January 26, 2005

impressionist pantings

If one stands closely to a Pissaro or Monet, it is often difficult to discern whether one is looking at a water lily, bridge or parasol. The individual brush strokes are bold and coarse; the subject resolves more clearly as one moves farther away. Up until the impressionist school changed Western art forever, realism was the order of the day.

The Bush administration foreign policy is radical in much the same way as was impressionism.

Looking at the brush strokes of the administration’s foreign policy endeavors, it is impossible to grasp the whole. It is often tempting to consider the elements independently and assess hubris or incompetence as being representative. But statements by this administration have trickled out over the last few days that are giving us more perspective and we can more confidently conclude what has been and continues to be the subject of 43’s magnum opus.

Unlike approaching a Van Gogh, however, let us first consider some of the details. Anyone who today doubts that Syria and Iran are directly in the crosshairs of the Bush doctrine scope were not paying close attention during the prelude to the war in Iraq. The casually dropped comments by senior officials and leaked words of senior advisors are more than just a little bit reminiscent of the early rumblings about Iraq. The tempo of events is already picking up speed.

If you care to listen, recent history is speaking to us and to the world with a roar that is as deafening as the administration’s feigned concern is shrill. In the media you can already hear the daily breathless panting of the officially distressed .

There is one significant difference: this time there are real weapons of mass destruction.

To point it out may in part be to say “I told you so”, but that it did not have to be this way is still so. The rapidly growing threat of Iran and North Korea were news well before we invaded Iraq. This Curmudgeon was advocating then the need for an aggressive policy to contain these real risks. Instead, we tilted at windmills while the real “giants” went unopposed in any meaningful way. Indeed, there is little doubt that the contrast of the alarmingly speedy regime change in Iraq with the more circumspect treatment of North Korea, which at that time already possessed nuclear weapons, gave new urgency to the need for WMDs for the very despots 43 would seek to depose. Like other humans, despots are rational actors.

Here on the other side of the chasm which is the Bush Doctrine, our options to deal with despots are increasingly limited. In the immediate post 9-11 groundswell of support, it might well have been possible to garner Western support for and perhaps even assistance in mounting targeted military strikes aimed at weapons of mass destruction infrastructure. What a shame that we forfeited the tactical advantage in favor of an attempt at strategic hegemony: given the capabilities of modern weapons and delivery systems there will often be little to gain militarily by taking and holding territory when weapons of mass destruction are at issue.

The great irony here is that preemption in the cause of nuclear and biological weapon containment can be easily defended. Indeed, I have done so in the past when I proposed a legal framework based on the International Law doctrine of Universal Jurisdiction as support for asserting United States jurisdiction over certain criminals in foreign territories. It is clear that it is the whole nation building and cultural export agenda of this presidential administration which calls our sensibilities into question. A botched invasion plan that left Iraqi lives shattered and Iraqi oil wells in production calls our motives into question as well.

But All the President’s Men do not seem to be questioning anything regarding the pursuit of the neo-con vision of a New World Order and it is looking increasingly unlikely that work on rebuilding old bridges will begin before the demolition of yet others. I fear that 43 will be entirely comfortable assembling another “coalition of the willing” which next time will likely consist of the United States and the Grand Duchy of Outer Kumquat.

The apparent lack of concern over the disintegration of the Western Alliance is clear evidence of a desire by the neo-cons for the United States to trod a new path and to do so essentially alone. I suspect 43’s upcoming trip to Europe will unveil a few more bold brushstrokes as a weak attempt is made to reassert American leadership in the face of the growing power of the European Union.

My sense, however, is that Europe is now set on a new path and understands that its’ future interests will often diverge from those of the United States. They understand that American leadership is not painting the natural scenes of the impressionists, but rather the egocentric themes of the expressionist school. Expressions of introspection rather than impressions of observation. Expressions of empire; not impressions of commonwealth.

The bold brush strokes thus have become more coherent and the imperious motives can be seen to unify the whole. Europe sees clearly that this “great work” is in fact a self-portrait.

One can only hope that old-fashioned realism will creep back into the technical repertoire of the foreign policy artists in the White House. One can hope that these students of the great masters will step back from their dabbling in radical expressions because while radical thought is to be lauded in the arts, it is to be mightily feared in the affairs of nations.

In this arena, where lives and livelihood hang in the balance, radical thought is the stuff of Armageddon.


Blogger Common Good said...

"Indeed, there is little doubt that the contrast of the alarmingly speedy regime change in Iraq with the more circumspect treatment of North Korea, which at that time already possessed nuclear weapons, gave new urgency to the need for WMDs for the very despots 43 would seek to depose. Like other humans, despots are rational actors."

Exactly. Iraq didn't represent a game of chicken for the Mullahs of Iran or midget Elvis in N. Korea... it represented a need to add night shifts to the WMD production line. Think about it... what if some nation came and told the US what weapons they could have. Can you imagine?

