Sunday, March 23, 2003

August 1, 1914
I hope we all had a chance to look around last Wednesday and etch the world, as it existed then, into our collective memory. There is a very good chance that Wednesday was the last day of the world we grew up in. For the last week or so I have had a quote banging around in my head. As the British Parliment votes to go to war in 1914, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, is supposed to have commented to a friend, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." I know how he felt.

I usually hate that kind of hyperbole. But I think that in a historical sense, Wednesday really will go down as one of those days when the old world was so badly fractured that no amount of policy-reversal, counter-revolution, good will, healing, or forceful reaction will ever bring it back. It was possibly the August 1, 1914 or the July 14, 1789 of the twenty-first century. Wednesday was certainly more of an irreversible moment than 9/11 or the Supreme Court electing Bush, Jr. president. When Bush got to have his war on his terms, the diplomatic and international order of the last half of the twentieth century died. It is not the war itself that did the damage; it is the course by which the Busheviks brought us to the war that did the damage.

When Bush first came to power I was puzzled by some of his foreign policy actions. They went so far beyond anything I expected. Sure, some of the individual actions made a sort of sense. I expected them to scuttle Kyoto. I knew they would reverse some of Clinton's policies, even those that were successful, more from spite than from any real conviction on the issues (as they did by ending our dialog with North Korea). I even expected some isolationist leanings (as when they withdrew from the peace process in Israel/Palestine).

But by the end of the spring, as the number of repudiated and withdrawn treaties mounted, I began to get the uneasy feeling that somehow they objected to the very idea of treaties and this puzzled me. I had no idea where such an idea could have come from. The only even close strain of conservative thought I was aware of was the "get US out of the UN" Bircher crowd from the sixties. The party of Kissinger, Schultz, and Baker couldn't be giving those loonies a hearing. Could they?

They could.

It appears that the Bush administration wants to establish as a global doctrine that no one and nothing will be allowed to limit US freedom of action in any sphere. The US is withdrawing from the complex system of treaties, agreements, and international organizations that kept Europe from having a major war in the second half of the twentieth century and kept the international anarchy from being much worse than it was. This is bad enough. The international system minus the planet's largest power would have enough trouble functioning, but the administration seems to want to kick it a few times while it's down and make sure it dies. They want to replace the UN and NATO with brute force and intimidation.

I say "appears" and "seems" above because this sort of might-makes-right philosophy is not the sort of thing that one says up front. I doubt as if anyone will be good enough to leave a nice smoking gun for future historians, something like a position paper that says "hey guys, lets kill the UN and make sure everyone knows we own this damn planet." And even if there is such a document lying around, Executive Order 13233, which hides presidential papers for the lifetime of the ex-president, will make it almost impossible to find.

In spite of that they occasionally slip up and tip their hand. The administration proclaimed preemption as its strategic doctrine in a terrifying document that it sent to congress last September. They have several times in the last few months hinted that they will consider the use of a nuclear first strike to pursue their goals. Most amazingly, in an article in last week's Guardian(reprinted from the Spectator) Bush advisor Richard Perle gloats over the death of the UN. Under the title "Thank God for the Death of the UN" Perle states: "...the whole UN [won't die]. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions." While this isn't exactly a confession that the Busheviks set out to kill the UN and the idea of collective security, it does show that they were aware their actions would have that result and approved of it.

The Bush administration put on a bit of public theater to demonstrate their contempt for international bodies, to make those bodies look and feel powerless, and for the lesson to be complete, they had to have a real war. They had to use that force to show that their doctrine was real. Except for psychological reasons of Bush himself, it didn"t need to be Iraq; any country would have done.

This is why the all of the recent statements about "the failure of diplomacy" are so ludicrous. For diplomacy to have failed, they have to have tried diplomacy. There has been nothing resembling sincere effort at diplomacy in the Iraq affair (unless you count their attempt to recruit allies). There has been none. They clearly wanted--needed--a military solution from the very beginning.

Let me say it again: The old system served us well. The new international Darwinism will not. The world has just become a very uncertain and scary place.

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