[lit-ideas] Re: The continuation of Realpolitik -- a counterfactual

  • From: Andy <mimi.erva@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 08:21:25 -0700 (PDT)

Lawrence, I'm sure you're such a nice person.  Honestly.  You want this country to be post WWII again in the worst way and it's not and all the wishful thinking in the world isn't going to put it back.  We were on top of the world when we had the moral high ground.  All the rest fell into place around that.  We were the leading manufacturer, leading creditor, leading oil exporter.  Then we slid in the 1950's with Eisenhower and it's been downhill ever since.  Today we're negative or irrelevant on everything, and even worse, today getting along with someone means arming them to only to find out later they're dangerous and starting a war against them.  This is realpolitik?   


A problem, Lawrence, is that not just you but all Americans want to live in 1960.  Unfortunately, like Rip Van Winkle we sleepwalked our way through the decades of our power.  We thought dysfunctional behavior (greed, arming ourselves and others)  taken to the nth degree was the way it was done.  Well, we did it and here we are and it's all Saddam's fault.  And now he's dead and nothing much has changed. 


If you want a strong country Lawrence, the thing we desperately need to do is find energy, real quick.  The ole King isn't coming up with it, and jet fighters don't fly without it and Humvees don't run without it, not to mention your car or mine.  We also need to husband water like crazy and we're wasting the same as ever.  


Realpolitik is reality.  It's living in today, not in 1960.  Reality is energy, it's water, it's food, it's balance of trade and sustainability.  Reality is photosynthesis without which we're dead.  It's, yes, building nuclear power plants for electricity because we're so out of alternatives.  Horsing around with Iran and Iraq is distracting from all this and wasting time and energy.  Iraq is a huge hole in the bottom of our ship and we're sitting around thinking about the time when the hole wasn't there even as we throw more time and money and energy into it.  If we worked on sustainability we'd get back on the moral high ground, we'd create jobs, we'd become much less energy dependent.  And that's exactly what we're not doing. 


BTW, Brazil may have become energy self sufficient in part by producing ethanol from sugar cane, but to do that it has to destroy huge swaths of rain forest.  In the end that only creates more problems.


--- On Tue, 5/20/08, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [lit-ideas] The continuation of Realpolitik -- a counterfactual
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008, 9:26 AM


Did I solicit input?  If I did it had to do with the matter of our moving away from Realpolitik after the fall of the Soviet Union.   Your comment, both comments, suggest you dont know what Realpolitik is even though you advocated that Bush engage in it with Ahmadinejad.  It means getting along with enemies, with people we have nothing in common with, with people we dont like.  The very term explains why we armed Saddam.  We armed more than Saddam during the Cold War.  We used Realpolitik to keep as many nations on our side and opposed to the Soviet Union as possible.  They, the USSR, used it as well.  After the Shah was ousted, Iran moved from our camp into the Soviet camp, and got weapons from the Soviet Union.   Kissinger didnt invent Realpolitik.  He advocated that we use it to get along better with the Soviet Union.

We considered the Ayatollah more of a threat than Saddam Hussein and so supported Saddam against Iran, but not overwhelmingly so.  We supported Iran a bit too because we didnt want Saddam to utterly crush Iran.  That is one of the ways Realpolitik works; so you can see why I was annoyed at you.  Your response asked questions that were already answered if you understood how Realpolitik works. 

Not everyone was comfortable with Realpolitik.  Lots of people opposed it even while they were doing it, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, some people thought we didnt need to do it any more at least thats my take on a sort of wallowing that we engaged in after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

You did, Irene, suggest that we (Bush) play footsy with Ahmadinejad.  You thought him a reasonable fellow and thought we could get along with him.  One needs to assume things like that to make deals with thugs as part of Realpolitik.  You also thought we should leave Saddam alone and not oust him, if I recall correctly.  He was engaging in mega-thuggery, but not too much for you.  Thats Realpolitik.  Realpolitik is the opposite of acting on principle.  For example, we oppose thuggery here in the West; so we could say we will not support thugs in any manner, but some thugs have things we want like oil; so we make exceptions and deals.  That is Real-Politics as opposed to ideal politics. 

What I wanted to consider in my note what I did consider was the matter of whether we were best served by cutting off Realpolitik with Saddam as quickly as we did.   In case you arent familiar with Niall Ferguson, he likes to consider counterfactuals, that is, the consideration of how things might turn out if something different had happened.  One mustnt go too far astray in a counterfactual, but it wouldnt be to assume that we supported Saddam rather than opposed him.    Why did we oppose him during the Bush 1 administration?  Principle!  It was against our principles to support thugs, or support them any longer, or support them any more than we had to..

But suppose someone in the Bush 1 administration effectively argued that it was in our best interest to support this Saddam thug because not supporting him would loose the Ayatollahs little successors.   Could we make a deal with Saddam that would have kept him from going berserk?  The writer of the US News and World article didnt think so, but did Saddam have principles that he wouldnt be willing to compromise if it meant an increase in Saddams power in the Middle east?   I dont really think so.

But this matter of doing something that in retrospect makes practical sense, like assassinating Hitler in 1937, when viewed in terms of the real situation at the time ends up as an impossibility.  Yes, the world would have been better off if wed assassinated Hitler in 1937, but doing that was against our principles.  Beyond that, we (the US & Britain) had idealistically disarmed ourselves to the extent that we werent capable of aggressive preemptive military action in 1937.

By the same token, cozying up to Saddam Hussein after the Iran/Iraq war was probably impossible for us.  We disliked dealing with thugs and this thug in particular But Ill repeat the idea, the counterfactual:  What would the world be like today if we had supported Saddam Hussein rather than opposed him.  What if we let him have Kuwait and Saudi Arabia? 

Now, I hope no one is going to suggest that I am advocating that course of action, even retroactively.  The point of a counterfactual is to examine possibilities.  We have done that in regard to the assassination of Hitler in 1937 and never got beyond the theory.  Yes, theoretically the world would have been better off, but no one has created policies whereby the next Hitler will be assassinated before he engages in his Gotterdammerung.   We seem to have no alternative to living through the next Hitlers (whether Hitler with a capital Hit or a lower case hitler) actions, whatever they might be.  But what would our present world be like if Saddam, a stronger Saddam were in power in the Middle East?

Lawrence Helm

San Jacinto

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