So let's see... major jihad amway movement fueled by Iraq, and got the crazies with the WMDs thinking they are the next Iraq. Our madman in the White House is going to get us killed. To be fair, he may just make it happen faster... it wasn't exactly looking good before neo-con fantasy island.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Brackenator said...

After such a statement you wonder if 43 is suffering from split personality and one is waiting for the sanity of Alejadro Quixana to his Don Quixote. BTW, this year is the celebration of the 400th year of that book. At then the protagonist, Don Quixote proclaims "..are we all not men of La Mancha?" or rather, are we all not searching for an ideal that doesn't exist in reality, since La Mancha was a fictional province in Spain.

In terms of 43, one can truly appreciate the comparison. Is he searching for something that exists, or is he on an existential safari? Either way his foreign policy reeks of a brontosaurus in a tiny china shop. Though the administration may feel it is hiding behind clever diplomacy, we inch towards a global police disregarding all else except our own interests. One could argue that position already existed and that the US is the right one for the job. At least in the past, we truly pretended to give a damn what other countries thought. Hence the china shop analysis earlier.

I am not questioning the sanity of 43, just the steps, and the order he has taken those steps.



12:25 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


Truthfully, I wasn’t attempting to take the Don Quixote thing too far because ultimately I do believe that Shrub and his minions are deliberate and rational actors. And that is what makes these folks so scary. But as a rhetorical devices go, Cervantes is always a good tool. Since it is the anniversary perhaps I should re-read it. I do remember now how much I enjoyed it.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"Either way his foreign policy reeks of a brontosaurus in a tiny china shop."

LOL. I can't believe Curm didn't compliment you on that line. Outstanding. :)

I heard one today... but I won't tell you who said it because it may ruin the line for you.

"Genetics is the mother of all pre-existing conditions".

4:06 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


For the record, I have no mission statement here at the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon. My mission is certainly not to take aim at the current occupant of the oval office: he is just the one in the hot-seat now. I was equally virulent against the previous occupants.

That said, I think people view me as virulent against this particular President because I don’t hesitate to directly attack his phony “Christian” agenda. I think that gets viewed as personal, but it is not. I don’t know the man except through his actions. It is his actions I gauge and nothing more.


Great posts Saurav and CG. I disagree on some points, but enjoyed it greatly. I think it is a great tragedy that we have done so very little to actually combat terrorism. Seems like securing the borders should be job one. I may be blogging on this subject soon...I received an interesting email from a lurking Disenfranchised Curmudgeon reader that may provoke some good discussion on this point. Regardless, it is pretty clear that if you want to protect Americans, you start by controlling the people and materials crossing our borders. It is equally clear we have the technology and resources to do that if we simply would. I think the failures of the past three or four administrations on this very point are acts of omission that approach treason.


I would like to take a second to blog-slap you on your civil liberties rant. We have had these arguments so many times that I don’t think it would be that productive to go into depth. Simply put, if you think that giving ground on civil liberties will somehow make us safer, you are off your rocker. The discussion on borders proves this conclusively: they already have that power and they don’t bother to use it even when it is vitally important that they do so. So you would give up more power to an entity that has proven its inability to act on the powers it has? I know you aren’t arguing against civil liberties per se, but from a practical standpoint, I don’t see how you can possibly have any confidence that our giving can produce any good result.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


"I know you aren’t arguing against civil liberties per se, but from a practical standpoint, I don’t see how you can possibly have any confidence that our giving can produce any good result."

Well... you are mixing two issues 1) are our elected types too inept to protect us no matter what we do on the civil liberty front 2) if you give folks like the CIA more abilities... like more liberal data mining of public information like email or even the "passionate" library book issue... would the CIA catch more bad guys.

per #1... I don't have much faith in the elected types. They aren't the ones that save our butts... it's #2.. CIA and FBI and all of those orgs we probably don't even know about. :) You called me off my rocker... let's check your rocker right here in Curmland public. Do you think the FBI has an equal chance of catching terrorists in our country whether or not they have liberal data mining latitude or not? It's a valid debate whether that is a civil liberty we should give up or not... but you are off your rocker if you are denying that the FBI or CIA could catch more bad guys without requiring a warrant for all public data mining activity. At least admit the CIA/FBI would catch more bad guys or you are going to look foolish.

And yes, if the FBI caught more dirty bombers I would feel safer. And yes... if it was a choice between someone reading my emails and losing a city (unless it was in Texas :)... then for crying out loud read my emails. They are not any worse then these blogs... although sometimes there are some "adult" attachments. :)

5:48 PM  
Blogger Tom Grey said...

There are basically two types of government.
By honest, free speech Democracy.
Or by Death Squad.

Bush is choosing to push for democracy. I say great.

Critics who complain refuse to be honest that their opposition to Bush IS, in fact, opposition to democracy in Afghanistan, or Iraq. They set up a strawman and oppose that -- not the "real" Bush (of his actions).

