Monday, October 4, 2004

A Liberal View of Neoconservatism and Vice Versa

This summer, my wife and I sailed the Aegean Sea while on vacation and went to see the famous Roman ruins at Ephesus on the coast of Turkey. When we stood before a broken statue of a Roman hero with one foot on a globe, the local guide explained that from the inscription on the pedestal, we can tell that the Romans already knew the earth was round by 200 AD. Whereupon I experienced an epiphany--or as President Bush might say, Ah nearly pee’d in mah pants.

Standing on the main street of a once great Roman port, I finally appreciated the hurt inflicted on human progress by religious dogma. After Constantine converted to Christianity and became supreme emperor of the Roman Empire early in the 4th century, Christianity became the accepted religion of the realm, and the western civilization plunged into the Dark Ages. It wasn’t until Copernicus and Galileo came along in late 16th century and early 17th century did we again understand that God did not put us in the center of universe and the earth really is round.

During the interim thousand years, human kind lived in misery, forgetting or forsaking the technical advances made by civilizations that preceded them. This backsliding took place, because the all-powerful church forbade free inquiry, open discussion and any departure from religious dogma. To enforce orthodoxy, the church wielded threats of excommunication, inquisition, declaration of heresy and burning at the stake. No lines of reason were accepted except the official line from the church. With no thinking out the box, there was no innovation. Improvement in living standards crawled until the Age of Renaissance.

Today it is happening again. This time it’s not so much the organized church as the doings of the bible quoting, gun toting neoconservatives. The Rush Limbaughs, Ann Coulters, Bill O’Reillys and other fellow travelers are so glib with their sound bites that they are succeeding in convincing America that earth is again flat and Darwin is evil reincarnate for bad mouthing the ‘science’ of creationism.

Scarier still are the neoconservative zealots who have emerged inside the power infrastructure and assume senior positions inside the Bush Administration--or as Pat Buchanan says on the jacket of his latest book, they have hijacked the administration. These neocons include Dick Cheney, Vice President of the U.S., Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense and Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense. They think the United States has reached the point where we have the power to impose democracy on any other country. They think only a world of democracies can lead to peace and security. They chose Iraq as their first project.

Alas for the neocons, and for America and for the world, they have grossly miscalculated the power of “shock and awe.” While the U.S. high tech weaponry can blast the enemy to smithereens, ultimately no smart bombs can replace the soldiers needed to take control on the ground. We don’t really know if the neocons even considered the challenge of post-war occupation. It is clear that if they did plan for the occupation, they did it badly. Based on reported incidences of insurgent attacks on the so-called coalition forces over a 30-day period in September and assuming 12-hour days, I estimate that the (~ 90% American) coalition forces experienced one attack every ten minutes somewhere in Iraq--hardly the warm welcome for liberators of Iraq that the neocons have in mind. Since then the frequency of attacks has increased.

In addition to losing over 1000 American lives in Iraq, we are also winning no friends. Even the Iraqi people see no advantage to the American presence. Many are comparing the stable calm under Saddam’s oppressive regime to the daily chaotic and life threatening risks under the American administration. The Iraqi people may have trouble coming to terms with the freedom so easily conferred by President Bush—tough to celebrate liberty while ducking American bombs aimed at erasing insurgents from their midst.

The most infuriating and also most dangerous aspect of the Bush Administration is the stubborn insistence of their infallibility. Despite the increase of attacks from insurgents, the administration insists that the situation in Iraq is improving daily. Others are calling Iraq another quagmire—a word not in Bush’s vocabulary. Despite no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, no evidence of linkage between Saddam and bin Laden, and no proof of any intention of Saddam ever attacking the U.S.—as if he really has the wherewithal—the Bush team just continues to parade the same already discredited flimsy data and repeats the bald faced assertions, as if false assumptions can become fact through repetition. They can’t admit they have been wrong and they have no solution for getting out of the mess. They don’t seem to understand that if the U.S. can bog down in a country of twenty some million, then surely the neoconservative doctrine of hegemony begs for revision.

