The Long View 2004-12-13: McCain Ring; Perfect UN; Culture War Overseas; Chinese Bubble

I enjoyed a taste of Hillary Clinton's 2004 efforts to position herself as a future President:

On immigration she has begun talking tough on border security, accusing the administration of not spending enough, employing enough people, using the best technology. She recently called herself "adamantly against illegal immigrants," by which she no doubt meant illegal immigration, and has been inching toward support for a national ID card.

Oh how the times change.


McCain Ring; Perfect UN; Culture War Overseas; Chinese Bubble

 

Speculation about the presidential election of 2008 was well underway even before November 2. Today, one almost feels that time grows short. In any case, I was thinking of starting a purely exploratory "McCain for President" webring. If anyone is interested, please drop me a note.

Some candidacies are not at all speculative. Peggy Noonan's assessment of the protocampaign of Hillary Clinton is provocative on several levels:

She is taking care of her liberal base while cherry-picking key issues on which she can get to the right of the Republican party. This is most astute and quite effective. For the liberals she produces a steady stream of base-friendly efforts (Special Committee on the Aging, education funding, help for the emotionally disturbed, extended unemployment insurance) and classic pork barrel. To get to the right of the president she talks homeland security and immigration. On homeland security she fights for increased funding, better controls at U.S. ports, tightened security for nuclear power plants and chemical plants. She issues warnings about the use of weapons of mass destruction on American soil. She is a member of the Armed Services Committee and likes to talk about military reform. On immigration she has begun talking tough on border security, accusing the administration of not spending enough, employing enough people, using the best technology. She recently called herself "adamantly against illegal immigrants," by which she no doubt meant illegal immigration, and has been inching toward support for a national ID card.

Why does she want to get to Mr. Bush's right on these issues? [One reason] is that she knows another attack on American soil is inevitable and wants to position herself politically as The Wise One Who Warned Us.

This is why we have elections.

* * *

American foes of the United Nations are engaged in a campaign to prevent the organization from expanding its headquarters in New York, or even repairing its existing crumbly old modernist signature building:

Currently, there are several efforts under way to block the U.N.'s expansion and renovation of its building. Move America Forward has thrown its weight behind lawmakers and other community leaders to prevent the U.N. from growing in New York.

The United Nations' plan calls for a new 35-story building built on a park and the renovation of its current 52-year-old main headquarters.

The United Nations is not without its faults. Even people who approve of it in principle increasingly suspect that, like the pharisees, it neither enters the Kingdom, nor allows others to enter. In any case, those who believe the organization should be put out of its misery are barking up the wrong tree if they try to prevent the United Nations from creating a more palatial headquarters complex. Northcote Parkinson understood the matter perfectly:

One chapter [of Parkinson's Law], titled "Plans and Plants, or The Administrative Block," did deal with architecture. I remember it since it undermined much of what I was being taught in my classes. Parkinson's thesis, briefly put, was that when an organization commissioned an architectural masterpiece for itself, it was almost always done at precisely the moment when that organization was on its last legs. "During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters," he wrote. "The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death."

I know this, but I can't help myself.

* * *

For some time now, I have been waxing tedious about the link between the Culture War and the Terror War. Some anecdotal evidence supports the link, as we see from this report by Tyler Golson, an American academic teaching in Damascus:

One afternoon I was explaining the passive tense of verbs, and I used an example that came to mind from American culture. I asked them if they knew who was nominated by the two main parties to run for president. "John Kerry was nominated by the Democratic Party, and George Bush was nominated by the Republicans," replied one of the brightest in the class, a veiled Muslim engineering student named Rahaf. "Very good," I said. "Now, who do you think will be elected?" "Bush," cried several of the students at once, smiling. Abandoning my lesson plan for the moment, but curious at this sudden display of interest in the election, I ventured: "Who do you want to win?" "Bush," said Rahaf, while a number of others nodded in solid agreement. I pressed them further for a few minutes, asking individual students why they liked Bush. The same ideas came up again and again: he is a strong leader, an honest man, and, most of all, a believer. Like the winning margin of American voters this year, these Middle Easterners related to Bush's sense of religious conviction and his confident steering of a nation and culture they admired.

Supporting Bush may be as close as the students could come to openly opposing the Baathist government of Syria. Still, one wonders what they would have said about America if Kerry had been elected.

* * *

Perhaps I am not the only person whom the recent sale of IBM's PC business to the Chinese firm, Lenovo, reminded of the huge, ill-advised purchases of American assets by Japanese companies in the late 1980s. About the IBM deal, the analogy may not be apposite. The Chinese did not just ship oil freighters full of dollars to IBM, which was pretty much what the Japanese did. As the New York Times pointed out today, I.B.M. Sought a China Partnership, Not Just a Sale, and the deal was structured to give IBM a continuing interest in the future of Lenovo. However, other Chinese firms are doing deals just as appalling as the Japanese purchase of Rockefeller Center. As another New York Times story put it, China's Splurge on Resources May Not Be a Sign of Strength:

In one closely scrutinized deal, China's state-owned Minmetals Corporation is bidding to purchase Noranda of Canada, the third-largest zinc producer and ninth-largest copper producer in the world, for a reported $5.5 billion. The deal is expected to include assumption of a substantial amount of debt not reflected in the cash price, and appears to be based on the assumption that commodity prices will stay high indefinitely, said Jason Kindopp, a China analyst at the Eurasia Group, a New York-based political-risk consulting firm. Mr. Kindopp said that China risked waking up one day to find itself holding vastly inflated contracts in a global recession in commodities, much the way Japan suffered major losses after having overpaid for international assets during its boom in the 1980's.

Has there ever been a country with a big trade surplus that did not turn out to have more money than sense?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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