The latest recruitment brochure from the Central Intelligence Agency, which beckons the uninitiated to Âbe a part of a mission that’s larger than all of us,Â opens to reveal an image of the red-roofed entrance to Beijing’s Forbidden City. From an oversized portrait on the ancient wall, Chairman Mao and his Mona Lisa smile behold the vast granite expanse of Tiananmen Square. The Cold War is over, and the Soviet Union is gone. The cloak-and-dagger games of Berlin and Prague have been replaced by business and tourism. But ChinaÂland of ancient secrets, autocratic leaders, and memories of suppressed uprisingsÂstill holds out the promise of a world-historical struggle that can help the CIA meet its recruitment goals.
The HBO series Deadwood depicts a town on the American frontier where law is the exception rather than the rule. The inhabitants of this gold-mining town in the Dakota Territory in the 1870s rely on guns and intimidation and, if necessary, a little torture to secure their claims. Outside, in the wilderness, Indian tribes use terror to repel the intruders, though the canny leaders of Deadwood often magnify that threat to justify their own bending of the rules of civilized behavior. Meanwhile, politicians in nearby state capitols and far away Washington try to establish the rule of law in the territory. But Deadwood sees only more hands reaching for their gold and meddling in their way of life.
In his bid to appeal to a conservative base on the road to 2008, John McCain repeatedly urged last week that the United States send more troops to Iraq to get the job done. The military response to McCain’s political appeal demonstrates that military intelligence is no oxymoron.
Immediately after the 2004 elections, U.S. historian Garry Wills described the results as “the day the Enlightenment went out.” He was plainly worried about the impact of fundamentalism not only on the electorate but on Enlightenment values such as “critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.” Wills, by the way, is a Catholic and a self-described conservative (see his brilliant 1979 book Confessions of a Conservative). These credentials make his warnings about the collapsing wall between church and state—for example in this recent piece in The New York Review of Books with its lucid section on “faith-based war”—all the more persuasive.
The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change released in England last week—and named after the former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern—predicts a 20% cut in global economic activity if climate change continues unabated. Environmentalists have been arguing that global warming will eradicate species, ravage ecosystems, and lead ultimately to the “end of nature” if not the end of mankind. But those warnings were not dire enough. The shrinking of the global economy by one-fifth and the equivalent reduction in profit margins and trade revenues? Forget about polar bears and melting ice caps, this is serious business!
The Bush administration is getting a drubbing from domestic allies and adversaries alike for its policy in Iraq. Yesterday, The Washington Post declared October 2006 to be the likely tipping point as the public, the politicos, and the punditry have all concluded that U.S. military presence in Iraq is part of the problem, not part of the solution. When the election results are in next week, growing pessimism over the war’s course will likely be the least surprising October surprise of them all.
George Bush is losing some of his best global buddies. Junichiro Koizumi stepped down last month as the Japanese prime minister, just in time to leave North Korea’s nuclear test in the hands of his successor, Shinzo Abe. Tony Blair will be shortly handing over the reins of the British government to Gordon Browne. And then there are all the friends in Congress that the U.S. president may lose as a result of the upcoming mid-term elections.
Wisdom can be very powerful, but the powerful are rarely very wise. The United States is currently going down a well-worn path with its foreign policy. Previous empires have passed this way before, and their wreckage should be visible to the observant. James Fallows titled his book on the Iraq escapade Blind into Baghdad. But the Bush administration has a more global problem with its vision.
North Korea claims to have tested a nuclear weapon. Iran refuses to halt its uranium enrichment program. The non-proliferation regime teeters on the brink. Washington’s uncompromising tactics with both Tehran and Pyongyang have failed to achieve anything but the most radioactive results.
There is so little room in the American consciousness for Africa.