There’s an article in the current issue of Harper’s by Jonathan Schell that speaks both to my disgust with the Bush II Administration and my concerns about a potential Clinton II Administration.
In “NOTEBOOK: The Moral Equivalent of Empire” (PDF), Schell discusses nuclear proliferation, and says that during the Cold War the nuclear threat was addressed directly and contained. However,
Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat has had a strange career. At first, it was simply forgotten, apparently in the profoundly misguided belief that the Cold War and the nuclear threat had been one and the same, and that the end of one meant the end of the other.
Schell provides a review of the nuclear challenge during the Cold War, then writes,
Such was the background of the issues faced by the United States when the Soviet Union liquidated itself, and, for a fourth time in the nuclear age, the question of what nuclear weapons were for was put on the table. But now the silence fell. The Clinton Administration announced a “detargeting” agreement with Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, but it was no more than a smoke screen, as the weapons could be retargeted in hours or minutes. Yet no new target was announced. The United States faced what Senator Sam Nunn called a “threat blank.” In the bowels of the Pentagon, some spoke of a counterproliferation role. for nuclear weapons, but such a goal could not even in theory justify arsenals of many thousands of warheads, which entered a sort of policy-free zone. During the Cold War, a sprawling intellectual edifice, centering on the deterrence doctrine, had been built up to justify nuclear arsenals and their use. Nothing of the kind emerged in the post-Cold War era.
In the absence of global leadership or consensus, several nations — including India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea — decided to join the privileged circle of nuclear powers. An age of renewed nuclear proliferation was under way. And then came Dubya.
Thus things remained, more or less, until just after September 11, 2001, when George W. Bush launched a full-scale revolution in the nation’s nuclear policies. He gave an answer to the basic questions that had gone unasked since the early 1990s: What were nuclear weapons for? Who, if anyone, should possess them, who should not, and who should decide which was to be which, and make the decision stick? Bush’s answers were simple, bold, clear, and pursued with tenacity. The United States and its allies would possess nuclear weapons, and others–especially “rogue states”–would not. The United States alone would enforce the rules in this double-standard world, and would do so with the application of overwhelming military force, including nuclear force. The threat blank and the policy vacuum were now at an abrupt end. For better or worse, the United States was at last in possession of a comprehensive nuclear policy. …
… Today, almost five years later, this policy is manifestly in ruins. Proliferation ‘has not been checked; it has gained new force and breadth. Existing arsenals still provoke proliferation, and vice versa. North Korea is a fledgling nuclear power, and Pakistan is in the midst of a deep political crisis, raising fears that its nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. The mirage of a smoking gun/mushroom cloud in Iraq lured the United States into a disaster that has acquired a dangerous and unpredictable life of its own. Military dominance of the globe by an imperial United States, whether aimed at counter-proliferation or anything else, is a vanished dream. Meanwhile, there are signs of renewed confrontation between the old Cold War nuclear powers, where, after all, the mother lode of nuclear danger still lies. Russia and the United States are sparring over missile defenses that the United State proposes to deploy in Eastern Europe. Putin has likened the Bush Administration to “a madman running around with a razor,” and has threatened to withdraw from nuclear arms-control agreements made during the Cold War
However, Schell argues, the moral is not that the Clinton approach was right and the Bush approach wrong. The Clinton I Administration mostly avoided the nuclear question. It’s understandable why they did so; had they made any serious moves toward nuclear disarmament the Right would have had a fit. (Of course, Clinton could not so much as walk across linoleum without the Right having a fit about it. He might as well have ignored them.)
To me this exemplifies the pattern shown in the Clinton I Administration that Hillary Clinton has continued in her Senate career — going along to get along. Caution and political expedience are the primary directives; their “bold, new” policies amount to wonky tweaks of the status quo.
Bush, on the other hand, did respond to nuclear proliferation with an audacious, comprehensive doctrine on a scale appropriate to the problem. What the Bush Doctrine offered was a Hobbesian response to a serious issue.
Peace in this scheme was not a casualty of dominance but the product of it. From early modem times down to the present, these tenets have been embodied in the concept of sovereignty, which rests on the idea that in every political system there must be a single, unified power whose decisions are final because it possesses a monopoly on the means of force. (The proponents of absolutism, then as now, have never lacked cogent arguments.)
