Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Mideast in Turmoil II

“All War represents a failure of diplomacy.” Tony Benn

Now that the Middle East has been rocked by the latest wave of freedom-seeking, it is interesting to speculate about how little influence we have over what may happen to us. Hosni Mubarak certainly did not. Surely he did not expect to leave office under the circumstances he did. Muammar Gaddafi, the murderous, insane leader of Libya is killing with impunity as the West looks on in a state of befuddlement, the punditry voicing a confused mixture of morality, pragmatism, and logistical analysis.

Nothing has really changed in our western, oil-addicted psyche. Washington politicians are ringing their hands about the “potential slaughter” of innocents, but what they are really thinking about is the same conundrum that has plagued them all along. Will pubescent Arab freedom choke off the world’s supply of oil and will the countries not yet in crisis be able to sustain the increased production necessary to alleviate the strangulating effect of oil shortages on the economic recovery in America and in the rest of its energy-seeking competitors?

Jeff Greenfield, the political analyst and former Presidential speechwriter, has a new book out that hypothesizes about how twists of fate turn the tide of history. The assassination of JFK, for example. Or the fact that a plot to truck dynamite the new President was foiled in December of 1960 because the assassin did not want his family to be involved when Jackie came to the door of their residence. Not wanting to kill the young President’s family led to a delay in the plot allowing the FBI time to foil it. This little known fact reveals how tenuous political and human fortunes are. A slight change of circumstance, a different leader here and there, matters over which even the most prescient leader has little or no control. The randomness of events, play out at the highest levels of government, potentially plunging the world into ever deepening chaos.

Should we do no fly zones in Libya ? Should we have fought in Viet-Nam? Was the removal of Saddam Hussein, empowering the Iranians helpful? Do nations enter wars with inadequate information and are decisions made with poor information, and impulsively misguided leaders? Of course. Decisions rendered in haste are often wrong, but sometimes they are correct. How can so imperfect an operation as government and its leadership really be trusted? Well, in fact, it cannot. Nathan Detroit is rolling the dice.

It is very easy to forget the threat of the Soviet Union, an imploded, decrepit economic house of cards, despite having projected enormous military power perpetuating its own empire, threatening Europe, Asia and the United States. How, in retrospect, could we have considered the threat so daunting? During the post World War II years and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, we lived in fear of a Communist takeover of the world. As schoolchildren we hid under our wooden desks, to protect us from a nuclear Armageddon. Others averred: had we not stood up to the nightmarish Leviathan, we would all be Russian vassals.
What really are the lessons of history? What can impel us to make the right decisions? Thoughtfulness, prudence, and reflection? The very qualities the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has have caused those critical of him to say he is vacillating, indecisive, and too cautious.  George W. Bush was the contrary, embroiling us in two wars, killing thousands, neither of which bloody conflict has really proven its value. Mr. Truman, on the other hand, through courage and decisiveness, prevented North Korean domination of the South, allowing democracy and economic independence to thrive.

The questions of which wars are good wars and which are not remain unanswered.
They probably never will be.