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Thursday, January 27, 2005


sharansky's panacea

mclaughlin is about the only political talk show i can stomach anymore, in the era of vitriolic name-spitting. and the vivisection of the bush speech by all the regular panelists -- even conservative columnist tony blankley -- is instructive.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I'm unfortunately in difficult company today, because I share ... much of Pat [Buchanan]'s view. Look, I buy in and I've bought in to the president's view that in the Middle East that the governments there are so dysfunctional that it's a breeding ground for terrorism, and it's realistically in our interest to try to transform that. And I continue to think that that's the most plausible policy.

If that was all he had said in the speech, I would be a strong endorser of it. But he's taken it a big step further in talking about any tyranny, any non-democratic government anywhere is now going to be our responsibility to engage, not necessarily militarily, but to engage. And I think that's utopian. It's unsustainable. There are plenty of authoritarian governments that are not a threat to us. There are some that are. We've got a big enough job focusing on the governments that are creating danger to us in the Middle East and other -- perhaps in parts of Indonesia and other places. To now expand it to the planet is simply unsustainable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did it hold --

MR. BLANKLEY: And I think he's going to have to, in the coming months, focus down the application of these nice principles to a more realistic zone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did it hold your attention?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, it held my attention. (Laughter.) It was an effective speech. I mean, my jaw had dropped, so I noticed that.
the pattern of actual conservatives and heretofore reflexive defenders of the imperial presidency now slowly backing away in light of an extremely frightening, nihilistic speech is heartening, even if it comes too late in the game.

but a subsequent dialogue, which focuses so clearly on bush's intellectual immaturity, is what i found most interesting:

MR. BLANKLEY: You know what's interesting is he read the book by Natan Sharansky.


MR. BLANKLEY: Sharansky had been in a Soviet gulag.


MR. BLANKLEY: He's told the story to a lot of people -- I've heard the story -- that he sat in the gulag hearing Reagan's words. That inspired him. I think clearly that Bush was inspired by Sharansky's statement, because they've met and he's read Sharansky's book. When we met with the president, one of the first things we said is, "Have you read Sharansky's book?"

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You'd better tell us the central proposition of Sharansky's book. Or would you like me to do that?

MR. BLANKLEY: You go ahead.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The central proposition is that democracy is available and sought after by everyone, including Iraq. They really want democracy. And in Russia, notwithstanding the fact that we tend to believe that they want a benign autocrat there, the people do -- no, they want democracy.

MR. BUCHANAN: More important, it is the panacea.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is a panacea.

MR. BUCHANAN: "This is the road to world peace. This is what mankind has been seeking. We have the answer. And if we pursue this road, we will get to it."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there is no substitute for it -- no substitute.

MS. CLIFT: He's basically saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Any other government -- the implicit suggestion is no other form of government will do.

MS. CLIFT: He's basically saying the war on terror can only be won if we can spread democracy...
it's disturbing enough that neoconservative hero-cultism surrounding ronald reagan runs so deeply. but more profoundly, the idea that bush can be handed a book by a neoconservative and extrapolate from a musing on a "beautiful moment" a justification for conquering the planet bespeaks an jarringly childlike naivete in the leader of the world's most intimidating armies.

the speech was, as was mentioned later in the conversation, inherently "messianic". bush and the neoconservatives -- if any credence is to be put into their words at all, and i think we must do so -- really view the destiny of america on a romantic, even mystic level as a force for terrible destruction which can clear the path for a utopian age of Freedom.

i can't help but think that context makes bush's second inaugural speech quite possibly the most frightening address by the leader of a western state since the end of the cold war, and possible long prior to that. i would be no less shocked if he had called for liebensraum.

UPDATE: the economist has also printed a piece on bush's "intellectual love affair" with sharansky.

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