Saturday, September 21, 2002

Jesus Christ! - William Saletan on Bush's new National Security Manifesto. Tell you what. Go type "United States Manifesto" into Google and see what you come up with. Or just click here if you're lazy. One interesting sounding record label and the ravings of a bunch of lunatics. (I am including Karl Marx, who was a brilliant lunatic, but a lunatic nonetheless.) Do we really want the U.S. Government, with the most powerful military in the world, to start behaving as if it belonged in that crowd?

Read Saletan's summary, then go read the Manifesto itself. And then email me and tell me about it, because I don't have the patience to read god knows how many pages of rationalization and loopy logic. I did read the overview, and it's charming, if you read it skeptically. Here's the very beginning:
The United States possesses unprecedented— and unequaled—strength and influence in the world. Sustained by faith in the principles of liberty, and the value of a free society, this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom.
Not bad, right? It's all about using our power responsibly. Well, yeah, that's one read. But here's the skeptical sentence by sentence translation: We're in charge. Because of our values, we can't just stand by and watch you let the world go to hell. We're in charge, and we're telling you how it's going to be.

Yes, that's a very skeptical reading. Almost Sontagian in level. But we're not exactly talking about a regime that's really made a big deal about caring about freedom. They ignored the Taliban, even courted them, until they were shown, in graphic detail, just how fucked up they were. They still think Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia!!!) is the model for how the Middle East should be! If they gave a shit about freedom, then they'd realize that freedom, in all of its wildness, in all of its dangers, in all its ugliness, is the only thing that can save the Middle East. Look at Iran. When I was in high school, every other word on TV would be Iran, because Iran would be foaming at the mouth with joy at September 11th. They hated us more than Iraq did. But that was because we'd held up a dictator who constantly fought the will of the people, and eventually the people kicked his ass out. But the pendulum swung back into religious oppression, and the people are again saying, No, thank you, but we'd rather be free. And therefore Iran is changing. Government is a boiler, and freedom of expression and participation is the blowoff valve that keeps things from exploding.

Historically, there is a dialectic between freedom and totalitarianism, and it would be naive to say that freedom wins in the end just because we happen to be on that side of the spectrum. History is still happening, and unless we fuck something up majorly, people 500 years from now will look back at us the way we look at the Elizabethans, or the Ming Dynasty. And when I look back then, the people I admire the most are the ones on the side of freedom. Hell, Shakespeare alone is worth all the Alexander Popes in the world. Catullus is more interesting than Cicero. So if Bush is interested in starting some kind of Pax Americana, then I feel a strong duty to stand up and say, "I don't like where this is headed."

I think this is a hell of a country, and there is no other one I'd rather call my home. But I don't quite think we're ready to tell the world how to live just yet. And even if we were, how much sense does it make to say, "We be believe in freedom, so we're going to do whatever we need to do wherever we need to do it in order to maintain that freedom, and there's nothing you can say or do about it!"

On the bright side, the midterm elections are coming up, and the vast, vast majority of people that I talk to are not yet convinced that going to war with Iraq solves more problems than it creates. And there's always the possibility that Bush is very, very intelligent, and that this is all some kind of double-blind bluff maneuver to drive Saddam into accepting weapons inspections so we can disarm him, while gradually moving the rest of the Middle East toward democratic regimes (that must be what's going on in all those meetings at the ranch with Prince Bandar bin Sultan (Prince Sultan? Isn't that a bit like Major Major? Hmmm....)). That must be what's really going on. That's what's really going on. Bush isn't running the country like a 12 year old at the wheel of a propane truck. Everything's going to be fine. Hey, when's the Buffy season premiere?

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