wars its heart desires and nicks all the oil it needs for 50 years say (which for the rest of the world will probably last 1000 years)?

3)- Europe is certainly more open to free speech, it is more civilised and conscious of international cultural differences, perhaps because of its geography. What good is it to have the appropriate democratic structures in place when people are completely brain-washed and unconscious of international affairs? I feel sorry for the American people, their government has a long history of deceit, propaganda and facts distortion. It doesn't hesitate to sacrifice even US citizens to achieve its imperialistic goals (Tillman case was one of most recent examples). Any insights on why the US persistently refuses to sign international treaties or conventions that have the remotest chance of doing good (humanitarian or environmental or any type of positive thing)? Latest example is its refusal to sign the UN ban on renditions and secret detention.

Regardless of how much Arabs (the people not the Governments) suffered because of US atrocious foreign policy, I think other countries have every reason to distrust them. We're all really sick of the huge bull in the bloody China shop. If it is somehow possible that it at least tones down its aggressive imperialist attitude fine, but if not, nobody cares about how important it is to trade.

I have probably profered a lot of economic moronities here, but I don't care. I want wars to stop now! Even if the planet blows up with boredom when peace prevails.

Thanks.

Hazar Nesimi said...

I did not know Riri you are such a commie - gosh, this thing is right!

NB- If I did not know you I would have thought it is you and not me who is in the pay of imperialistic blood sucking capitalist corporation.

At some point the balance in the world is going to shift, when the capital flows to other consuming economies will start (China and other developing world). Where US still has an edge is innovation and flexible financial system that can deflect all the blows. Almost. China's, India'stability will get more important in the future especially if they take on the role of incubators of new ideas - and they should. They should suck brains and financial institutions out of the West. No longer developing world will be relegated to the end. This incidentally will spell the end of American style liberal democracy, but will usher a fairer future.

I believe success of developing world is good for US economy - its business understand new rules - and it should drop pretensions that it could rule the world alone. It can be done - but lets be clear, majority of Muslim world will not benefit in any case. We are in the heap of history! No offence, but none taken!

Riri said...

Yes am a commie! Lock up your cash! I just don't care anymore, I will burn all money that comes my way - enough of decadent capitalism!

No wealth, no headache.

Riri said...

And re. Islamic world not benefitting, I do not share your pessimism.

BUT

Even if you turn out to be right, I don't think we'd care much, as long as we'll be allowed to eat and sleep and procreate in peace. A few tsunamis of exported products won't go amiss either, if the rest of humanity cares to open the gates of prosperity on our heads now and then.

We heeey, life is beautiful.

NoolaBeulah said...

Riri, look around your house. Among the "imaginary ... goods" gathered there, do you happen to have such things as a computer, a washing machine (one of the most beneficial inventions of human history), a stove, a fridge, a light bulb or two? Who do you thank for these "few colourful products"? I will not even mention the equipment in your hospitals, your factories, your broadcasters or your laboratories, or the knowledge that you impart in your micro-biology lessons.

If the USA disappeared tomorrow, what do you think would follow: peace? Universal harmony? No. What would follow would be chaos, and those that would suffer most would be the weak. Then there would be another 'strong man', and after them, another, and so on. So it has always been. Such will it alway be. There will be 'unity' in the world when there is a power capable of imposing it.

Nazim is right. It will be a more multi-polar world in the future; India and, particularly, China will be much more important. This is good. But the share of power they take will mostly come from Europe, which has become less and less capable of change. It will remain wealthy, but will innovate less and less. Why? Because it has become more and more government-dependent with social security obligations that threaten to submerge it. How has this been able to happen? Because they have relegated the military role of protection to the Americans and spent their money on holidays instead. And how have the Indians and Chinese been able to grow so much? Because of globalisation and world capitalism.

Your characterisation of Americans is a stereotype, though, like many stereotypes, it has some truth in it. Yet this is mostly a function of geography and history. They are isolated from the other theatres of influence and conflict in the world, and, as most people would in that situation, turn away somewhat from it. Remember that the highest achievement in politics is not to matter. This is the case in much of America. Lucky them.

But, if you want to understand what is happening in the world, don't read the European press, but the American. The elite press there is far superior to its European rivals. Why? Because the Americans have to make the real decisions. It's great for Europeans to strike the righteous pose and pontificate about what should be. They are helpless to make it so. If anything serious has to be done, the Americans will have to do it.

