The Long View 2003-02-13: Delusions

Unfortunately, delusions is about the best thing I can say about this post of John's.

Delusions
They said I was crazy. For years, they said it was insane to hoard spools and spools of duct tape. Since duct tape appeared on the list of supplies to keep at home in case of biochemical attack, however, it has become almost unobtainable. Who's laughing now, eh?
That's almost true. I find that I do have three spools of duct tape, for some reason. I also for many years have been in the habit of storing a few gallons of water. I can't remember the last time I freshened the supply, so it's probably more dangerous than the nerve gas by now. Still, foresight is foresight.
And lunacy is lunacy. The New York Times is the chief newspaper of a city that everybody says is about to be the object of some singular outrage. Most conspicuous among the people with published thoughts along these lines is Osama bin Laden, or someone pretending to be him, who earlier this week released an appeal for suicide attacks in defense of Iraq. You might think that this would concentrate the minds of the Times editorial writers, but no. Consider this passage from today's edition:
 
"The White House argued that the tape, if it really was Osama bin Laden, simply demonstrated that Iraq and terrorism were indeed somehow linked. But we couldn't help wondering if the expression of solidarity with Iraq might have been a canny way of luring the United States into an attack on Baghdad that would rally the Muslim world against the West, producing new converts to Al Qaeda."
This is beyond folly. It would merit the Darwin Award for willfully frustrating self-preservation, had the French and the Germans not won it already. There is no point in picking on the French on this point, but I might suggest that it is unjust to compare the policy of the current French government to that of the government at the time of the Munich Conference in 1938. In 1938, the French would have had to bear the brunt of a war. They grossly overestimated the extent of German preparedness, but their decision to defer the war for a few years was not irrational. In the event of a war with Iraq today, in contrast, the French would be in no direct danger. The war might occasion further terrorist activity at home, but that was starting to happen anyway. The suppression of Islamicism at its bases, which is what the war is about, at least creates the possibility that the terror might cease.
 
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The UN "inspection regime" has reached the point where the Iraqis routinely renege on their assurances of cooperation within hours of making them. Last week, the inspectors and the Iraqis announced an agreement to allow unconditional U2 overflights of Iraqi territory. Today we learn that the very document in which they were supposed to have made that concession actually specifies that Iraq must have prior notice of the time and route of the flights. Similarly, the Iraqi scientists, whom the inspectors have at last been permitted to interview privately, are known to have been under threat from their government if they say anything embarrassing. Nonetheless, this is the process that the French and Germans still purport to hope will disarm Iraq. There are reports that they fantasize about creating a protectorate over the country. French and German troops would arrive in such numbers as to constitute a light occupation, but one that would leave the Baathist government in place, and the Iraqi military still under arms.
Actually, this notion revives an American proposal; it just would use personnel that the Iraqis might find less threatening. Members of the Iraqi government have condemned the idea in both forms, and the Germans have denied ever considering any such thing.
 
* * *
One of the wonders of recent days is that no less a person than Thomas Friedman of the Times has broken free of all this. In his editorial on Sunday, Throw France Off the Island, he divides the planet into the World of Order and the World of Disorder. The US, predictably, "anchors" the first, while France symbolizes what is wrong with the second. This is quite a departure for him.
The problem, of course, is not the French, but an international system whose institutions divide legitimacy from responsibility. In this case, "responsibility" means the capacity to actually do something about lethal threats to civilization. The UN General Assembly is a parliament of rotten boroughs. The UN Security Council preserves in amber the coalition that won the Second World War, even though the old roster of great powers has been meaningless for decades. If the Council were created today, it would have quite a different membership. Friedman suggests replacing France with India. But why not take it further?
Perhaps we should be thinking about a third-generation international body, one that will supersede the UN as the UN superseded the League of Nations. In the new body, the voice of the members would be weighted according to their willingness to contribute to global order. Population, and even the size of a member's economy, would be irrelevant. Such an organization would be a return to the no-nonsense proposal that Theodore Roosevelt promoted almost 100 years ago. It was essentially a posse of states, with some associated machinery for arbitration. What might we call such an organization? I would revive the old term: The Concert of Nations.
 
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One of my problems with paranormal phenomena is that the debunking explanations for them are so often incredible. There are few paranormal reports I am inclined to taker seriously. Still, more than once I have given a dubious claim a second look, simply because what some debunker had to say about it was manifest nonsense. If you have had this problem, too, then you should mourn the recent passing of Marcello Truzzi, a sociologist and magician who had long studied the occult with honest skepticism.
Speaking of skepticism, readers may note that I have had little to say about the Germans in this entry, even though they have been almost as obstructionist as the French. This is because I thought that further comment from me would be superfluous. God has already expressed His own displeasure by sending them evil crows.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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