Responsibility to Project (10 Years After #3)

ten-years-after-saddamNoah Millman admits he has nothing useful to say about the Iraq War. He then possibly usefully recalls the reactions of then colleagues – financial traders – to the first night’s “Shock and Awe”:

They were just glad to see us taking it to the bad guys, and hard. That, most fundamentally, is why we went to war…

The elements of “that” – as a “fundamental” “why” – seem to be brutally eroticized violence, justice in a double mode of righteousness and vengeance, and power, brought together to produce ecstasy.

Millman’s colleagues, those former “Masters of the Universe” & Co., LLP, would have been representative both of the system that those generically identified “bad guys” had defied, and, hardly coincidentally, of the bad guys’ first victims. For financial traders, that vexingly tenacious, quasi-mythical or imaginary link between 9/11 Al Qaedists and the tyrant leader of enemy Iraq would have been more real or seemingly real than for almost anyone else out of uniform or government. For the same reason, however, if applied to the entirety of the country or coalition or neo-empire as it went to war, such an explanation may be inadequate, or too fundamental to explain anything, though it still supports the notion that irrational need or impulse prevailed in the U.S. of 2002-3, producing the widespread sense, as Millman conveys in the rest of his piece, of a decision already collectively made, and not just by some cabal of variously evil and misguided leaders and strategists. The apparent lack of any identifiable decision point within the executive branch on the emergent policy seems indicative of a logic of war that seemingly, illogically just was. For an extended moment following the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, typified by the deemed just and successful military expeditions of the ’90s, from the Gulf War to Kosovo, by the sins of omission of Rwanda and in a different way of Somalia, and concurrently by a new wave of techno-capitalist expansion and self-confidence, “we” thought that “we” were called to that righteous crusader’s joy, on behalf of a world that needed for its own sake, but also ours, to join us. 9/11 seemed to require a yet stronger assertion of our universalism, of the one New World Order under our best of all possible political-economic systems. A unipolar yet disoriented international system proceeded to the inscription of its own limitations into the surface of the globe and the broken or ended lives of countless people.

If the implacable self-deception of that moment ten years ago produced a shallowly mistaken, embarrassingly unjustifiable, finally tragic assertion of a global regency and its prerogatives, the commensurate and necessary deception of this moment might be of a safe, simply chosen abdication.

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2 comments on “Responsibility to Project (10 Years After #3)

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  1. Recall, that Powell was opposed to the first Gulf War, which was a little surprising since it saved his tennis pal, Prince Bandar, (reference is made in the intro to Scherch’s memoir) and by extension, UBL.
    Now of course, the deep connections of Powell and his man, Armitage to the Aliev regime, a Sunni oligarchy, presiding over a Shia majority, shouldn’t be ignored.

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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