Wednesday, December 05, 2007


In order to get his interlocutors' heads around the special theory of relativity, Albert Einstein often relied upon what he called a gedankenexperiment, a "thought experiment". That is, he asked his highly blinkered listeners, for most of whom physics was the be-all and end-all of reality, to enter in to a world where what we call the laws of physics were only applicable within a very limited range of cases, proscribed by the relationship to the velocity of light. For Einstein, not a university-trained physicist, and one who had lived quite a bit of his life within the confines of his imagination, such imaginative forays were easy.

Today's column by David Broder put me in mind of such a gedankenexperiment. In essence, Broder's piece, summed up well at the very beginning in his own words, is an imaginative foray in to an alternate universe, where America is powerful, internationally legitimate and credible, has a strong military, has not completely messed up two wars and two countries, and the current occupant of the White House is powerful, popular, and intellectually agile enough to face the challenges of the world with surprising innovation and finesse. In such a world, even though the economy was slowing down as it is here, we would not have to be concerned about the realities facing us abroad, because the strengths of American foreign policy would be in place. This is world David Broder has written about today. Take a look, and see how wonderful it would be to live there:
[C]onsider the major international headlines of the past few weeks. A Middle East conference including almost all the major players in that troubled region produced an agreement by leaders of Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate toward a peace agreement within the next year.

All the major players, except Iran, of course. And, also of course, the Israelis, Palestinians, and the rest of them keep promising peace, yet none of these "powers" is willing to expend the political and diplomatic effort to actually support the Palestinians. Everyone - to a man - remembers Anwar Sadat's bullet-riddled body on a public parade reviewing stand. They also know that the anti-Israeli militants within their own populations will not support one moment of serious diplomatic compromise. This always remains unsaid, because to say it is to accuse the leaders of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and the rest of the Arab world (Jordan and Egypt have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, but do nothing for the Palestinians) of cowardice. One doesn't forward a diplomatic agenda by calling potential partners a bunch of chicken-hearted pansies.
In Iraq, the level of violence has subsided and the first troop withdrawals are planned, while tribal leaders -- without waiting for the central government -- are negotiating among themselves and forming anti-al-Qaeda militias.

The violence in Iraq has abated somewhat, but only because the process of sectarian cleansing has ended, and the separation of the Sunni and Shi'a populations in the most densely populated areas is mostly complete. The process of political reconciliation and relative stabilization, however, has not even begun. The troop drawdown will still leave more American service personnel in Iraq than before the "surge" began last spring. In other words, by leaving out more salient facts, it sounds good, but it is really horrible.
In Iran, U.S. intelligence reported this week that work on a nuclear weapons program was suspended in 2003, apparently in response to U.S.-led and U.N.-sanctioned pressure. President Bush says this is no guarantee that the Iranian regime can be trusted to stay disarmed. But to others, at the very least, it opens a window for negotiations.

OK, this is where one has to imagine real hard. First, the NIE stated that Iran ended its pursuit of nuclear weapons research in 2003. That means that all the crap we've listened to over the past two years about how dangerous Iran is has been one big lie. There seems to be no relationship between the blustering of the Bush Administration and Iran's decision not to research nuclear weapons, so that's on the same level as "Reagan won the Cold War" nonsense we still hear. As for the rest of the paragraph - we have no guarantees that Belgium won't decide to declare war on the US either, but we have good relations with them right now, too. The lack of any coherence in a sentence like this - "President Bush says this is no guarantee that the Iranian regime can be trusted to stay disarmed." - is staggering . . . unless we imagine.
Now, it was not all good news.

Yah think?
In Russia, Vladimir Putin engineered parliamentary elections that solidified his control and moved that country, with its growing oil-fueled wealth, further away from genuine democracy.

But . . . but . . . President Bush saw in to Putin's soul! Apparently the transcription was wrong, and Bush was talking about his "sole" - what the chef prepared for dinner during that summit. It was reflected in Putin's contact lenses.
In Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf shed his uniform but kept his hold on the presidency, and his emergency controls have made it questionable whether the opposition will have a real opportunity in the coming elections.

Musharraf declared a state of emergency, has had protesters beaten and arrested, and silenced the opposition, including placing former PM Benazir Bhutto under house arrest after allowing her to return to the country from exile. Yeah, I'd say it's a safe bet the "it is questionable" whether or not he gives a rip about elections, or democracy, or civil society, or anything other than maintaining his grip on power.
And in Afghanistan, the Taliban, exploiting the security it now enjoys in the border area with Pakistan, has become more aggressive against U.S. and NATO forces.

The Taliban - the Nazi du jour before Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime in Iraq sauntered to center stage - controls most of Afghanistan, except for the capital, where the bulk of NATO forces are. We are losing, and will most likely lose, like the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the British, and the Soviet Union.
All of this suggests that this is a world full of challenges -- but fortunately one not facing a crisis or the likelihood of another major war.

I don't think it's unfair to say that this sentence could have been penned on September 10, 2001.
Bush's stance is likely to be copied by most of the major Republican presidential candidates. They can take heart from the successes the administration is beginning to score with its foreign policy. Surely, their position is stronger than the one they were defending early this year -- when Iraq looked to be lost, the Middle East was in turmoil and the threat of war with Iran loomed.

Bush has all but disappeared from the Republican Party. Unlike Ronald Reagan, whose name is still invoked with reverence, not a single candidate for the Republican nomination is calling forth the spirit of George W. Bush to bless their campaigns. I'm not sure what successes Bush has had, and I am convinced that he has no foreign policy other than war forever in Iraq, but, again, these are imaginings, not reality, so let's just give Broder his due here. By the way, the "looming" war with Iran was all about the war mongering of Cheney and such publicists as Norman Podhoretz and William Kristol. It was as detached from reality as this column appears to be.

He ends with a whimper, as usual, so we shall return to his opening paragraph, where the conditio sine qua non for any of these imaginings to make sense is stated boldly and explicitly:
The shape of the world has changed again, signaling the possibility of a new American foreign policy and national security strategy. The portents are hopeful if U.S. leaders have the imagination and courage to seize some of the opportunities.

The leaders of the United States lack imagination, courage, political strength, international legitimacy and credibility, and even the vaguest notions of the way things really are in the world. In a relatively sane world, one might imagine the US would have people in charge who had the qualities Broder insists are necessary for success. Alas, we do not, and no gedanken will change that. Even if most of what Broder has written here is utter nonsense.

Virtual Tin Cup

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