Why do they hesitate to sign on to these international agreements and institutions? Because the function of most of them is to limit American power. If you were American, would you? I wouldn't. The UN, for example, is a joke. Have you seen who is on their Human Rights Commission? Insofar as such institutions assume that all countries are equal, they are bogus.

Nazim, I would like you to explain this "fairer future" you refer to.

Riri said...

NoolaBeulah, I do not deny the importance of "free trade" for innovation and economic progress. Am just saying that as usual, it has been used as an excuse to do all sorts of bad things. I think freedom as an idea has caused the world a lot of headaches, not just in trade but in every aspect of life. Everyone harps on about freedom, it seems all you have to do to get approval these days is add "free" to whatever atrocity you intend to promote. Free trade, Free speech, Free bloody freedom....Well, fine then, if everybody is so enamoured with anything free then abolish all borders, and let all just live freely in anarchy. The US idea of free trade is that the US is free to come take your resources in any way it sees fit then go back home and use it freely. Why? Well because then it would give us innovation, if we live long enough to thank them for it, innovative bombs are not something consumers will have a chance to voice appreciative opinions about sadly. But hey, the rest can still do that right? Big Daddy is there to protect our free trade and give us innovation.

That is what I do not like about the US or rather its policies, it does not show any concern or interest for world stability and people's right to be free of it incidently. You tell me it is thanks to them that we have fridge and washing machines and other economies are picking up - I tell you no, it is not thanks to the US, it is just something that were bound to happen eventually through trade activities around the world. Countries have always traded and exchanged goods, the US wants to use this new dominant controlling philosophy to build an empire. It should be told that we do not want empires ever again. And if the US think they're the only tough guys who can bring peace and prosperity to the rest of us, I think they should expect opposition and learn how to deal with it in other "innovative" ways than their innovative weaponry.

Fine not everyone should aspire to have power, but I disagree with one entity having or thinking it has the right or it is the only one capable of having all-encompassing supreme power. This is wrong, much better to have multiple powers specialising in different domains. It is a bit idealistic to expect countries to help each other out in order to achieve a fairer power distribution I know, but I think that in the long term it can only be a good thing to aim for, much better than to push for an exclusive power club just because you're too comfortable in some setways to envisage uncertain change.

About the UN etc, well, maybe you are right but for the US to come and accuse others of not respecting Human Rights or the Geneva Convention when all it seems to want to do is exactly that is a bit rich innit.

I don't think anybody in all honesty can say that the US has been a good example to the rest of the world. As far as I can see, it has been absolutely awful.

I yearn for ethical international politics, or at least some leaders who are prepared to set an example in this regard. I know it won't be easy, but we have to accept that nothing that is based on injustuce will last, it is simply not sustainable. The entire history of humankind vouches to that.

Riri said...

Egality does not have to mean equality.

Riri said...

Sorry, forgot to add:

The UN is useless precisely because of attitudes like that of the US. The US seems to think that disicpline has to be imposed, and yet, strangely, it seems unable to impose discipline on itself. Nothing will be effective as long as the US charges on and does what it likes without a grain of consideration to what the rest of the world thinks, even if the rest of the world are not as mighty.

We're desperate for a good example of a powerful and equitable leader. Even if it'd be only an llusion of it.

NoolaBeulah said...

I think we could go on for some time yet. But let me ask you one question: how does a country become powerful?

Riri said...

I think generally countries become good contenders for power when they reach a certain edge of economic prosperity and build common-interest bonds with many other world players.

Once you get to power, you would naturally want to fossilize there, I can accept that. But the way you seek to achieve that could turn out to be a problem. Let's see, what are the alternative ways of maintaining power:

- Fear and Bullying , muscle flexing, intimidation

- Mass indoctrination or at least distraction/confusion

- Control of vital energy and financial resources and institutions

But of course, the ambition to get supreme power and not be satisfied with simply getting to become powerful can only be tolerated in so far as competitiveness is fair, remember when people used to fight in duals? There was a code of honour involved right? You cannot bully others just because you have more sophisticated weapons. With power comes responsibility. The US has no code of honour, it is a savage bandit. Worse, it does not buy into the idea of honour and fairness, because for them they're the antithesis of "free trade" and "capitalism". But is this true? And if it is, does "free trade" and "capitalism" grants that we sacrifice these values and kid ourselves that it is all ultimately for the good of the majority?

NoolaBeulah said...

The Americans are powerful because they have invented more (others might have, but they didn't - might have, or even would have, counts for nothing), worked more cleverly, were more adaptable and more determined. They have contributed more. What they have made, others have wanted. Not only that, but they nursed Europe and Japan so that they could occupy the positions they now do.

