The Long View 2003-03-15: The Great White Whale

The most interesting part of this post is John's characterization of statehood in the early twenty-first century:

Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.

Unfortunately, many of the states with which we have become involved in during the past 15 years are precisely this: arbitrary constructs that are granted statehood from the outside.

The Great White Whale
Regular readers of The New York Times will know that the the illegitimacy of the Bush Administration has been columnist Paul Krugman's chief preoccupation since the Administration took office. Krugman has never been very particular about the content of his polemic against Bush. He went through a long period in which he argued that the Administration was a tool of the Enron corporation, until enough people pointed out that the Clinton Administration, and Krugman himself, had as much to do with Enron as Bush & Company did. Sometimes the bee in his bonnet buzzes to him about the president's Evangelical-Christian support, sometimes about the Administration's proposed tax cuts (where Krugman actually has a case). His most recent column, George W. Queeg, gives the impression that something in his head has finally snapped.
In a classic instance of psychological projection, he begins by asking:
"Aboard the U.S.S. Caine, it was the business with the strawberries that finally convinced the doubters that something was amiss with the captain. Is foreign policy George W. Bush's quart of strawberries?"
Well, no, but it is pretty clear that George W. Bush has become Krugman's White Whale. Krugman's obsession is impervious to experience. He is still asking why the president is not focusing on North Korea. A Baathist Iraq freed from sanctions, which would quickly follow if the Administration backs down now, would be North Korea's best nuclear customer. Additionally, the behavior of the US in the Mideast now will determine how seriously North Korea will regard US pressure later this year. Iraq and North Korea are the same crisis.
I gather that this "Queeg" business is going to be a key anti-Bush talking point. One of the talking heads on last night's Washington Week already gave a garbled account of the thesis. Krugman asserts: "There's a long list of pundits who previously supported Bush's policy on Iraq but have publicly changed their minds." He does not name these people. From other sources, though, I gather that the term is "Hawks Who Baulked." One might wonder what the point of these polemics at this point may be, but it's not simply malice. People like Krugman have moved on from trying to prevent the removal of Saddam's government. Now they are moving their attention to sabotaging the larger strategy of which the Iraq campaign is a part.
* * *
Moving from the ridiculous, let us consider the sublime, or at any rate some thing worth listening to. Thanks to Ian McCreath for bringing this essay to my attention: Our World Historical Gamble, by Lee Harris of Tech Central Station.
Coming from me, this is not a criticism, but the piece does wax a bit apocalyptic:
"The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be."
That could well be true, but even if it isn't, there is something to be said for any argument that links George W. Bush to Hegel.
Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.
The implication is that this subsidy of morbid fantasy has become too costly, in the sense of creating intolerable security risks. It will be replaced by something Harris calls "neo-sovereignty." He has not quite worked out what this will be, but then neither has anyone else.
* * *
When things settle down a bit, I will try to include more items about the paranormal and generally strange. In the meantime, though, you can satisfy your surrealism needs with this interview with Hans Blix. The chief UN weapons inspector thinks things like this:
"To me the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war. We will have regional conflicts and use of force, but world conflicts I do not believe will happen any longer. But the environment, that is a creeping danger. I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict."
A man's anxieties are his privilege, of course. Still, you can't help but wonder: why is he in his current line of work?
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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