Monday, October 27, 2008

Liberal fears in 2002 that Bush intended to dominate the world

I was looking through my archives to see when it was I voiced the opinion that the Democratic successor to Bush would (I hoped) have to follow his foreign policies, a view presented in the recently published, After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy. I didn’t find that note of mine but ran across the following bizarre note in response to a Liberal belief (in October 2002) that Bush intended to dominate the world. Phil-Lit was a discussion group, now defunct, I belonged to for several years. It is useful, I believe, to occasionally go back and check earlier opinions to find out if one were right or wrong. I wonder if Liberals ever do that. What follows is my note from October 2002:

“I confess to not having followed the Phil-Lit goings-on very closely in recent weeks, but I did catch the recent Phil-Lit innovative the accusation that Bush is seeking to dominate the world -- quite a remarkable accomplishment, intellectually speaking. Although I doubt that anyone can produce a plausible scenario that would accomplish this hypothetical domination.

“In the real-world, of course, such domination is an absurdity, quite impossible unless one were to define domination in such a way as to not dominate anyone, or at least not dominate them in the sense of the word that my dictionary provides, i.e., ‘to rule or control by superior power or influence.’ How one could get any domination out of the Bush-administration’s pussy-footing about with the UN and Congress is quite a feat. Since Hitler was invoked as a comparison, another absurdity by the way (what panic is causing this current predilection for absurd comparisons and impossible hyperboles?), consider what Hitler would have done in an equivalent situation (not that he dominated the world, but he was, to be sure, bent upon dominating a good part of it): He would have blitzkrieged through Iraq some months ago and then given the people a rousing speech about how he had saved the Fatherland.

“By contrast, we have no dominant political leader with desires to dominate the world. What we have is quite a small thing by comparison. We were outrageously attacked, and our people expect the current administration to do something about it. The administration decided that the US would fight against those who had declared war upon it -- not an unreasonable reaction, and quite the furthest thing from an attempt to dominate others. A much better case could be made for its being an attempt to avoid domination by a set of warlike groups who have declared war upon us and have threatened to defeat us, and, further, have carried their threats into actions against us.

“The first battle was completed in Afghanistan. Two groups, the Taliban and the Al Quaeda, were defeated, and while Al Quaeda has cells throughout the world, we have at least given them a set-back. They haven’t been utterly destroyed, but they suffered a defeat. But what should we do next? There were quite a number of people who felt that we had done enough -- a little tit for tat and be done with it. The current administration, however, does not feel comfortable that threats against the US have been eliminated. Yes, we have in earlier times launched cruise missiles into nations that have offended us, but the effectiveness of that approach has not been demonstrated. Thus, step two, in the war against those who have declared war upon us, is (for reasons enumerated elsewhere) to deal with Iraq.

“There is to be no surprise attack, no blitzkrieg rushing across the sands toward Baghdad. There has instead been an investigation, and a building of a case similar to what might occur in a trial. The evidence has been accumulated and presented to the UN and to congress. The administration is asking for the support of congress in this second step. There is every indication that it has judged the mood of the country correctly. It is not satisfied that the efforts in Afghanistan and against Al Quaida are enough. It is aware of what is being said about us in many places in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein shakes his fist at us and fires his Moisin Nagent into the air. Is he a harmless blustering buffoon? Or ought he to be taken seriously? Quite a number of people wanted to see the evidence, wanted to hear the argument for doing something about Hussein. Well, we have seen the evidence and heard the arguments. There are those who think we should live with the threat Saddam Hussein represents, but we (most of us) can understand (after thinking it over) why the administration would want to do something about him as a continuation of the reaction against the attack against us that emanated from the Middle East.

There are those on Phil-Lit who think the current administration’s actions portend "World Domination." It is too bad that no one in Phil-Lit is especially interested in hermeneutics. Parallels to this sort of reading of Bush’s texts are to be found in Harold Bloom’s The Map of Misreading for example. Reading such hermeneuticists as Hans Georg Gadamer, Hayden White, and R. G. Collingwood, might induce a bit of caution in our reading of those we disagree with. To take the worst possible construction isn’t to get the real truth out of the text; it is to expose our own presuppositions. To accuse Bush of planning World Domination doesn’t tell us much about Bush, for only the most resolute misreading could get such a plan from the texts of his speeches, but it does tell us quite a lot about those who would advance such an accusation.

Lawrence Helm

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