Destroyer of Worlds

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. … 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 pointless—and unsuccessful—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 repaired—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 Bush’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 Bush’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. I’m zeroing in on the Godhead in question, and I’m increasingly convinced that he’s a denizen of the South Asian subcontinent, and in particular the Lord Shiva. He’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 wouldn’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.

26 thoughts on “Destroyer of Worlds

  1. The ‘nuclear problem,’ should the Clintons be back in the WH, will be dealt with only in so far as dealing with it does not jeopardize their re-election to a second term. They have a record which on close scrutiny reveals that their ambition always trumps any principles they may have.

  2. The rise of the Hindu nationalists in India has raised the nuclear stakes considerably as well as the growing Islamic extremist movement in Pakistan. The Muslim baiting rhetoric of the Hindu nationalists and the anti Hindu, anti Indian sentiment of the Deobandis does make the Kashmir crisis potentially one of the deadliest conflicts in the world. Shiva has the bomb, and this time Vishnu may not be able to reign him in.

  3. I may have written this here at Mahablog, but I know I’ve written it at other blogs. When the Cold War was declared over a friend told me, in all seriousness, that now she “could go to sleep and not worry about not being alive because The Bomb was used overnight” (or something to that effect). My response to her was that India and Pakistan both had the bomb and that either one would be more than willing to use it against the other and neither the US or the Russians/Soviets could prevent it. They are still the countries, I believe, most likely to use their bombs.

  4. Your post touches on this, but the way Bush views nuclear weapons in the service of dominance is an aspect of our role as world wide empire. And as you allude, no candidate, excepting Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are even questioning this.

    This whole issue of American empire surfaced and was in vogue when Bush and the neocons finally got into power, and could be the imperialists they always wanted to be. It was then overshadowed by 9/11 and the Iraq War, and forgotten.

    Glenn Greewald (and others) reported earlier this month, that America spends more on our military than all other countries combined. We spend almost ten times more than the next leading country, China.

    All empires eventually collapse, but not before taxing their subjects to death to support them. The mathematics of trying to dominate the entire world boggles the mind. Is it any wonder why things like infrastructure, education, and health care go begging in this country? It’s pretty sad when the thing America most excels in these days is advanced weaponry.

    At the heart of this is a spiritual issue, the relentless paranoia and fear that drives the far right. Trying to dominate the world, via nukes and other means, and bankrupting this country in the process – and in many other dimensions besides monetarily – is the result.

    The right believes that others should bend to our massive military power – because that’s how they reacted to massive adult power as children – and cannot conceive of any other way to relate to other people. The militarization of our country and the attempted domination of the world is the expression of this childhood pathology.

  5. Well, I sure hope the spooks and members of congress read your post and take action against incurious George. Yes, the brainiac that just made a deal with the House of Saud for 20 BILLION in weapons, including smart bombs. If I recall correctly, Saudi Arabia is the home to most of those guys that supposedly flew a couple of Jet liners into some special real estate several years ago and killed a couple of Americans in the process.
    Yeah, I SEEM to remember something about those Saudis…..
    Strange how we bombed Eye-rak…………………..

  6. One of the memebers of the ‘club’ is Israel. This is an open secret, but I understand that the source of the fuel for their bombs is the US. Los Alamos ‘lost’ 765 klilograms of plutonium, first reported in 1996. This connection is not lost on the Arab states, that it looks like we gave the bomb to Israel in violation of non-proliferation policy. The Bush administration has engaged in rhetoric against Iran – almost exclusively on the claim that Iran will build a bomb. See how this plays there, and you understand why we have no credability in that part of the world. The US can have the bomb. Israel can have the bomb (in secret, slipped under the table) Arabs cannot be trusted with the bomb. And we expect them to trust us to broker a peace deal.

  7. Pingback: The Heretik : The Day After the Earth Stood Still

  8. Didn’t moonbat write something about this awhile ago? George Bush isn’t personally a great man, and it is not his own will which has caused us to come to this pass. He is only an incurious tool of others who would have (and would still) substitute any empty suit that can sell their wars.

  9. Here it is:

    It’s my belief that out of the ashes of the destruction of the current order, a new human race is being born, one whose level of consciousness will be quite different from what created the current order based on fear, which is the basis for the ego. In another hundred or two hundred years, there are going to be a lot of enlightened people on this planet.

    I personally believe George W Bush is unconscious and seriously deluded. He thinks he is doing the will of his Father in Heaven (truly a frightening thought given W’s narcissistic, sociopathic personality). However, consider that perhaps God / the universe / life itself really is using W, by forcing us, in a manner similar to Eckhart Tolle’s pressured awakening, to wake up. Childhood is ending, whether we want it to or not.

  10. Shiva ? No.


    “This is Kaliyuga, buddy, the Iron Age.
    Anybody over sixteen without an ulcer’s a goddam spy.”
    Zooey, Franny and Zooey
    J. D. Salinger

  11. A bunch of stuff lost by the U.S. turns up in Israel, mostly money, criminals, and weapons.
    I guess God works in mysterious ways.A guy I know recently told me “the Israelis” are God’s chosen people. I think he means “the Israelites”, but I guess that would be parsing words and splitting hairs, its a common mistake these days.
    One day in the near future, America’s “cargo cultists” will wake up to the fact they have been screwed over to the 10th power.

  12. I am saddened that we/you all seem to have become so politically jaded , ( Clinton 11 , will only keep finger in dyke ? ) perhaps its because we political junkies read so many blogs ,..but yet Obama seems to be surrounded by a cloud of naivete? ” he will trancsend partisanship ” ) I do not get all this ,,, explain it to me please … is everyone just thinking out loud or what ?
    To me its like deciding who I will leave my infant with ,,, the middle aged woman with a degree in early childhood development or the teenage nephew who has never babysat before …….