Code of honour? You want to talk about a code of honour in world affairs, in international relations? Has never existed and never will. To speak of it is to plead for mercy. The closest events I can think of were the American actions after the World War 2, when they resuscitated their enemies. But they didn't do it out of a code of honour; they did it out of self-interest. Commercial self-interest, which is the firmest grounds for peace that exist, because business flourishes in peace and stability.

Indoctrination? With the opposition to Bush in the US! Instead of giving them billions of dollars, they could have made Europe a fiefdom, as the Russians did in Eastern Europe. Did they? No. There has never been a world power as susceptible to world opinion as the US.

People proclaim Abu Ghraib as proof of their malevolence. It is the opposite. They fixed it; they did something about it. Compare the behaviour of the French in Algeria. How many soldiers were brought to trial? How did they change their behaviour?

Free trade and capitalism has done more for the world than any well-intentioned and noble idea ever has. The proportion of people living in absolute poverty is lower now than it has even been in recorded history. Thanks to free trade and capitalism. It hasn't worked for everyone yet, but that is not the fault of the US. I would look closer to home.

I could go on, but I won't. It is all too easy to blame failure on the successful. It is easy, but not of great use.

Riri said...

OK NoolaBeulah, so you are basically saying the successful should not be blamed for serving their commercial self-interest in anyway or form because it would be useless (especially when the blaming comes from utterly useless entities who have contributed nothing). I say am not blaming them, but they should be held accountable for their actions, especially when they resort to uncalled for military action.

You also say that the ultimate good lies in promoting commercial self-interest. Ironically, I sincerely hope it does, because it looks set to rule the world for a long time to come and I certainly do not want it to end up in catastrophe or leave a string of calamities in its wake. This does not mean that I agree with the initial premise. It's a question of wait and see.

I think I have made it clear in my comments that I do not care who seizes power, as long as they behave with fairness and integrity. I am not comparing the US to other powers, I am comparing the US to the US. If commercial self-interest requires that whoever is pursuing it to use military power as irresponsibly (and without real need) as the US has, then I see in this idea of commercial self-interest more of a threat than the blessing it is presented as.

I knew you would laugh at my comment about "code of honour". Even me I think it is sounds like such an fairylandish and surreal concept, if I hadn't read it in antique books, it would have never crossed my mind that such a behaviour could benefit anybody. I have always observed that it is those who are quick to seize opportunities to their benefit that succeed and I sort of accepted this as the way things should be. Sadly, it looks like that's how things are going to be now, there is no economic incentive for keeping a "code of honour", we're supposed to believe that and embrace it and believe it is for the ultimate good of humanity. Anything goes.

What use is it to be good and weak anyway. What use is it to even try and be good when you can buy an image of being good with cash and power. I can understand, but it does not mean I agree. Let's see what the future'll bring.

Hazar Nesimi said...

Ok commercial self interest is in the long run still a valid concept to unite around. However, and this is what US should understands - just like in democractic process - the slow and buil-up consensus will prevent further trouble is needed. US behaves no worse than any average world domineering empire would, however what we have identified is that unfortunately it preaches certain standarts it then needs to adhere to. The problems in the world would have been much simpler, if US did not stick to its oft compromised emphasis on democracy and human rights. The word Freedom especially acquired a bitter taste. A Freedom to be an Amerian is not exactly the freedom one necessary chooses. One can not preach something - and then deny others the right to do the same. There is only one neutral language is that of the commerce, it is not the one of ideas and forcing "democracy" into people's throats.

Riri said...

I agree Nazim, the sad thing is that the US could actually have done so much more good by practicing the democracy and free trade ideals it preaches rather than throwing all other parties' views to the wind and doing what it likes. Nothing like applying double standards to ruin credibility, respect and trust.

Can't blame people when they say that the last thing on the US agenda is promoting democracy and free trade. They would have had more respect if they came clean and admitted what their true motives are, instead of which they confuse and deceive and parade their ludicrous halo. The only fair way to be powerful is democracy. Warfare might well serve commercial self-interest, but it must certainly not be validated on these grounds.

NoolaBeulah said...

I did not say that "the ultimate good lies in promoting commercial self-interest". I would not employ such a concept, which is a religious one and quite out of place in relations between countries. My point was that commercial self-interest is the most reliable basis on which to build international relations. It is not the only factor.

International relations are in fact extremely rule-governed, and, insofar as they reflect reality and are enforceable, work pretty well.

