May 26, 2009

The Great but Unacknowledged Wisdom of Doing Nothing


The U.S. ruling class, almost all of American media, and virtually all commentators across the "respectable" political spectrum regard the "right" of the United States to dictate events around the globe as an axiomatic truth, never to be challenged or questioned in even the smallest particular. This quasi-religious belief, precisely identified by William Pfaff as the "unjustified utopianism" that permits "Americans [to] think that history has an ultimate solution, and that the United States is meant to provide it," has served as the foundation for American foreign policy for over a century, and it has become imperishably engraved in our profoundly distorted national self-conception in the decades following World War II.

One of the numerous awful results of this mythologized version of history and reality is that every event is perceived through a series of distorting lenses. The latest story about North Korea provides yet another specimen for the laboratory of the study of national denial and self-flattering mythology:
President Barack Obama said on Monday that nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea were a "grave concern to all nations" and a legal violation that warranted action by the international community.

"North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security," Obama said in a statement after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test and reportedly fired a short-range missile.

The nuclear test was a major diplomatic challenge to Obama at a time when he is facing a global economic crisis and working to curb Iran's nuclear enrichment program, which the West fears is aimed at producing nuclear arms but Tehran says is for energy.

Obama vowed when he took office to extend a hand to troublesome countries "willing to unclench your fist" but so far he has had little success with North Korea or Iran, which have continued to advance their nuclear programs and showed little interest in renewed dialogue.
A person who maintains only a slender but still meaningful connection to facts might well throw up his hands at this point, wondering if there is any point at all in trying to address people who have so enthusiastically retreated into the world of make-believe.

Does no one recall what a "test" is? Or the meaning of "attempts"? And some of us have a rather different view of what "constitute[s] a threat to international peace and security." How about one of the following items?

A criminal war of aggression, followed by a criminal occupation of what will most probably be decades-long duration, which has led to a world-historical genocide, the destruction of an entire country -- a country which had never attacked or seriously threatened the aggressor nation -- and millions of refugees?

Unending threats against another nation that does not threaten the United States, and which could not seriously threaten the U.S. even if it did have nuclear weapons?

A widening war in two additional countries, neither of which represents a threat to the U.S.? In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, civilian casualties continue to rise in horrifying numbers. Except for a few voices, does anyone give a damn? Do most of the prominent voices who claimed to be "anti-war" when a Republican ordered the slaughter care now that a Democrat orders the deaths without end? No, they do not.

How about all of these items? Yes, all of them are true of the peace- and stability-loving U S of A. (And that list is hardly complete; I'll get to further instances of U.S. criminal aggression in time.) A sane person might be heard to ask that Mr. Obama and his Ministers of Death "unclench" their fists. The fist of the United States and its military is not only clenched, but that murderous fist dispenses death and destruction across the world, just as it has for over a century. If you're looking for the source of international instability, start with the United States. And for the most part, and certainly today, that's where your inquiry can end.

Our national mythology forbids recognition or even discussion of this indisputable truth. And the reaction to North Korea's latest test reveals only that our ruling class and the majority of Americans become deeply unhinged when any country, anywhere, at any time dares to thwart our supposed national "will." Why, they won't behave in precisely the manner we demand! Fury ensues:
The governing class, including the foreign policy establishment, have been convinced of the truth and rightness of this view for over 60 years. This view led us into Korea, into Vietnam, into Latin America, into the interventions of the 1990s, into Afghanistan, into numerous other interventions, and into Iraq. Hillary Clinton believes it, so does Obama, so does Bush. With only one or two exceptions, every national politician believes it.

America is God. God's Will be done.
This is the hallmark of the vicious, bloodthirsty bully. Bullying of this kind is one of the U.S.'s specialties; it is also one of the primary "virtues" we teach our children, thus ensuring that the devastation will continue into the future.

Another part of this typical reaction is hysteria, sometimes barely controlled and not infrequently screaming its guts out. I've previously described this phenomenon as the Joan Crawford School of Foreign Policy. And it sounds like this (from "Unreasoning Hysteria as the Default Position: Joan Crawford Does Foreign Policy"):
You're all trying to destroy me! You're all against me, you bastards! You broke my heart, and now you want to kill me! But I won't let you, do you hear me? I won't let you! I'm going to live, damn you, I'm going to LIVE!
In very large part, this is what passes for foreign policy "analysis" today.

I wrote about North Korea in particular in a post several years ago: "Please, Sir, May I Have Another War?" That entry began with a discussion of some gibberings from the reliably awful Andrew Sullivan. (Far too much attention is paid to Sullivan, and he receives largely unmerited praise for certain of his positions. Rejecting the barbarity of torture should not represent an achievement of note; such a rejection should be the requirement for any minimally civilized human being who wishes to discuss political matters, or anything at all. Moreover, Sullivan's specific arguments against torture are far from compelling and, in the end, they will prove almost entirely futile, issues I discussed in detail here and here. For another analysis of Sullivan's numerous deficiencies, see: "Undying Myths, and Sullivan's Lies on the Path of Penance.")

In that older post of mine about North Korea, I excerpted a valuable article by Randal Mark. Mark's argument remains fully applicable today:
In reality, North Korea, although highly militarized, is a small, impoverished, Third World dictatorship that is comprehensively outclassed, in technological and numerical terms, by the U.S. and its allies. The U.S., on the other hand, currently spends almost as much on military force as the rest of the world put together, and has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over.

There are no conceivable circumstances whatsoever in which North Korea could substantively attack the U.S., or any ally the U.S. chooses to shield, without facing its own certain, immediate, and total destruction. There is no plausible future scenario in which this situation could change.


In the meantime, however, confrontation merely confirms to the North Korean people that their government's claims of an external threat are true.


Here, then, is the simple policy solution to the "problem" of North Korea for the U.S. president: do nothing. It's also known as masterly inactivity. In due course, the nature of the North Korean regime will change, whether that change is peaceful or violent. It will probably change a lot more quickly if North Korea's economy has more wealth and wider links with the outside world, rather than being further isolated by demonization and sanctions on top of the constraints imposed by its own government. It will also help if Kim's attempts to seek nationalist legitimacy by claiming an external threat aren't regularly demonstrated true by Washington. In the meantime, North Korea isn't going to attack anybody so long as Kim knows that the result would be his own destruction.
All of this is true not only with regard to Kim, but in connection with anyone who might succeed him.

In fact, those of us who advocate nonintervention do not propose doing "nothing." We advocate diplomatic recognition, free trade and unimpeded cultural exchange, among other avenues of engagement. Such a course is much more likely to lead to those changes in other nations more conducive to a future of peace and freedom. We know what a policy of endless militarized aggression leads to: a huge number of deaths, an infinite amount of suffering, and growing instability across entire regions of the globe. If one genuinely desires peace, isn't it long past time to consider an alternative? But of course, endless confrontation and war is of inestimable benefit, financial and otherwise, to the military-industrial-congressional complex and to the ruling class generally. Until and unless that changes, nothing else will, not in any significant way.

So instead of the nauseating spectacle of the world's guiltiest aggressor nation constantly lecturing everybody else about the requirements of peace and "civilization" -- requirements that the U.S. itself has systematically disregarded for over a hundred years -- we would be well-advised to change ourselves, and to do so radically.

To put it more simply: the United States should mind its own goddamned business. If anyone actually wishes to "give peace a chance," start there. And otherwise, shut the hell up.

UPDATE: More on the United States' determined march to confrontation and possibly war, here. You can never have too many wars, not if you are the United States and its ruling class...