Listen to me, because I am right. Were we to sit down face to face and discuss a variety of issues, you could probably argue me down in a heart-beat, because I have a tendency to get very emotional and lose my clarity of thought. But I am right. I have always been right. I recall arguments with a number of people in 1989 who wanted to somehow intervene to prevent the unification of Germany in the wake of the Soviet collapse. You can’t, I told them. And I was right.
I remember horrible arguments with fellow grad students at Brown who felt that our 1991 intervention in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was a good thing. No, I said: it won’t be done humanely or intelligently and at one point I recall trying to bring people to their senses by noting that “This will be the beginning of great trouble for the Athenians” among people who should have known better. The quote comes from Thucydides, and its context is simple: As the Spartans and the Athenians came to blows in a great war starting in 431 BC, the Athenians were overconfident of success – well, they had had so many successes before, how could this possibly be different? But it was, and what ensued was a 27 year civil war among the Greek city states that ended with the collapse of Athenian power. Did I think the war would result in American collapse? No (although when we look back in hindsight someday, we may see it as the beginning of the end). What I believed, what I still believe, is in the wisdom of the Spartan king, Archidamas, who at the congress of Corinth in 432 BC pointed out two essential facts: once you go to war, you do not control events. The unforeseen takes over. And two: you do not control the outcome. Occupying the Arabian peninsula with a standing army was prima facie a bad idea. Ten years later came 9/11. Why? Occupation of the Holy Land was a key reason, and it didn’t hurt that we supported unpopular governments throughout the Maghreb and the Near East (and beyond). Meanwhile, we assisted Israel in furthering their Apartheid against Palestine and the Palestinians.
Then came our response in 2002-2003. By admission, at first I was taken in, particularly by Colin Powell, a figure I had trusted, mistakenly as it turns out; but when push came to shove, in the end, I thought no, just no (and I told my students as much). This will not end well; and if you need further argument or evidence for this, then you may as well just stop reading here. The aggressive, illegal invasion of Iraq was a supreme crime that led to all the other crimes and disasters of that war, from torture to (now) the destruction of Palmyra and the horrific execution of some of its citizens among its very ruins.
Next came the farm. A substantial number of reasons went into the life change my wife and I made that led to my giving up tenure at the University of Maryland to start a farm back in my home state of Oregon. One of those I have rarely shared, and yet, I believe, it was my most prescient. As the Bush years advanced I sensed a creeping miasma on the land – a creeping that I will discuss in a future post. You could feel it like a poisonous mist, seeping out of the radio and television; people were becoming, increasingly, not quite right. A resurgent racism. An irrational hatred of government. The Balkanization of media and opinion. Rejection of the very intelligentsia that had made life good and livable for all of us. A convenient scape-goating by those who had no reason for hate or fear. The attack on voting rights. The embrace of environmental degradation and the collective collapse of any political will to address the existential threat of climate change. Our people, I came to believe, had become self indulgent and explosive, in their hate, with no good reason for it. I lost faith in the stability of the republic. We wanted to go to a place where we could duck our heads as best we could if the shit flies.
And today, here we stand. The GOP has only won the popular vote twice for the presidency since 1988. The Senate’s Democrats received four and a half million votes more than the GOP last week yet they control it. Riots. Anger. Occupy protests. A social safety net about to be dismembered. Conservatives are supposed to be for stability, and apparently do not understand that to unravel this – just as to unravel our alliances – will create a great deal of instability, social unrest, and most of all, untold suffering. They believe that to be mean, to be cruel, is some how a show of strength. Let me assure you that it is not – it is self-indulgent cowardice.
As Lincoln noted over a century ago, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.
My current predictions?
First, and ye gods I hope I am wrong: I see civil strife – serious civil strife – looming. Maybe a brief breakup of the union. California succeeds, say. And no, I do not say that because I hope for it or wish for it; but something like it is simply is coming, like a train, and the left cannot win it. Cannot win it because the military and intelligence agencies are packed, for the most part, with those of a temperament that embraces a regimented and authoritarian Weltanschauung.
Second, climate change is really starting to kick in; historians of the Syrian civil war see it, not as a cause, but as a “stressor”, that is, a factor that may have been the tipping point in contributing to the conflict. Failure of the Russian wheat harvest drove up the price of bread throughout Syria, Egypt, and beyond. A prolonged drought in Syria had put added pressure on farmers in the region. It contributed to the powder keg that exploded in the form of the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria. All it will take are two regional enemies with nuclear arms, say Pakistan and India, to run out of water; the Himilayas are a main source of water for both, and the source is running dry. A simple miscalculation, and the denoument is nuclear conflict in our biosphere that is sure to draw other powers in, and even if it doesn’t, the human catastrophe between the actual use of such weapons and the attendant fallout will be breath-taking.
Third, the wild card. We have entered a dark room with this election. No one knows what will happen, or how it will end. It introduces a level of Chaos that is, to put it mildly, befuddling.
Let me end this post with a simple hope: I hope that I am wrong this time around.