It is ironic, really, that you criticise the American use of military power in Iraq as lacking in integrity and hypocritical. For it was a most unexpected departure from the old tactic of supporting anyone, however nasty, who would be against the Soviets. You must have heard that famous quote by an American diplomat about one such dictator - He might be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch. This is the school of diplomacy called 'realism'. It is really diplomacy 101, because everyone practices it. For the Americans, it meant democracy and human rights at home, but support for tyrants abroad. But when the choice is between a tryant and the communists, well, you take the best you can get.

This is the age-old policy that George Bush broke with in Iraq. A part of the analysis that led to the war went like this: terrorists are created by failed states, repressive regimes that give youth and talent no scope; the Middle East is filled with such regimes and will therefore continue to produce terrorists; let's remove the biggest and most dangerous tyrant and allow a democracy to develop in Iraq (they seem to have thought that it would just happen); this will be the domino effect in reverse in that one democracy will lead to another - short-term benefit: get rid of Saddam, who is a wild card in the pack of nations; long-term benefit: dry up the swampy breeding ground of terrorism.

Now, call it what you will (naive, wrong-headed), but it was not ruthless bullying for the sake of power display. It was not even the usual cynical real politik that all countries practice. It was not a compromise of freedom and human rights; quite the contrary, it was an attempt to institute both.

So, which do you want: realism or idealism?

Hazar Nesimi said...

realism, so that we know where they stand!

Riri said...

You know what I like about you NoolaBeulah? I like the way you manage to somehow come across as more idealistic than I could ever dream of, while saying things that are very down-to-earth and realistic.

The scenario you present about the Iraq war is the most wonderful and up-lifting one I have come across in a while. Heck, if that is what the US wanted to achieve I would be the first to beg them to come and sort us out in Algeria right away.

I think it would be pointless to argue about what the US real motives were for starting two "mini" wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (the carnage of which is still going on) and one "major" war against "terror". War against terror - just contemplate this wonderful phrase for a moment, doesn't it strike you as a bit strange in its choice of words? I think the root of the disagreement is that we interpret events through different perspectives. That is alright and natural, but I dare say we'd be better off discussing evidence that backs our interpretations. Because after all that's what counts right?

Let's assume what you claim about the US motivations for going to Iraq is actually true, then could you please enlighten me on the following points:

1- What historical or scientific or rational evidence did the US have at its disposition to allow it to decide that a democratic regime can "spontaneously" spring into being if they butted in with their enviable army and toppled Saddam? Did they know anything at all about Iraq, its sectarian divisions, its culture and the Iraqi people? Did they want to know? Did they care? Or did they assume that war a l'Américaine sort of sorts everything because the US knows what it's doing and all the rest are useless morons?

2- Why did the US not use this more positive line of justification for the Iraq war in its propaganda? All I seem to remember hearing was WMD threat and deceitful incitement of mass fears? If the US really wanted to eradicate terrorists (this sounds too funny, eradicating terrorist by wars!), why didn't they rid us of Saudi Arabia for example, they're the breeding ground of radical Wahabism ideology? And they have oil as well (see am not against the principle of hitting 10 birds with a single stone). Why didn't they pick Egypt, the mother land of the brotherhood? Surely if the motive was eradicating tyranny as the source of terrorists Iraq would have been among the last alternatives? What about Africa and its abhorrent oppressive regimes? Why has the US never lifted a finger if it was that concerned with promoting human rights and democracy? This is assuming the US is right in its thinking that tyranny can be eradicated with tyranny (even in the name of promoting some wacky human rights and democracy compromise).

3- Assuming that it is just a lucky coincidence that the US only seems to wage wars against resource-wealthy "oppressive regimes", why does it seem to think that other poorer countries do not pose a terrorist threat even though they are under oppressive regimes and suffer even worse living conditions than countries which have oppressive regimes and natural resources? More importantly, why does it not want to export democracy to them? You may say it's because they have not shown terrorist tendencies against the US, but think very carefully about the implications of this statement and the circularity of the argument involved in it.

4- Why does the US think other peoples need it to help them achieve democracy and why does it assume that democracy will sort these countries out? There is absolutely no evidence to support this hypothesis, because democracy only works when people are ready for it and know how to benefit from it, otherwise it becomes completely devoid of meaning, an empty slogan. Or is that of no relevance to the US because it only uses democracy as a slogan to fuel war propaganda? Why does the US think people are unable to decide for themselves and if they choose a dictatorship it has no right to tell them they're mistaken. Is it because the US thinks other peoples are retarded, useless and clueless? Maybe they're inferior because they're oppressed? Maybe they somehow lose human characteristics and become less human from an international relations perspective? Is that what the US think?

