Here are perspectives I've stored up for weeks... some of them pretty important! (And the political lamp is lit.)
An absolute must-read, in the October 15 New York Times Sunday Book Review, “Cold Warrior,’ in which Henry Kissinger praises Robert Beisner’s tome, “Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War,” agreeing that President Truman’s Secretary of State was probably the best Secretary in U.S. history.
“In this maelstrom, Acheson dealt with the five principal tasks of any secretary of state: the identification of the challenge; the development of a strategy to deal with it; organizing and motivating the bureaucracy in the State Department and in other agencies; persuading the American public; and conducting American diplomacy toward other countries. These tasks require the closest collaboration between the president and the secretary of state; secretaries of state who seek to base their influence on the prerogatives of the office invariably become marginalized. Presidents cannot be constrained by administrative flowcharts; for a secretary of state to be effective, he or she has to get into the president’s head, so to speak. This is why Acheson made it a point to see Truman almost every day they were in town together and why their friendship was so crucial to the achievements of the Truman years.”
Mind you, I happen to believe that Acheson’s predecessor, George Marshall, might have been named Man of the Century with tremendous justice. But Acheson - more specialized - was even better at that specific job. I am glad Kissinger has the guts and high standards to know it.
See Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, interview George Soros in a very interesting podcast, discussing his book The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror. A controversial figure but one who believes passionately in open societies, who played a huge role in ensuring that the nations of the former Warsaw Pact would transform into democratic Western members of NATO and the EU, rather than slipping into retro-czarist personality cults.
Especially telling. Like me, he believes that there IS a legitimate role for assertive democracy-spreading and intervention to idealistically eliminate tyrants like Saddam. But doing it STUPIDLY - in ways that undermine your own strengths and freedom and economy and leadership role in the world? He is also (like me) deeply critical of calling this current crisis a “war”... a metaphor that deeply cripples our agility and flexibility and credibility in the world.
Above all, he speaks for the advantages of an open society, in which we (enlightenment civilization) hold all the advantages. As the author of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? I can be expected to agree.
Another must -read. The 'war on terror' that ruined Rome. Excerpt: In the autumn of 68 B.C. the world's only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome's port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.
The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But an event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.
Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: No nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of "Civis Romanus sum" - "I am a Roman citizen" - was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.
But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year- old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law, the Lex Gabinia. "Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone," the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman Treasury to pay for his "war on terror," which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of 120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was unprecedented.
Once Pompey put to sea, it took less than three months to sweep the pirates from the entire Mediterranean. Even allowing for Pompey's genius as a military strategist, the suspicion arises that if the pirates could be defeated so swiftly, they could hardly have been such a grievous threat in the first place. But it was too late to raise such questions. By the oldest trick in the political book - the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as "soft" or even "traitorous" - powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire.
Wow... I did not know of this.
My own bit of obscure historical erudition is to compare the mad neocons like Nitze and Wolfowitz and Perle to Alcibiades, the reckless Athenian polemic who, taking advantage of the death of Pericles, persuaded Athens to squander its prestige and power and wealth on a ridiculous, utopian attempt at so-called “nation building” in far off Sicily. But this lesson of Ostia is even more relevant.
Especially now that the mad Straussians are no longer heeded or needed by the ones truly in charge. Poor fellows. Starting to wake up to how you’ve been used? Like Alcibiades, you have used democracy to pave the way for tyrants.
Have you a little more patience? Here’s another gem from Russ Daggatt:
“It really takes amazing focus and systematic determination for a president to be wrong about everything. I mean, what are the odds of pulling it off, even if you tried? This is how you might go about it: Start with an incurious, arrogant ideologue. Centralize all policy making with the smallest possible group of people, selected entirely on the basis of loyalty, and then shield them behind the greatest possible degree of secrecy. Limit your sources of information to those who strongly agree with you and tolerate no dissent whatsoever. Interject as much fear as possible to give the more primitive regions of the brain an advantage over the higher regions. Make every decision a Manichean choice between us and them, right and wrong, good and evil, black and white with no shades of grey. Admit no mistakes ever. And believe that a Divine Being has chosen you to execute His will.”
Well, well. Russ states the dilemma well. Alas, he still refuses to take this chain of reasoning to its logical conclusion. But some of you know the scenario (worthy of a thriller novel!) that I can only halfway make myself disbelieve. Because he is right. It is simply impossible to do this much harm to a mighty nation, and have that effect be inadvertent. Purely a result of ideology, and indignant/secretive stupidity.
1) The list of harms is devastating. for example:
* utter demolition of US reputation (for reliability, sense and judgement) among our allies.
* utter demolition of US reputation (respect for our effectiveness and competence) among our potential foes.
* utter demolition of the reputation of the US Congress.
* utter demolition of American popularity and world Acquiescence to US leadership.
* utter demolition of US military readiness, down to levels not seen since Pearl Harbor. In a post-9/11 world, we are not even prepared with enough rested and equipped active duty personnel to deal with ONE medium scale “surprise contingency.” (These people criticized Clinton because we were “only” ready to deal with one and a half MAJOR contingencies at that time. A comparison raised by absolutely no one at any level.)
* utter demolition of our fiscal condition, turning vast surpluses into generation-breaking debt.
* utter demolition of our social cohesion as a united nation (via relentless culture war.)
The list goes on and on, but...
2) This simply could not have taken place simply as a matter of incompetence. Not even if you throw in ruthless, kleptocratic venality (through crony contracts, for example). That explanation fails because, three layers down from the political appointees, there exists a vast sea of civilian and military civil servants. The most amazing collection of human competence that has ever been assembled!
I never cease to be amazed by how little attention is paid to this level, the vastly knowledgeable and professional US Officer Corps and the collected experts and diplomats and scientists and other skilled workers who fill the vast federal pyramid. For they are key! Under normal circumstances, they would be able to keep things going, at least at a competent-simmering level, even in the face of dingbat idiocy from above!
That is, if it were merely dingbat idiocy!
Oh, but is ANYBODY looking into the possibility that it isn't? We have paid professional paranoids whose JOB it is to look into such possibilities.
I wonder if they are.