Thursday, February 20, 2003

Clinton's Greatness

Clinton is famously vexed by the fact that he had no opportunity to become a "great president." He's especially unhappy that it was that boob, Bush, who got to be president when a really big problem in the form of 9/11 came up. But, in fact, Clinton had chances to be great, but he passed them all up in order to remain popular.

Clinton could have responded to terrorism when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993 or after the embassy bombings, but rather than unleash the righteous fury of the arsenal of democracy, Clinton delivered a "proportionate response" attacking two of bin Laden's assets, because bin Laden attacked two of ours.

Bill Clinton believed he could will events into being because he knew more than everybody else. He believed he could manage Osama bin Laden and Arafat and North Korea — and history itself. Tit-for-tat, bribes, endless memos-of-understanding and treaties, and, most of all, talk, talk, talk: When you look back you can see that Bill Clinton wasn't the first black president or the first feminist president so much as he was the first French president.

Of course, Clinton would have taken a ton of flak, at least at first, for doing anything really substancial about these attacks, and his popularity might have hit the bottom. The Europeans, instead of admiring him, would have hated his guts. The Republicans, or at least some of the Republicans, would have been all over him. Hollywood stars, instead of campaigning for him, would be writing songs and making videos that trashed him. He might not have been re-elected if his efforts failed. But it would have been the right thing to do, even if only he and his closest supporters knew it.

When you're terrified of rocking the boat, it's difficult to achieve greatness. When you sweep all the nation's problems under the rug so the next guy has to deal with them, you stack the deck for the next guy to become a great president — if for no other reason than that you've let problems fester into crises and hence greatness will be thrust upon him.

(Quotes in italics are from Jonah Goldberg at NRO).

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Hitler and Hussein

Adolph Hitler came to power within what he and his followers called the National Socialist Party of Germany. Or, at least, they called it a socialist party. Many socialist scholars in the US and elsewhere insist that it was authoritarian, not socialist.

But, in fact, the National Socialist Party followed the same natural history that most other socialist movements follow. It ascended with the help of popular support to grasp power, then used that power to wipe out all opposition to their policy using whatever extralegal or paramilitary means were needed. As usual, one powerful leader was left in charge.

They felt that this ruthless grasping of power was warranted because it was done in the service of a great utopian socialist ideal that Hitler and the National Socialist Party had for the German people. All means were justified in the pursuit of that ideal, including the invasion of neighboring countries and the elimination of undesirable peoples.

Looking back on it now, Hitler’s idea for utopia seems pretty silly -- something akin to a Teutonic dreamland, where blond Germanic youths would test their athletic skills all day long in the nude in pastoral bliss while nubile young blond Germanic maidens cooked sauerkraut undisturbed by want or care. (All of the socialist utopias of that era, including Marx's utopian vision, were strongly pastoral in character and assumed that everyone would be happy with living on a farm and working all day for the rest of their lives. Perhaps this was nostalgia in reaction to industrialization.) But, silly or not, Hitler and his followers were deadly serious about it. Hitler even made extensive architectural drawings of what the communities of the New Germany were going to look like.

The policy of the National Socialist Party was typically socialist, with centralization of control of the economy in the state. Property nominally remained private, but "private" corporations were under strict governmental control. Government control was extended over most aspects of ordinary citizen’s lives as well. As usual, the military and warfare was viewed only as a necessary evil that would vanish with the advent of the great expected utopian dream.

Saddam Hussein was educated in and rose to political power within the socialist Baath party. Or, at least, the Iraqis call it a socialist party. Many socialist scholars in the US insist that it is authoritarian, not socialist.

But, in fact, the Baath party and Hussein followed the same natural history that most other socialist parties that have risen to political power have followed. They ascend with the help of idealistic revolutionary people's movements to grasp power, then use that power to wipe out all opposition to their policy, often putting one all powerful leader in charge.

The policy of the Baath party has been a typically socialist one -- that of centralizing power and property in the state and extending control of the state over most aspects of the people's lives, including the distribution of food.

This policy has been in the service of a typically socialist utopian ideal for the future of the country and of the whole region, if not the world; i.e., that of Arab Nationalism. Arab utopia is a bit different from that of the Western world, but in one uncanny parallel with Hitler, Hussein's followers have taken to producing architectural drawings of ideal Islamic cities, where, for example, the men and women have separate quarters and public accommodations.

(How does this differ from a healthy concern with urban planning? Well, for one thing Hussein's followers assume that the cities will be totally wiped out and replaced, and they give themselves license to start over from scratch, like Hitler did. For another, there is the typically utopian assumption that human nature will undergo a transformation such that many of the things that are important to most people now no longer will be, such as sports and other "useless" pastimes, so they need not be incorporated into planning.)

Hussein's ultimate goal is to unite all Arabs in a single nation. To that end all action is justified, including the military conquest of Iraq's neighbors, the oppression of Iraq's own citizens, and whatever else they find to be expedient or necessary.

This whole thing this is strongly flavored by a potent ingredient, that of religion. Hussein and his followers strongly believe that Allah is on their side. Islam has always strongly endorsed warfare as a means of spreading their religion to the infidels and of purifying the land of the apostates (read: moderate Muslims).

Sunday, February 02, 2003

The Space Program and Tragedy

The deaths of seven astronauts with the destruction on re-entry of the Columbia weighs on my mind today. Of course, I grieve for the dead and feel sympathy for their loved ones. Of course, we should do all we can to prevent this from happening in the future.

But mainly I feel that this is the inevitable consequence of undertaking a dangerous endeavor. We should not be surprised that we have lost astronauts any more that we should be surprised by the loss of life in war.

If we wish to be worth something as a civilization and a culture, we should not eschew such endeavors.