5- Are you prepared to acknowledge any parallels between the US conduct in Iraq (and other countries against which it waged wars) and last century's colonialist movements?

NoolaBeulah, the picture of the US you depict is closer to the picture I want it to portray in reality than you think. However, I do not find enough evidence to help me believe in this idea, despite my real desire to see a world leader with at least 50% as much a concern for peace and prosperity promotion as commercial self-interest. You on the other hand seem to be able to believe that, I don't know based on what evidence.

And just as a personal opinion, I think that a super power like the US does have the moral duty to promote peace and prosperity for all, simply because it is the only party that can be taken seriously enough by others to dictate the rules. But you know what they say, power corrupts and this might actually be a good thing, because it ensures that nobody can last in power for eternity. All things come to an end.

NoolaBeulah said...

When I wrote the sentence "A part of the analysis that led to the war went like this...", I wondered, Is it clear that I do not claim that this was the only, or even main, objective? I wondered, but then went on anyway.

There were many reasons for taking out Saddam (Tony Blair was saying so in 1998). Oil was one. Given the quantity of Iraqi reserves, and the unpredictability of Saddam himself and of what might happen both during his life and when he went to meet his maker, it would obviously be preferable to have someone there who played by the rules. Sanctions couldn't be held forever, and with Saddam solid enough in power to outlast them, there was no telling how he might use his ultimate weapon. [It always amazes me to hear people say, 'This war is just for oil.' Just!? The whole basis of the world economy!? If oil supplies were seriously disrupted, it wouldn't be just greedy Westerners who would suffer; virtually everyone would, and the effects would be immeasurable, especially on developing nations.]

The WMD. They, too, were a concern. Not just for what he might do with them himself, but for the mischief he could cause by supplying his enemy's enemies. He'd shown he was prepared to use them, and he'd already tricked the UN and everyone else in the late 80s. He fooled everyone again in the 90s - all the inspectors and all the intelligence agencies said he was clean, and if not for his son-in-law scarpering, we would never have known the truth. In 2003, he did it again - he even fooled his own hierarchy, most of whom were convinced he still had the nasties. So, he'd had them before, and used them, and no-one could be sure he still didn't have them. It's easy to be sure in hindsight, but even the Russians and the French, who supplied most of his conventional weapons, thought he had less conventional ones, as well.

However, aside from that, the reason for the emphasis on the WMD was simply persuasion. Most people are, quite rightly, very reluctant to go to war, even when they should, whether it be for moral or sentimental reasons. It was Blair who insisted on this approach, and it backfired. We'll probably never know the real state of Saddam's arsenal in 2003, or 2002. But it was foolish to posit the case for war on weapons in the hands of someone else whom you couldn't control in any way. The closer the war got, the more reason Saddam had to get rid of them. He couldn't use them openly against us - whatever he could do, we could do far worse. It was not a good idea.

There were other reasons. For instance, America's over-reliance on Saudi Arabia, a country whose main contributions to the world (apart from its petroleum) are Wahhabism and a steady supply of young men willing to take a short-cut to Allah. It would be wise to have another country, with almost as much oil, as a reliable supplier. (It should be noted that the US depends on the Middle East for its oil less than Europe or Japan do.)

But after all that, I think there is something still more important. It is an illustration of something said by someone you will certainly dislike: "Nothing is more provocative than weakness." [Rumsfeld] Osama bin Laden agrees.
"We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American Government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia."

He could have listed many more cases of American and European reluctance to take on determined enemies, at least dating from 1979. The weakness of the response to the Iranian hostage crisis (and the use of Saddam as a sort of surrogate ally against the Iranians), the Rushdie affair, European gutlessness in Bosnia (which radicalised many young Muslims in this country), leaving Saddam in power after Kuwait, John Major doing deals with the IRA, the bombing of American embassies in East Africa and the attack on the USS Cole. From all of these events came the same message articulated above by the man himself: the West doesn't have the stomach for a long war.

That had to stop. It's not only bad for the Americans and the Europeans (who seem to be past it anyway); it's bad for everyone. Because the world order that the Jihadis find intolerable rests, as all order does, on the strong being willing to die, and to kill, to maintain it. The Jihadis themselves have nothing to offer at all; in all fields of human endeavour, they are failures, except for one: blind belief. They can't build anything, but they can destroy. Their breeding ground is a group of under-achieving countries with too many young men who have nothing to do. Which brings us back to the 'idealist' position.

