Check the update at the bottom.
So this is going to be even less thought out than my usual posts. Deal with it.
I’m back from the Warren Christopher lecture, and I’m seriously having trouble understanding the strength of my own reaction.
Which is flat-out anger. In the car driving down the 110, I was trying to unpack my reaction, and just let my internal editors take a break. And here’s what came out:
I wish I was religious. Then I could believe there was a hell and wish I could send people like him to it.
Which is way over the top by any reasonable measure. but I swear that’s what I was thinking. And it is so far from the midly critical intellectual critique that I walked in the door with that I’m not sure how to react to my own reaction.
And yes, I wondered if I’m just having a bad week (hint: yes, I am. A good friend is in the hospital after a horrible motorcycle crash this weekend that left the other rider – the stupid one riding far too fast on the wrong side of the road – dead, severely injured my friend and bruised and shook his lovely girlfriend. Another friend is just out of the hospital after a horrible bicycle crash that left him needing major surgery to his shoulder).
But there’s something serious here as well.
I doubt that I’ll get to the bottom of it in this post alone, and there will be a longer discussion to follow.
But here’s what pissed me off – a close paraphrase of one of Christopher’s comments:
Why didn’t the Americans attack Iran – maybe we should have. Based on Valentine’s Day thought Iranian govt would solve it. He, Vance, Carter thought keeping the hostages alive would be the priority.
Maybe if forceful action had been used Reagan wouldn’t have been President.
Not “maybe we wouldn’t be looking down the barrel of a major confrontation with state-supported Islamist radicals.” Not “maybe 9/11 wouldn’t have happened, and tens of thousands of people wouldn’t have died.” Not any number of other things involving the United States and our relations with the rest of the world. Ronald effing Reagan’s election is as bad a thing as he can imagine.
I can’t imagine a more insular view of things. And I’m terrified that one of the actual people who shaped events can’t see past the mirrored window of his political party.
A while ago I wrote this:
Which brings me to the final point, and to me the most frightening. It’s an adjunct to the first two, and simply put, it suggests that everything that happens isn’t really about the thing itself – the war in Iraq as an example – but it’s about us; how we feel about ourselves, who has political advantage, who profits and who loses in the courts of power, prestige and wealth.
I’m genuinely afraid that the ruling cohort, and those who enable it by participating in the political process, have so much lost touch with the realities that we face that they are incapable of looking at an issue like Iraq, or 9/11, or the economic straits we have spent and borrowed ourselves into as a nation except as a foothold in climbing over the person in front of them. I imagine a small table of gentlemen and -women, playing whist on a train as it heads out over a broken bridge. The game, of course matters more than anything, and the external events – they’re just an effort to distract they players from their hands.
I was being somewhat rhetorical when I wrote that. The point was serious, and I thought accurate. But tonight I just had it pushed into my face, and somehow it’s not clever any more. it’s enraging.
Secretary Christopher wore a beautiful tailored suit, and his shoes were brilliantly polished. They reflected the crowd; in my Royal Robbins khakis and Timberland nubucks I felt badly underdressed. This crowd was a locus of influence and power here in Los Angeles; a crowd that can Get Things Done.
And I left in fear that they’ve lost the notion that they are getting things done for any reason except for their advantage or the advantage of their own little club. And yes, that pisses me off. A lot.
To end on a whimsical note, the other thing it reminded me of was Terry Gilliam’s great film “Baron Munchausen.” In it, a European town is besieged by the Turkish army; the town is run by a rational leader (Horatio Jackson brilliantly played by Jonathan Pryce) who keeps entering into formal agreements with the Turks – Wednesday, the Turks may shell them without response – because having formal agreements that embody order, and rationality expressed in words are what matters:
Horatio Jackson: Ah, the officer who risked his life by singlehandedly destroying *six* enemy cannon and rescuing ten of our men help captive by The Turk.
Heroic Officer: Yes, sir.
Horatio Jackson: The officer about whom we’ve heard so much.
Heroic Officer: I suppose so, sir.
Horatio Jackson: Always taking risks far beyond the call of duty.
Heroic Officer: I only did my best, sir.
Horatio Jackson: Have him executed at once. This sort of behavior is demoralizing for the ordinary soldiers and citizens who are trying to lead normal, simple, unexceptional lives. I think things are difficult enough without these emotional people rocking the boat.
Here are my notes (via treo, and yes my thumbs were tired):
Warren Christopher 09/25/06
The crowd – judicial insiders…”I need to start getting into private judging; it’s too lucrative to miss out on”.
Talks about setting up the tribunal. Bought a building? Who paid the cost of the tribunal?
Feels Shah could have gotten care in Mexico…wishes we hadn’t let him in, but thinks that doing so was an expression of our values…
Anne Swift decided to surrender the embassy – the Marine guards couldn’t have held the Embassy.
First thing was to go to the UN…
Tried interlocutors to open line of communication.
Maybe we should have detained the Iranian diplomats. Desperate to open line of communication.
Vance & he thought that as long as the Americans were in good health force was not an option.
Reagan election – he said they’d be better deal with Carter. The Algerians said they felt that Reagan had an impact.
Impact of failed rescue mission….it had a negative effect – dispersed hostages until release. May have caused them to disperse nuke facilities today.
Thinks they may have been too focused on it. Lots of senior Administration focus on Iran.
Might have been sounder to delegate and have midlevel folks deal with it.
He got angry on Jan 19 when Iranians walked back on the signed agreement and refused to sign an annex concerning bank transfers…called his pilot to leave. _This_ made him angry…
“Don’t think we violated ‘don’t pay ransom’ but we might have come close…” (exact quote)
Soviet decision to invade Afghanistan impacted by hostage crisis?
Thinks we tempered our reaction to Sov invasion because of the hostage crisis.
Why didn’t the Americans attack Iran – maybe we should have. Based on Valentines Day thought Iranian govt would solve it. He, Vance, Carter thought keeping the hostages alive would be the priority.
Maybe if forceful action had been used Reagan wouldn’t have been President.
Update: See comments by andrewdb and m. takhallus. This is a bipartisan issue. This isn’t remotely a Democratic issue, although I hammer the Democrats about it a lot because they’re my party and I want them to change so they can win. And I push them hard on the issue of foreign policy because we need a real set of debates.
This is an issue involving all the ‘insiders’ who have forgotten why power is worth having.
I’ll emphasize a point takhallus made:
This is why some of us are so furious at the current administration. Not only are they losing, they’re setting the country up for another round of moping self-doubt. That’s dangerous for the entire world.
There is no substitute for victory. Manly chin-jutting and chest-thumping are not victory. Victory is victory. We’re not gaining a victory right now, we’re losing. Just as there’s no substitute for victory there’s no excuse for failure.