  13. Some people are under the impression that Bush is an aberration. But he’s really not. He’s just another in a long line of American tools in search of Empire. I’m not going to go into the long history of that – that’s for another post. But let’s just take a look at recent history:
    Reagan was a tool used by the military-industrial complex to put the smile on America’s military buildup to empire. GHWB kept it going, ergo with less panache. Clinton had the panache, and look what they did to him from day one. They’ve learned that character assassination is sooooo much easier than real assassination. And less to cover up. Clinton tacked to the right not just to preserve his Presidency, but his life. (Look at what happened to JFK, MLK, and RFK. ‘Nuff said…)

    And Bush was just another useful smiley tool of the military-industrial complex. But they erred when they chose him. They missed his “tragic flaw’s,” or figured they could work around them. But their tool proved to be a fool.

    And now the rest of the world sees us for what we were, are, and always will be: Money in search of more money. “Manifest Destiny,” was a nice spin on the word “Empire.”
    And now, Bush has wiped away the smile that Reagan pasted on America’s new “Manifest Destiny.”
    The Boy King revealed that America’s smile always, always, hid a malignanty greedy soul.

  14. “I’m zeroing in on the Godhead in question, and I’m increasingly convinced that he’s a denizen of the South Asian subcontinent, and in particular the Lord Shiva.”

    Naw! Lord Shiva is also the patron of ascetics and meditators. The main objest of his destruction is delusion.

    A South Asian candidate for the deity that talks to Dubya could be Mara, but any old journeyman demon will do.

    —Weasel Tracks

  15. cu wrote:

    And Bush was just another useful smiley tool of the military-industrial complex. But they erred when they chose him. They missed his “tragic flaw’s,” or figured they could work around them. But their tool proved to be a fool.

    I remember a conversation among righties at the time of Bush’s first “election”, how they consoled themselves with “at least he has good advisors”.

  16. Containing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and restricting the membership of the nuclear “club” is all about taking the nuclear option off the table. The bar to first use is MUCH lower if rogue states such as North Korea have weapons; lower still if non-state actors can be plausibly alleged to possess them. Insofar as there is any element of genuine strategy (as opposed to pure posturing) in the neocon approach, it depends upon reducing the predictablility of any U. S. response to any situation. The Cold-War style of proliferation governance does not fit with that.

  17. Wars will not cease and peace will not come until arms production is stopped and stockpiles of all weapons nuclear and conventional have been destroyed. No peace will arrrive unaccompanied by justice, nor last. The US, being the strongest, must start the process of disarmament by laying down first (more of) its arms, beginning with the nukes. Serious reductions to demonstrate sincerity. Then a world disarmament conference excluding no one should be called. Solutions and methods must be hashed out and agreed by consensus. Treaties designed with no “wiggle room,” such as six-month withdrawal notices, must be codified into international law. We must have a strategy of “total world disarmament and permanent peace.” This is not impossible. But it is impossible for as long as the production of deadly arms continues. We must stop it and re-direct and re-train the energies and talents of millions who work in the arms production process. They must set their considerable talents to the task of national re-building and providing the basic needs for the growing population of the planet. Our strategy must be larger than ending any one war or preventing the next; it must contain all tactics and plans and never deviate from it’s overall goal of a permanent peace that will assure the progress of humanity and not its demise. Thanks, Mike Havenar

  18. Lucy,

    Think of Hillary as the middle aged with a degree in early childhood development (with a history of abuse), I’d take my chances with the teenage nephew!


    Why no talk of the attempted terrorist attack in Washington yesterday? Let me get this straight: a middle aged man is arrested in Washington carrying a shotgun and a samurai sword, his truck is later found containing propane tanks with wires protruding from the glove box? Turns out this kook was some crazy white guy from Utah, could you imagine had this guy been of Arab decent? I would venture it would be the only thing the press would be discussing today “putting terrorism front and center in the election”. But since it was a white dude?

  19. Why no talk of the attempted terrorist attack in Washington yesterday?

    This is the first I’ve heard of it. Note that I don’t do on-demand blogging. I have a bad cold and a fever and I’ll update the blog when I damn well feel like it.

    Maha, grumpy

  20. Ditch the drugs, Maha…

    Have a big bowl of Chicken Soup…With lots of pepper…

    And a cup of warm lemonaide w/honey for a chaser…

    Be back on your feet in no time…

  21. Interesting post. I am going to get me a Harper’s. I am depressed by the trajectory of the nomination race into ill-tempered vaudeville while really big issues like this are seen as Yawns.

  22. People who ass-u-me that Hillary’s administration will be just like Bills are mistaken. It is so sexist to make such comments. You write as if she is a clone of Bill. You and others will be surprised at what happens when Hillary is president.

  23. People who ass-u-me that Hillary’s administration will be just like Bills are mistaken.

    She’s been a senator for seven years, and I’m not seeing a big departure from the past.

    You and others will be surprised at what happens when Hillary is president.

    Anything is possible.

  24. Airborn is homeopathy, if I remember correctly.
    Might as well pray, or eat a sugar cube blessed by whoever’s blessing you think works.
    Or thow the bones.
    Or kill a tortoise and roast its shell in the embers until the local shaman can read the cracks in the shell.
    Homeopathy is indistinguishable from superstition.

    “The bones tell me nothing”
    The High Aldwin, Willow

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