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.