[I haven't answered all your questions, though I will if you like. But this post is already way too long.]

Riri said...

Ah very good, the discussion has already taken an interesting turn. The way am reading your last comment is as follows:

"The part of the analysis that led to war that I described was not the major one. The major reason for going to war was actually the Iraqi oil, but this is alright because the US could make better use of it than anyone that could have taken over from Saddam or Saddam himself. You will remember that the US specialises in exporting innovation to the rest of the planet. The WMD were a great worry, especially that there was no evidence at all that they actually existed because that surely indicated that that bugger Saddam was so clever he managed to outwit Intelligence inspectors, the UN, his hierarchy and just about everyone on the planet and make them believe he had none. For this he had to pay with his life, for providing the US with a good enough excuse to go to war. The Saudis do not pose an immediate threat, in fact they supply oil and also a steady supply of Wahabism, which is God's sent gift to replace the commie bastards. Certainly a card to keep, might come in handy in future. Because then you have the jihadis, they offer the perfect line of justification for the US "survival of the most contributing" line of endoctrination, this is the philosophy the world order has been decided to be built upon. All humanity will be graded on a "contribution" scale. Those who score badly will be OK to be eradicated, the world will not even notice the atrocity of this because they would already be completely brainwashed with the economic-Darwinism ideology."

I agree, if I were a neo-con, that is exactly how I would reason and it wouldn't bother me at all.

Except that, (un)fortunately, am not. And I find it abhorent. Because when I go to basics, I realise that nobody came to this world by choice, we all just found ourselves here in this planet. We started competing for resources that we don't really own, we found ourselves split into countries and cultures. This is not a world of equal opportunity, equal opportunity is for those who produce, not for the rest. You can't come and say I've been delayed by colonialism, if you will give me a chance I can prove that am as capable as you to contribute something, I just need a chance goddamit, you can't tell me am a failure when I have not had half a century of self-governance experience while you've had f*cking centuries. You can't fire me from this life just because I've not been able to put in the hours and show acceptable productivity. You just can't, it's not right.

This is how I think, am an idealist or am I just an ordinary member of the human species who's struggling to keep sane?

[I'd be interested to hear your views on my other questions. I don't mind how long your comments get, I've subscribed to this post and can get comments by email which makes them easier to read.]

Hazar Nesimi said...

It is long post but worth the effort to probe each others defence positions.

1- I did not for a minute believe WMD story and thought it was a tool to mobilize masses for war with Iraq. Other "positive" justifications - like human rights - would have sounded more hollow given US historical record on this

2 - in the War of Terror (sic!)this was a largely unneccessary step, in the Western point of view, that had removed a last obstacle in Islamization and sectarian splitting of Iraq. The immediate consequences are generally dire, especially in dealings with Iran and weakened position of Israel.

4- US wages war only towards regimes that challenge its power and control, in one way or the other. Not against un-democratic regimes per se, I thought this is obvious. This, even if they had wanted, would have been even more foolhardy exercise than the one now. I always use example of Iran - being a more democratic country than all of the American allies combined. But two opposing ideologies. The reasons for US to keep those allies are not, however sentimental, but of political nature. Saudi Arabia, Israel and US coexist in some political agreement which allows them to arrive to minimal harm. It is "realpolitic".

5- US is a soft empire usually unable to stomach long term occupations and "re-education" of natives, according to its standarts. It is generally, in its policies shows a strange idealism that does not befall an empire. In its dealings it shows some brute force and little proper persuasion, because it can not do both, especially the latter. However, crucially, it shows less brute force that it as an empire should - and this compromises it in the eyes of enemies. The tension is between its stated ideals and reality it has to operate. NB advocates reality.

NoolaBeulah said...

Riri's questions (Friday)
[There's so much going on in this discussion that most of it is in danger of disappearing into thin air. I'll go back first to Riri's questions from Friday and then try to proceed in chronological order. But it's going to take some time. Just look at the length of this post. I won't get to your Saturday posts, Riri and Nazim, until tomorrow (Sunday). Mercy!]

[Riri] "1- What historical or scientific or rational evidence did the US have at its disposition to allow it to decide that a democratic regime can "spontaneously" spring into being if they butted in with their enviable army and toppled Saddam?"

I don't know all the details on this, but I do know that the State Department had done some really detailed analysis, which the White House then ignored. I'm not sure exactly what the State Dept recommended. I gather that the White House assumed that Iraq was a basically secular culture (or at least, Baghdad was) and that, like Germany, Italy and Japan after WW2, this secular culture would pick up the pieces afterwards. They obviously didn't see how Saddam's regime had disintegrated whatever civic culture there had been - the lessons on this should have been taken from Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans, where they were starting from a higher point of civic organisation in any case. Big mistake.