With remarkable consistency, the Bush doctrine proposed this logic for our time. In this thinking, the idea of global dominance is to today’s world what the idea of national sovereignty was to the time of the foundation of nation-states. It would amount to a system of something like Earth-rule by one nation. In a very real sense, Bush was proposing the United States as a benign global Leviathan. (His unprecedented assertion of presidential powers at home, under the doctrine of the “unitary executive,” , would make the president a kind of sovereign over the United States as well.) In such a system, a double standard, in regard to nuclear weapons and much else, is not a flaw but a first principle and a necessity, as all consistent absolutists know. Whether in: the context of nation-state formation half a millennium ago or of international order today, as large a gap as possible in both rights and power between the lord and the vassals is essential, for it is precisely on this inequality that the system, promising law and order for all, relies. If there is no double standard, there will be no dominance; and if there is no dominance, there will be no peace; and if there is no peace, there will be nuclear anarchy; and if there is nuclear anarchy, there will be nuclear war. And is it wrong to suggest that today, in a widening sphere, the business of the world, going far beyond the management of nuclear danger, must be dealt with on a global basis or not at all?
That’s exactly how the Bushies and neocons think, isn’t it? And after seven years it still seems stunning. We think Bush is being a hypocrite, or just plain delusional, when he calls himself a man of peace, but in his own mind that’s exactly what he is.
Please note that Schell is not saying that the Bushies did the right thing. He’s very clear that this approach has been a disaster.
In the early modern age, an alternative to dominance was proffered at the national level. It was the conception of the state based on law and, the will of the people embodied in the long tradition of democratic consent. â€¦ In responding to the universal danger posed by nuclear proliferation, the United States therefore had two suitably universalist traditions that it might have drawn on, one based on consent and law, the other based on force. Bush chose force. It was the wrong choice. It increased the nuclear danger it was meant to prevent. It engendered pointlessâ€”and unsuccessfulâ€”war and destruction. It set
back democracy at home and abroad. It degraded the United States, and disgraced it in the eyes of the world. It launched the world on a vicious, escalating cycle of violence that could not succeed yet could not, as long as the doctrine was pursued, be abandoned. It collided head-on with the deep-seated conviction of peoples everywhere who, whatever else they may want, are firmly resolved not to bend the knee to any imperial master.
Yet to invoke the tradition of consent and law is not to name a solution to the nuclear dilemma, for obviously none yet has been initiated. Bush has been taken to task for the stubborn willfulness of his leadership as well as for the ambition and audacity of his doctrine, but those qualities are to his credit. They correspond to the immensity and urgency of the task at hand. In this respect, Bush is a model. If such is not granted, the ruin he has brought will not be repairedâ€”it can only be compounded, though possibly at a slower pace. It will be of no use to revive the tepid measures, vacillating and half-hearted, of the Clinton years, which created the vacuum that Bush so disastrously filled with his imperial doctrine. The deeper tragedy of our times is that no comparable ambition, no comparable audacity, no comparable will, has been mustered by the exponents of the tradition of consent and law. On the contrary, they fearfully offer only half a loaf of their prescription, or, worse, watered-down Bushism, or something in between. Their failing has been as great as his, and more contemptible, since they are the guardians of the path that in all likelihood alone offers hope for delivery from the multiplying perils of our day.
I don’t know if any of the Democratic presidential candidates would have the guts to lead us in a new direction. All I do know is that a Clinton II Administration would likely “manage” the nuclear problem, as in keep their wonky little fingers in the holes in the dike. But that’s about it.
Elsewhere on the Harper’s site I found this article by Scott Horton. Horton quotes President Bush saying that he is being divinely guided.
Of course, looking back on Bushâ€™s divinely inspired works, one wonders about the identity of the deity with whom Bush is conversing. That he was the God of Abraham seems highly improbable. Cartoonists in the United States have regularly given Bushâ€™s God the bodily manifestation and voice of a Yale dropout and retired corporate executive named Dick Cheney. But this lacks imagination. No one doubts the involvement of Dick Cheney in this orgy of blood and destruction, but he himself is merely a mortal vessel serving the god of war and destruction. Iâ€™m zeroing in on the Godhead in question, and Iâ€™m increasingly convinced that heâ€™s a denizen of the South Asian subcontinent, and in particular the Lord Shiva. Heâ€™s famous for a dance of destruction, creating the way for Lord Brahma, the creator. But no doubt about it, Bush is in the gallery of presidents a tremendously potent destructive force. Lord Brahma may, of course, follow in his wake. But I wouldnâ€™t count on it.
You might remember that when physicist Robert Oppenheimer saw the first nuclear mushroom cloud, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita — “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The destroyer of worlds is Shiva. Scott Horton may be on to something.