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Monday, April 14, 2003
The NYT reports that, predictably, Rumsfeld has chosen to spend the political capital accrued (for now) by the seeming success of the new military configuration in Iraq by pressing for the power to permanently rearrange the armed forces. The story includes this tidbit: "If approved, the legislation would put Mr. Rumsfeld's stamp on personnel practices for years, even decades, to come, powerfully influencing assignments and promotions at the top of the chain of command and refocusing many people lower in the ranks on fighting wars rather than pushing pencils."

Now, neither the writer nor Rummy himself may have meant it this way, but this does call to mind a new paradigm of needing more people fighting wars because there are more wars to fight. Certainly increased militarism is a cornerstone of the National Defense Policy 2k! released last year, which advocated "pre-emptive strikes" and unmatched US military dominance (which maybe sounds like a good idea until you start thinking about the balance of power and the fact that the US is sometimes wrong and like that). The problem for the left right now is that fifty years of effort by the executive branch has resulted in a situation where the President, if he finds a war that's not with a first-world nation and can be won in less than a month, can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. The only thing standing in his way is the War Powers act, and that's currently a toothless beast that's not a weapon for peace so much as an optional escalator to increased political capital and public / international acceptance.

So we have to start thinking about long-term policy goals, and given the difficulty for the forseeable future of constructing a way to stop Presidents from going to war if they want to, the second-best option may be to invest a lot of effort into finding a way to win the peace for leftist goals. As I mention in my previous post, the most important things now are who profits from the war (corporations or Iraqis) and who runs the country so as to produce the most salutory results within the country, within the region and within the global community. Both now seem to be proceeding in a neo-conservative direction. The former I think can be nudged leftward by, perhaps paradoxically, a greater realization by the left of how the tool of international monetary organizations, hesitatingly embraced rather than opposed, can be used to benefit local populations. As for the latter:

The best indication we have right now of the right's plans for Iraq (and, sort of, the Middle East) comes in this Foreign Affairs article. I can't even get into a detailed critique of it, since between its view of Arabs as an undifferentiated mass with psychological problems to blame for all its difficulties, and its inability to see how being a liberal Arab intellectual might actually dictate being anti-American, this would take all day, but suffice to say its grand plan for using Iraq to democratize the mideast seems to amount to "put an American in charge and everything will be fine." I'm serious--give it a read-through if you like. It's indicative that from a seemingly lengthy debate about what the UN's role in a post-war Iraq should be, Bush and Blair could only come up with a single word ("vital") and no actual policy. In other words, the right doesn't seem to have a policy about how to actually engender modernization in the Arab world, and for that, it's vulnerable.

The problem, of course, is that the left's policy seems to be either "the opposite of whatever the right wants" or "leave 'em alone and it'll all be fine." Neither of these seem inspiring--or, for that matter, accurate. We need to come up with a specific policy about how to democratize nations and/or regions, because that may be the best way to fight militarism. I think the right might be less eager to invade countries willy-nilly if the consensus is that afterwards they're going to have to turn over the country to the UN and allow it to elect anti-American leaders, if that's the way the cookie crumbles. I don't know what this policy should be yet, but I do know that the search needs to be undertaken in a reasonably public way and every effort undertaken to make the conclusion conventional opinion, a la the right's "Sadaam = bin Ladin" slight-of-hand.

The left will sometimes inevitably be caught in a reactive position, but if so, it needs to learn to jump two steps ahead rather than continually playing catch-up.