[Riri] "2- Why did the US not use this more positive line of justification for the Iraq war in its propaganda?"

I think I partly answered this question in my last post, but here I'll address a more general point that both you and Nazim raise: why some countries and not others? There are several answers, from the pragmatic to the 'philosophical'.

Firstly, they don't go to war lightly. It takes a lot. This is true for all liberal democracies; they are basically commercial powers and go to war as a last resort when their interests are threatened. This is rational. Historically, they are all (the US included) extremely demilitarised societies compared to any great power before the 20th Century. The US is militarily powerful, but it is not a militarised society in the way the Romans, Ottomans, Chinese or Prussians were; quite the contrary.

My second point is linked to the phrase above, "when their interests are threatened", and is going to sound rather cruel, but I'm speaking about political and economic, not moral or spiritual, reality. What happens in most of Africa and in many other places just doesn't matter as much. What I mean is that when a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda, what effect did it have on your life? Aside from disgust, I would guess, very little. No politician who depends on popular votes is going to send young men to die for reasons that his own people do not feel on their skins. There are exceptions (Blair in Sierra Leone), but they will remain such.

There is also the assumption that if people can get going economically, then they will be less and less interested in revolution and/or war. This is not an unreasonable assumption considering the changes in the world since WW2, the amazing spread of prosperity that now takes in most of the world's population. Which countries with a free economic (= capitalist) and more or less free political system have been at war with each since WW2? None. (Though Pakistan and India may be exceptions to that.)


[Riri] "3- Assuming that it is just a lucky coincidence that the US only seems to wage wars against resource-wealthy "oppressive regimes ..."

I've partly answered this question already. The implication of your question is that American pressure on resource-wealthy "oppressive regimes" is the cause of terrorism. I think there's a grain of truth there, but that the phenomenon is far greater than this.

Put very simply, it is a question of change and reaction to change. Since the Renaissance, and especially since the late 18th Century, the world has changed more than in the previous 4 millennia of recorded history. These developments convulsed Europe and, from there, in vast waves, the rest of the world. The French Revolution was a vivid symptom of both the change and the reaction to it, and is, among other things, the source of the word 'terror' in its contemporary usage.

The mightiest convulsions came in the 20th Century with the bastard brothers (same mother, different fathers) Fascism and Communism and each were reactions to, and enemies of, the same phenomenon: liberalism. To liberalism's deracinated, unheroic, disinterested and adult organisation of uncertainties, they opposed belonging (either to a race or a class), the heroism of war, the involvement in a millennial struggle and, above all, certainty.

For, if on one hand, liberalism frees you of tradition, unquestioned authority, social hierarchy and the chains of the past, leaves the individual to choose his life as only an aristocrat had been able to do, in doing so, it takes away the very things that the individual cries out for in times of too intense change. That is, the very times that liberalism helps bring about. The more traditional the society, the more traumatic the adjustment. Just think what Russia had to go through - communism was its means of modernising, of catching up with the front-runners.

It is this that the Arab nations are going through now, in fact what they've been going through since the 19th Century. Turkey had Ataturk, but Ataturk's main impact on the Arab world seems to have been to inspire Hassan al-Banna with horror and the determination to make Islam alone the founding principle of society. I'm not saying that it shouldn't a a founding principle, but it is not enough. Just as Christianity and Judaism had to adapt, so too does Islam. Suicide bombers are (brief) enunciations of a refusal to adapt.

I realise that I haven't got down to the politics of oil and haven't mentioned the Americans once. That's because they are, looked at from the viewpoint of what I have just written, merely the messengers. Anyway, it is unfair to keep blaming America alone for this; the Europeans, and the Japanese and the Indians, and even the Chinese, are with the Americans in almost everything except the actual fighting.


[Riri] "4- Why does the US think other peoples need it to help them achieve democracy..."

Some obviously do, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea. In addition, they have a great faith in it. Some might call it optimism, the assumption that a people would rather rule themselves than be dictated to like children. Besides, it's worked so well for them.

The British were like this in the 19th Century, and the French in the 18th. The Chinese have been like this throughout their history. The Arabs were in the days when they were strong and confident.


[Riri] 5- Are you prepared to acknowledge any parallels between the US conduct in Iraq (and other countries against which it waged wars) and last century's colonialist movements?