The administration has even justified their preemptive action as a way of preventing all the evil deeds that Saddam might have been contemplating. The implication of this new doctrine to preemption has to be chilling to other nations. How do they know the mighty United States won’t someday decide that they are next on the list of possible evil doers?

President Bush likes to proclaim that it is his solemn duty to protect America and ensure its safety. He has done so by not taking Osama bin Laden seriously before and after 9-11 and let him get away. Instead he has created many more enemies in the Moslem world with the continued American presence in Iraq. It’s hard to see how he expects to make friends with the images of atrocities of Abu Ghraib and indefinite incarceration of captives of uncertain offenses in Guantanamo. His administration has the arrogance not to see the need to apologize or explain their actions. Periodically, the Homeland Security Department heightens the color alert which we later find out is based on stale intelligence gathered years ago. Somehow, I don’t find any of this reassuring.

I am writing this before the November election, therefore with some trepidation. If Bush is defeated then I can boldly proclaim that his presidency has been, hands down, the worst disaster in the history of United States. The course he set forth, if not corrected, will surely lead the United States to irretrievable ruin. After all how many Iraq’s can the U.S. engaged in before the treasury is emptied and dollar rendered worthless?

President Bush has repeatedly placed ideology above other considerations and acted impervious to facts, data or analysis. Paul O’Neill, who served as his first Secretary of Treasury, concluded about Bush thus, “Ideology is a lot easier, because you don’t have to know anything or search for anything. You already know the answer to everything. It’s not penetrable by facts. It’s absolutism.” The problem with this approach is, of course, tax cuts proceeds despite huge budget deficit and drilling for oil despite putting fragile ecosystem at risk. In pursuing his ideology, Bush seemed oblivious to the host of problems he will leave behind for future generations.

Alarm over the harm Bush is wreaking on America is not just coming from the left. Pat Buchanan, dean of Reagan conservatism, has just published a book, Where the Right Went Wrong, blasting the “hijacking” of the presidency by the neoconservatives. John Eisenhower, son of former President Dwight Eisenhower and lifelong Republican, has resigned from the party and openly declared for John Kerry. Ron Reagan, son of former president, spoke at the Democratic convention decrying Bush’s dogmatic opposition to stem cell research. For these men to breakaway, they must be responding to schism of runaway proportions.

With such erosion of his base of support, it is difficult to imagine what sort of last minute Karl Rovian ruse could be staged to keep him in office. Nonetheless, I believe trepidation for my personal well being is justified if Bush is re-elected. As his attorney general, John Ashcroft has shown over again his disdain for the niceties of civil liberties. To arrest and hold anyone, Ashcroft simply needs to declare the person an enemy combatant and all due process can be suspended. At last count, he has detained and incarcerated some 5000 and after three years has convicted exactly zero among them. While no combatant, I am certainly an enemy of the ideologues in the Bush administration.

All my life I considered myself (gasp) a liberal, and I am proud to be true to my own standard. I have never looked up the conventional definition for a liberal. I personally define a liberal as a progressive thinker open to new ideas with the ability to see many sides to an issue. A liberal values human dignity and bleeds from the heart for the less fortunate. A liberal has no patience with hypocrisy, whether it is someone espousing self-congratulatory righteousness in public while popping pills in private, preaching abstinence in public while molesting young boys in private or appearing as a do-gooder in public while stealing the public blind. A liberal like me thinks of Bush’s “compassionate conservative” as contradiction in terms that can’t deceive even the town moron.

The neocons in the media, the aforementioned Limbaugh et al., have been successful in rendering “liberal” into a dirty word. Turn about is fair play. I define neoconpoop as a neoconservative nincompoop, someone so imbued with dogma that he/she is immune to other people’s ideas, unable to change even when dictated by circumstances or when their doctrine is leading to disaster. And neoconpoopism is simply the unholy discharge from a neoconpoop, a stream of repetitious mantra emanating with predictable regularity until they either become accepted wisdom or until doomsday, whichever comes first.