Wednesday, December 30, 2009

War: a laughing matter

Religion and politics are not recommended topics of discussion at the American dinner table. The aerial bombardment of innocent foreigners to be followed, perhaps, by the invasion and occupation of their land, on the other hand, is a matter of casual debate, water cooler talk, just another policy option to elite opinion makers, the prospect bandied about in newspapers and on TV with a solemnity usually reserved for the latest Yankees trade rumor. Even the arguments for war are trodded out with as much conviction and moral suasion as an ad for Ovaltine or a Medicare-qualifying motorized scooter, with former Democratic staffer, humanitarian interventionist and head of a fancy-sounding university “non-proliferation” center Alan Kuperman offering in The New York Times the marvelously weak case for war with Iran on the basis that, hey, it could work at disabling their supposed nuclear weapons program -- actually citing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to demonstrate the effectiveness of U.S. military action -- so, uh, why the hell no give it a go? All we have to lose are a few thousand dead Iranians.

The idea of killing innocent foreigners is also always good for a laugh. Even prior to 9/11, The Day Everything Changed, I recall a girl at my high school donning an uproarious “Nuke Iraq: Just Do It” t-shirt parodying the Nike slogan, an hilarious call for the nuclear annihilation of a people thousands of miles away who had never done the U.S. any harm worn as proudly on her chest as a teenager in a non-psychopathic country might wear a shirt displaying an allegiance to some popular band, perhaps. While the genocidal humor may be forgiven as the antics of an unthinking adolescent not considering its implications -- and I for one am willing to absolve one from much of the blame for views expressed under the influence of a Pennsylvania public school -- some children never grow up, peddling their juvenile interpretation of the world and morning shock jock approach to foreign affairs into gigs as highly paid political advisers and commentators.

The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb, a former campaign spokesman for John McCain, is one such particularly bloodthirsty and brutishly dumb example of the perpetual adolescent approach to foreign affairs, suggesting in a blog post today -- in a line he later thought better off -- that President Obama maybe ought to declare war on Japan if newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama remains in office, or something. You see, “Hatoyama is proving to be a major problem,” Goldfarb writes, pointing to bipartisan agreement on that score (hardly a selling point, I'd think). The source of the friction? Hatoyama’s desire to reassert Japan’s independence from the U.S. and transition it away from its current client-state status, manifested in the new prime minister’s interest in possibly removing American forces from their base in Okinawa rather than relocating them on the island, and his rather well-supported assertion that the U.S.-led war in Iraq has been a failure, a statement apparently beyond the pale ever since Obama himself embraced the surge.

Though the whole problem might be resolved should scandal bring down his government, “if Hatoyama does stay in place and continue on this course, well, perhaps Obama can look to FDR for inspiration in how to deal with troublesome Japanese leaders,” Goldfarb wrote, a line since disappeared from The Weekly Standard blog but still viewable on Google News and other sites. FDR, of course, faced with a very different and expansionist Japan, imposed an oil embargo against the import-dependent country in the months preceding Pearl Harbor. After the attack, he declared war on Japan -- all measures Goldfarb implies the U.S. government should apply to modern Japan because its new leader appears unwilling to act as the editors of The Weekly Standard and The Washington Post would like: as the governor of a de facto overseas American protectorate, a Guam with cooler gadgets. Question that setup and Goldfarb's first instinct is to call in the 101st Airborne.

The scary thing? Goldfarb's rants are merely less refined variations on the concerns of much of the foreign policy establishment, as evidenced by this Post article detailing anonymous "concerns" regarding Japan's new leader on the part of U.S. officials and allies -- the official leaks offering cataclysmic predictions for the security of Asia as a result of the new Japanese government's rather overdue steps towards asserting greater sovereignty over its affairs. Be comforted in the knowledge that no one in the U.S. government is seriously contemplating war with Japan, though: as FDR demonstrated, it doesn't have any oil. Now Yemen, on the other hand . . .*

[*Yemen is actually rapidly running out of oil. Neighboring U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing parts of Yemen in recent months, still has a rather lot.]

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