Tuesday, June 25, 2013

800 Words: 30 Mini Essays (1-3)

1. Evan Tucker’s Handy-Dandy Guide for How to Prematurely Age: The good news is that I’m the only person I know in my early 30’s who looks almost exactly as young as I did when I graduated college. The bad news is that I already looked at least 40. In my life, it was all too easy to age prematurely. When you combine a long dark history of depression and anxiety with far too large an appetite for food, and then add a college predilection for booze and cigarettes and a hatred of exercise, you’re already far older than most people your age. But when you add to this the verifiable fact that no child ever spent as much time in the company of the elderly as I, you have a kid who could easily be mistaken for the father of his college roommate. When I was a child, my father co-owned and ran a nursing home with his father, who was himself older than most of his patients, and I was there at least once a week. Half of every weekend would be spent at my grandparents house, with the other half often spent going to classical concerts with my Bubbie and her friends. Was there any child in my generation who had more occasion to copy the mannerisms, the habits, and the attitudes of my grandparents’ generation? It was with them that I developed my tastes for old music, old movies, old books, old languages, delicatessen, and elastic waists.

2. If Only We’d Have Listened to President Wilson Part 2 - In recent decades, it has been all too common to defecate all over the reputation of Woodrow Wilson. Yes, Wilson’s presidency must be counted a failure relative to what the world needed - but nevertheless, he was nothing less than a truly great president whose policies gave the world ten years of respite until the Great Depression and a Second World War, and the one sane leader in a world gone mad. Woodrow Wilson did the very best he could in an impossible situation. The age of Great Power Monarchy was over, and no one could put it back together without incurring what would then have been a second world war. Marxist Communism and liberal rule of law were clearly incompatible. The only alternatives left were military dictatorship and democratic self-determination. There were few things which Franklin Roosevelt enacted which Wilson had not first moved heaven and earth in an unsuccessful bid to achieve. Had Wilson not contracted fatal illness during the second term of his presidency, had he enough time to convince America to join the League of Nations, had he enough time to dismember the English and French military apparatus as he had the German, had a League of Nations stopped the Red Army, would the Twentieth Century have unfolded in the disastrous manner which it did? We will never know if Wilson was capable of all this, but fate ensured that we would never know. Because he tried endlessly to do the right thing when no status quo worked, many now look upon his presidency as the century's ultimate disaster when it was anything but.

Today, we have a President who could only give us a shell of a health care program we needed, massive (if still too small) stimulus money unpaid for because Republicans refuse to raise taxes upon the wealthy, a coming social security and medicare boom is likely to triple our financial burden, and perhaps the National Debt as well, yet Republicans were so unconcerned with the collapse of the debt ceiling (which used to be a matter so crucial that it was left unpartisan) that they got our nation’s credit lowered because they wanted concessions merely for allowing the ceiling to be raised. Like Wilson, Obama made inroad after inroad to his rivals, because he knew that peace in our time can only be achieved by cooperation. As a reward, his good sense is rebuffed by a party determined to lead this country to ruination unseen since the days of The Civil War. It is thanks to the religion of Republican intransigence, and ONLY to the religion of Republican intransigence, that in 2008 the world once again stood on the brink of a collapse so massive it dwarved even 1929, when many economists from both wings projected potential unemployment rates of 50% (!). The Obama financial team staved off the collapse, but how much longer can it be staved off before the crazies get their way? If only we’d listen to President Obama...

3. The Arab Winter? - Yet again, I got the Middle East wrong. I supported the Arab Spring. I supported it full-throatedly, knowing that it all might go horribly, terribly awry, but not wanting to stand in the way of the only true shot the Arab world might get to enact liberal reforms for generations. And then it went awry, just as pessimists, cynics, and anti-Arab bigots predicted it would. The Kissinger/Brezhnev-era dictatorships of Mubarak and Qaddafi were certainly bad, but in 40 years, even Qaddafi never committed 1/20th of the political murders which Hafez el-Assad committed in only two.  

What happens in Syria can all too easily happen all around the Middle East. It is, almost literally, the problem from Hell. Russia will block any chance to stop the democide from the UN, and counter any aide to the rebel forces with aide to Assad. Putin will not abide the loss of another Russian ally, and views any further toppling of Russia-friendly dictators as a point of Russian honor. Assad has killed approximately a hundred-thousand of his own people, and could easily kill a million before he decides he’s secure again, but nobody can stop him. If the United States were to get too involved in Syria, World War III could be more than a theoretical exercise. As with all things these days (and usually correctly), the temptation is to blame the Bush Administration. But the actions of the Bush Administration in the Middle East neither caused the Arab Spring nor the bleak Arab Winter which may follow it.  Nevertheless, thank God he was not president when all this happened...

Meanwhile, Libya, a Stasi-like informant state under Qaddafi, is now gripped by the chaos of unpatrolled streets and inter-tribal warfare. What remains of Qaddafi’s loyalists have transformed themselves into an underground terrorist organization, planting bombs all over the country. Tunisia is beset by unemployment and hyper-inflation, an Islamist government with many ministers who want to impose Islamic Law, and a left-wing opposition robbed of its most vocal leader, Chokri Belaid, in February by an assassination. Bahrain is still gripped by a low-level civil war, 3,000 people have been and still are detained without trial, and five have died in custody from torture wounds. The Bahrainian police continues to carry out midnight raids, checkpoint beatings, and instructs doctors to deny medical care to 'potential subversives.'

All of this would have been worthwhile if Egypt, the centerpiece of the Arab Spring which houses 2/5ths of the world’s entire Arab population, seemed in better shape than it is. Within four months of his election, President Mohammed Morsi issued a decree announcing that he would rule by fiat without accountability from the constituent assembly - a constitution-writing body which already conceded to Morsi nearly every power he wanted. The liberal leaders who believed they could mollify Islamic parties like Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had long since walked out of the constituent assembly. Just as conservatives and realists warned, the post-Arab Spring Middle East may stand on the edge of something so disastrous that we haven’t seen its like since the genocides committed during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. And we liberals let it happen without so much as a word of caution.

How could we be so blind that we didn’t see this coming? The Arab Spring happened without the economic means to support its citizens, without a proper rule of law in place, and with the military being the only strong element in each country. The chances of a functional democracy springing up were no less slim than democracy flowering in Iraq, and yet we jettisoned longtime allies like Mubarak which preserved order and stability - however corruptly and brutally, Mubarak was an authoritarian dictator, not a totalitarian. Liberals who decried the democratic project in Iraq were completely mum when it came to the equally unlikely prospects of democracy in Egypt and Syria. Obama has, wisely, stayed true to his word and interfered minimally in the events of the Arab world. But the fact that he did nothing to prevent Mubarak’s fall could (yet again, the liberal in me screams not to say this), eventually be revealed as the greatest sin of his presidency.

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