HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

September 17, 2007
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


Old Aggressions

I was glad to see the article about the Panama invasion of 1989, in Sunday’s New York Times.  The author, Everett Ellis Briggs, was the U.S. ambassador in Panama in the mid-1980s, and although he reflects the typical hebitude of the American foreign policy establishment he also recognizes that the policy toward Manuel Noriega was severely flawed.  Various agencies of the U.S. government had conflicting policies towards the Panamanian dictator and they were working as hard to thwart one another as they were to deal with Noriega sensibly. In the end, as Briggs makes clear, the American action was about as bad as it could have been.

Even so, Briggs doesn’t seem to grasp the immensity of what happened. He mentions the killing of hundreds of Panamanian citizens simply by saying, “although that decision (to invade) led to the prosecution of a wanted felon, the success was accomplished at the cost of heavy collateral damage.” Anyone who can use that obnoxious euphemism as normal speech is, himself, demonstrating the effects of heavy brain damage.

I have long regarded the assault on Panama on December 1989, as marking the descent of American foreign policy into open international criminality. It was a statement by the government that it could, and would without hesitation, kill masses of innocent people simply because it was displeased with the leaders of the victims’ nations. It was an act that led directly to the invasion of Iraq fourteen years later.

The serious question now is whether we will come to see that incursion as something we need to turn away from, or whether it was the beginning of a permanent policy. It’s a question we have not yet answered.


Vacuity

The great general has come and spoken. And what we have is poof! About all we’ve learned is that now we can call him “Peaches.”

The situation in Iraq was settled long before David Petraeus was sent to give George Bush a public relations boost. Your brain would have to be on vacation not to know that nothing he did, or could do, would make a difference. The military forces of the United States cannot make Iraq into the sort of country George Bush has been popping off about these past five years.

American fascination with generals as miracle workers and saviors is so naive and childish it makes us a laughing stock for the rest of the world. Has nobody in this country ever sat down and talked with an actual general and recognized what kind of mind he was in the presence of? These guys have not spent their lives envisioning a better world, and certainly not a more peaceful one.

One thing Bush’s twin testifiers did make clear. They think we should keep military forces in Iraq kind of like, sort of, in a fashion, like you know, probably forever! That has been the plan from the start, and in that respect, at least, nothing has changed.

If the American people want a change, and a new way to spend their money, they had best start reaching for a new set of characters.


Unwise Wishes

The New York Times is reporting that Ted Olson seems to be the leading candidate to become the new attorney general. He’s exactly the sort of person I had in mind a couple weeks ago when I said we shouldn’t be rejoicing over the departure of Alberto Gonzales.

In Gonzales we had a known quality.  Consequently, there was no doubt he had to be watched and that anything he initiated was going to be foolish. Now, at the very least, there could be a honeymoon period for Olson. And he is not a guy any reasonable person should want to be on a honeymoon with. He’s more of a right-wing extremist than Gonzales ever was. The former attorney general was actually little more than a puppy dog doing his master’s bidding.

Olson, by contrast, can be genuinely dangerous. In a contest between a fanatical ideologue and a dope, we should always prefer the latter. In a way, the nation has been comparatively well served by the herds of nincompoops in the Bush administration. Imagine where we would be if Bush had appointed skillful people to carry out his schemes.


An Easy Exam

The New York Times’s Gail Collins says the Republicans want someone slightly less smarmy than Mitt and slightly less strange than Rudy. Hence, the advent of Fred Thompson. I guess that’s right, though it’s hard to imagine anything being too smarmy for a genuine Republican. Still, Fred is on the scene, and if the polls can be believed, is winning a lot of support. His positions, however, are hard to understand, and I mean really hard to understand. He wants to solve the marriage problem by a constitutional amendment which, when he describes it, nobody can tell what he’s talking about. Still, he’s tall and appears to be a bit lazy, both qualities that supposedly appeal to the average American.

One thing we can say of the election of 2008: it will offer the American people a chance to pass the easiest political test ever presented to any people anywhere. It’s pretty clear that we are no better than D students when it comes to modern politics. But now, by rejecting any and all of the Republican candidates we can at least demonstrate that we deserve a D, which, after all, is seen by most as a passing grade.

If we fail completely by selecting any of the current Republican crop, I suppose the nature of things will send us back to kindergarten, which in its political mode is not nearly as pleasant as the guise presented in the schools. When grown people behave like toddlers, the cosmos tends not to change their diapers but, rather, to rub their faces in them.

In the meantime, though, we can watch Fred toddle around, which, maybe, will be a bit more amusing than the shows the Republicans have delivered to us so far.


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