There are certainly parallels. But you see, I don't see colonialism in quite the same light as you do. [For example, I thank my lucky stars to have been born in a British dominion.] If you think of colonialism as some dreadful scourge invented by perfidious Europeans (with perfidious Albion at their head), then I can understand. But colonialism is universal in time and space; you are the result of Arab colonialism. And, once again, to consider it historically, the Americans are most unusual in this. They have never invaded and then kept hold of and governed a country. Which imperialist of the past can claim that?

NoolaBeulah said...

Nazim Saturday
Nazim - "1- I did not for a minute believe WMD story"

We've already spoken about this.

Nazim - "2 - in the War of Terror (sic!)this was a largely unneccessary step"

I don't know if it was an "unnecessary" step; rather that it should have been handled much better. The damage was done after the invasion, not by it. But it is very difficult to pronounce on the consequences of an action like this because they have not run their course by any means.

Nazim - "4- US wages war only towards regimes that challenge its power and control, in one way or the other."

I would have thought that such a policy was rational.

"Not against un-democratic regimes per se". I responded to this in the last post.

"Iran - being a more democratic country than all of the American allies combined" - You'll have to explain this one to me. I'm not saying that Iran is a dictatorship, but it is a democracy only in the most qualified sense of that word, at least as I understand it.

Nazim - "5- US is a soft empire usually unable to stomach long term occupations..."

I would have to agree with that, though the record with regard to Germany, Italy and Japan is different both in the duration of their commitment and the use of persuasion.

NoolaBeulah said...

Riri - Saturday

A rather bad-tempered comment, this one.

If you think about these things in a personal way, you will go mad. Most of what happens is caused, not by policy or decisions taken in government, or corporate offices, but by forces far beyond anyone's control. So when you interpret my words to mean 'All humanity will be graded on a "contribution" scale', you are putting a human agent where none may go. Nobody is in a position to do 'grade' others, or ever will be.

My point was another one. I am merely trying to explain the way things are and have been. One essential factor in explaining relations between groups (as opposed to individuals, though it counts there as well) is need. Does one need the other? If the need is mutual, on which side is it stronger? What does it depend on? Largely, I would say, on what each produces that the other one needs.

For example, Americans have been over-spending for years, not because they're evil, but because they could. Who has been supporting this excess, in fact, encouraging it, though that was not their intention? China. Whose government takes all the foreign currency coming into the country, and buys up American bonds. Instead of spending 1 trillion (!) dollars on infrastructure and services that its own people need, it bankrolls American consumers in buying a lot of stuff they don't need. China keeps the dollar afloat.

Why is it doing this? Is it out of high regard for American people, or because it thinks they are better than others? Is it hell! It is because most of the unnecessary stuff that Americans buy is made in China. Because now that the Chinese have got so much of their 'excess' wealth bound up in American dollars, they can't afford for that dollar to be undermined too much. They would lose too much themselves if the dollar collapsed.

Why did China choose the US dollar for this beneficence in the first place? Why not the Algerian dinar? Because the US is the largest market in the world, because the Chinese had much more to gain financially, technologically, and in terms of knowledge from the US. In other words, the US had more to give them than Algeria.

One of the cruelest, and truest things ever said, was this: "To those that have, shall be given. From those that have not, shall be taken away." That was spoken by one of your prophets, a certain Jesus of Nazereth. Now he was talking about individuals and spiritual resources (I think), but it is an accurate description of how the world works.

It is not about my judgement on you, or the American or European judgement on Arabs, or Islam. It is mostly about the way things work. None of it is fixed in stone, however. Things change. Think about where Japan, South Korea, Thailand, China and India were 50 years ago, and where they are now. Or, just think of what would happen if the cosy Chinese-American tête-à-tête collapsed. Disaster for most people in the world (which is why I posted here in the first place), but then others would have a go. Would they be better at it than the Americans? Mmmm. For some, perhaps. But not for me.

Riri said...

Thanks for your effort and patience NoolaBeulah. I must apologize for getting carried away. I guess I got frustrated that you weren't bad-mouthing the US as I wanted you to. You are very sensible of course, no use blaming others, no matter how good it might make one feel.

Of course we're all in it together, the US is no worse than others. It's simply the most needed and as such, it can be very despised and envied at the same time.

Let's hope for the best, sometimes the stuff you read in the media makes you so depressed. But better not think of these things from a personal point of view. You're right there. That's what my Mum says as well.

NoolaBeulah said...

Thank you for pushing me to explain myself. It helps me as well. Your graciousness makes it a pleasure.