Or they complain he's not really doin enough! Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Syria -- China!!! Is the US going to attack them all??? If not, isn't W. a liar?
No; he said the USA will support democracy. That's the right goal. And attacking, at times, MIGHT be ther right action, but it doesn't make not attacking everywhere the wrong action. It's dishonest to say Bush is bad for doing some good in one place, but not yet more good somewhere else. (It's also hypocritical if you also opposed the good action he took, while calling him bad for not doing more of that opposed good action.)

If Bush decides to attack Syria, OR Iran, or Sudan, next, I'll continue to support him. No dictatorship is fully legitimate, they are all gov'ts of Death Squads. Even China's gov't -- though China's too big to be attacked, unless they attack first.

And if he doesn't attack, but puts other pressure -- I'll support that, too. And if his Halliburton buddies get sweet deals, I'll oppose those deals. And oppose the secrecy -- and call for more honest transparency. In the US.

And in the UN.

(First visit from a Republican libertarian paternalist in Slovakia)

6:21 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

I refuse to believe Bush had to alienate the entire world in our fight against terrorism. Post-Iraq invasion has been one blunder after another, and left the US with no good options.

Thomas Friedman suggests that Bush should take a trip to Europe and just listen... don't even think about giving a speech... just listen.

Bush has half of the US and the rest of the world against him. Is it possible all of his critics are wrong? Even if all of his critics are wrong, isn't it still a major problem?

6:32 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


Well, I suppose you will call me foolish, but that isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called. I do not believe that public data-mining is an automatic win for law enforcement. I certainly do believe that at times open-ended data-mining will produce results. These types of techniques are tried and true. We could hire a bunch of unemployed former KGB employees and do a bang up job I’m sure.

More importantly, however, I think such things potentially can cause law enforcement to focus on things like data-mining when the effort put into conventional law enforcement would ultimately be more productive. Not only that, I think with an improved speedy warrant regimen, that such “data” could be obtained just as easily. The only thing I seek is to not allow fishing and the inventory of personal information with out regard to reasonable suspicion.

So, I guess my answer back to you as to whether it would help law enforcement is an unqualified “maybe”. :-D Not only would I balance those interests differently than you by giving a great amount of weight to civil liberties, I would also give less weight to the purported benefits of these Gestapo tactics. Only at extreme ends to these police state tactics become effective.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


Welcome to the fray! I hope you will continue to join us: I think our little wars are fun here at the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon.

I just wanted to clarify one thing about my personal position on exporting democracy. It will probably surprise some to know that I am not opposed to engaging in military endeavors for the purpose of establishing Democratic governments. I said before we invaded Iraq that I totally could get behind an effort to liberate Iraq. My problem from the beginning has been that mountain of lies that this administration has told in an effort to get the American people to go along.

This is important because it affect planning and public expectations about why their children are dying. We did not plan a war of liberation, and we are reaping the consequences of those lies. A war of liberation would have looked much different. The US Military would not have stood by and watched the looting. Adequate security would have helped insure that the electricity and water would’ve been restored rapidly.

I could go on extensively with this point, but what I want to convey is that I am not opposed to the abstract notion that there are times we should act for no other reason than the needs of our fellow man demand that we act. Liberty is worth dying for. Some neo-con view of a New World Order defined by American hegemony is not.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Seems to me the Manhattan Project was our creation, and decades later a result is the US trying to justify "democracy crusade" wars. You can't even pass the laugh test of saying "we have the right to decide the government for other nations and their citizens" unless you throw in the smoking cloud scenario.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...


You must be confused about the term data-mining. Data-mining means mining for information you don't already know about or even suspect (i.e. no warrants involved because you don't know what you are looking for).

Arguing what the laws and civil liberty protections should be and why we accept missing some of the bad guys is wise... arguing that law enforcement wouldn't find more bad guys by using data-mining is foolish. It really puts into question your grounding in reality and the merits of your blogs. (that was good even for me :)

10:48 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


There ya go. Called me foolish. Does that make you feel better? That’s good: I’m a full service blog host. I want everybody here to feel good even if at my expense. Oh, and, um, thanks for explaining data mining to me.

I will steadfastly stick to my guns on this one. I think the whole data-mining thing is a cheap approach that takes the eye off of real law-enforcement. Would data-mining at times help to uncover individuals involved in terrorism? Undoubtedly. Will the net improvement be worth the expense of missed opportunity? Not a chance. Add to it the extraordinary cost to our civil liberties and it is a no-brainer to pronounce this foolishness as brain-dead on arrival.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"Would data-mining at times help to uncover individuals involved in terrorism? Undoubtedly. Will the net improvement be worth the expense of missed opportunity? Not a chance."

What missed opportunity? I missed the missed opportunity. :)

Tom Clancy has already told us this is going on in his book "The Teeth of the Tiger". It's taking place in a building in West Odenton, Maryland. It's sits on a direct line of sight between the CIA and the NSA. You don't doubt Clancy's sources, do you? :)

3:23 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

As I said before, we tilted at windmills while serious trouble was brewing elsewhere. Check out the very real threat of Iranian missiles and Iranian nuclear weapons.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

The war drums are beating louder yet already.

5:07 PM  

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