The Long View 2008-05-19: Whom to Throw from the Sled; The Teflon Imperium; The Pope's Astronomer; The Uses of President Bush

Lightening the Troika

Lightening the Troika

Much like John J. Reilly’s blog post today, I took a break here at With Both Hands for the last week.

However, we are now back at it.

Whom to Throw from the Sled; The Teflon Imperium; The Pope's Astronomer; The Uses of President Bush

Let me apologize for the long delay in updating this space. I am getting a handle on my new schedule, so I am finding time to write again. It seems unlikely I will be able to adopt the genuine blogger practice of posting a note here and there in the course of the day. Perhaps I will do a weekly column from here. In any case, I am not going to let the space die.

Again: thanks to all the regular readers for the encouragement.

* * *

Mickey Kaus did a good job today of summarizing the real options for the wreck of the Republican Party:

The Possibilities of Push-Off Politics: 1) David Frum argues Republican Congressional candidates should treat the presidential election as "already lost" and campaign "on a message to balance the crazy left-wing things a President Obama is sure to try." 2) Jennifer Rubin argues the Republican presidential candidate should treat the Congress as already lost and campaign on a message to moderate the things a lopsidedly Democratic legislature is sure to try... At the moment, Rubin's strategy looks closer to reality--McCain has a shot at the presidency, so writing him off doesn't resonate. But even the Republicans in Congress think the Republicans in Congress are doomed.

Regarding Congress, the last time something like this happened was the Watergate Congress after the resignation of Richard Nixon. That Congress really was as radical as the McGovernite wing of the Democratic Party. History is not repeating itself, though. The Kaus piece goes on to suggest that the new Democratic Congress will in fact be more centrist than the current Congressional leadership.

I seem to be the only person saying this, but it still seems to me that both parties could break up, with a novel presidential-congressional coalition actually governing.

* * *

Fareed Zakaria's book, The Post-American World, has not received quite as much promotion as the the new Indiana Jones movie, but the man does seem to be inescapable on the better talkshows. (And look, I have joined in with my own review here.) In the interest of equal time, we may note Ehsan Ahari's comment at Asia Times, The mythical post-American era:

One last explanation of the supposed American decline may be related to the dominance-related fatigue that may have clouded the thinking of global strategic thinkers. The unipolar power arrangement definitely encouraged the US to invade Iraq as an option of the "war of choice". There was no more Soviet Union to deter its ambitions.

[T]he long and bloody events in Iraq have proven that, even in a unipolar system of global power, the decision to invade does not lead to unhindered power to govern.... However, that realization, related to limitations of power, does not prove that the global hegemon is, indeed, declining, or that a post-American world is really emerging with power centers that are capable of counterbalancing the United States.

We may note in passing that the writer is identified thus:

Ehsan Ahrari is professor of Security Studies (Counterterrorism) at the Asia-Pacific Center of Security Studies. Views expressed in this essay are strictly private and do not reflect those of the APCSS, the United States Pacific Command, or any other agency of the US government.

I never know what to make of that kind of disclaimer.

* * *

This interview with the pope's astronomer received a great deal of attention in the past few days:

The Vatican's official newspaper has endorsed the possibility that the universe could contain intelligent life beyond Earth, while insisting that aliens would be "our brothers" and "children of God" as much as human beings are.

The Pope's astronomer, José Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit priest, told L'Osservatore Romano that there would be nothing surprising about the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrials.

We should note that the pope's academic advisors, however eminent, do not make Catholic doctrine.

Be that as it may, it is hard to fit extraterrestrial contact into traditional models of theodicy and eschatology. On the other hand, in the fifth century, it was hard to fit the idea of a huge, round Earth into the same models. Augustine puzzled over this. How could the command to "go, teach all nations," be obeyed, if most of the world were inaccessible to any imaginable mode of travel. One of the most embarrassing passages in patristics is Augustines dismissal of an inhabited antipodes as absurd.

For my part, I think that any "contact" we have with other intelligent species will be like our contact with Old Kingdom Egypt: a matter of radio archeology.

* * *

Mark Steyn, in his guiless innocence, misses the point of this incident:

President Bush was in Israel the other day and gave a speech to the Knesset. Its perspective was summed up by his closing anecdote ­ a departing British officer in May 1948 handing the iron bar to the Zion Gate to a trembling rabbi and telling him it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of the Jerusalem was in the hands of a Jew. In other words, it was a big-picture speech, referencing the Holocaust, the pogroms, Masada ­ and the challenges that lie ahead. Sen. Obama was not mentioned in the text. No Democrat was mentioned, save for President Truman, in the context of his recognition of the new state of Israel when it was a mere 11 minutes old.

Nonetheless, Barack Obama decided that the president's speech was really about him, and he didn't care for it. He didn't put it quite as bluntly as he did with the Rev. Wright, but the message was the same: "That's enough. That's a show of disrespect to me."

Senator Obama chose to regard the president's remarks as an attack because to be attacked by President Bush has become an asset. It is as simple as that.

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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