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Has the entire world, one last time, fatally misunderestimated George W. Bush?  Yesterday in response to the Iran consulate raid I noted that the world's financial markets, including investors in gold, oil, stocks and bonds, had completely shrugged off the incident as a non-event.  These people stand to make or lose $millions depending on their judgment, and their judgment was that this was much ado about nothing.  If it were what diarists here said, wouldn't Jerome a Paris have written is final $100 oil installment yesterday?

And what about Russia and China?  Neither Russia, Iran's military backer, nor China, which has lucrative oil deals with Iran, has said a peep, as a  quick peruse of the South China Morning Post, the People's Daily, and the St. Petersburg and Moscow english language translations attest.  Surely if the US were about to attack Iran, we would hear about it!

An exchange with another kossack about events in 1914 got me thinking about how similar the situation is:  maybe the world is shrugging off the very clear signals from Bush because everybody is looking at this rationally and thinking, "He couldn't be that stupid!"

Could he?

Here's what Edith Wharton wrote about life in Europe literally days before the outbreak of military action in World War I, from her book 'Fighting France' published in 1915:

On the 30th of July, 1914, motoring north from Poitiers, we had lunched somewhere by the roadside under apple-trees on the edge of a field....

All day the sky had been banked with thunder-clouds, but by the time we reached Chartres, toward four o'clock, they had rolled away under the horizon, and the town was so saturated with sunlight that to pass into the cathedral was like entering the dense obscurity of a church in Spain....All that a great cathedral can be, all the meanings it can express, all the tranquillizing power it can breathe upon the soul, all the richness of detail it can fuse into a large utterance of strength and beauty, the cathedral of Chartres gave us in that perfect hour.

It was sunset when we reached the gates of Paris. Under the heights of St. Cloud and Suresnes the reaches of the Seine trembled with the blue-pink lustre of an early Monet. The Bois lay about us in the stillness of a holiday evening, and the lawns of Bagatelle were as fresh as June. Below the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees sloped downward in a sun-powdered haze to the mist of fountains and the ethereal obelisk; and the currents of summer life ebbed and flowed with a normal beat under the trees of the radiating avenues. The great city, so made for peace and art and all humanest graces, seemed to lie by her river-side like a princess guarded by the watchful giant of the Eiffel Tower.

The next day the air was thundery with rumours. Nobody believed them, everybody repeated them. War ? Of course there couldn't be war! The Cabinets, like naughty children, were again dangling their feet over the edge; but the whole incalculable weight of things-as-they-were, of the daily necessary business of living, continued calmly and convincingly to assert itself against the bandying of diplomatic words. Paris went on steadily about her midsummer business of feeding, dressing, and amusing the great army of tourists who were the only invaders she had seen for nearly half a century.

An article from Time magazine last week highlights the complacency with which the world greeted the events as they actually precipitated the Great War (note re fair usage--I'm quoting as little as I can to make the point):

Until the last week of July, 1914 looked as if it would be another good financial year. The stock-market crash of seven years before had almost faded from memory. Inflation was under control, and interest rates had stabilized. Emerging markets were booming. On the back of sustained global growth, commodity prices were up. Best of all, volatility was as low as most investors could remember. Sound familiar?

It was an act of terrorism on June 28 that began the crisis. At first it seemed like just another assassination in just another Muslim country (Bosnia-Herzegovina, occupied by Austria-Hungary only a few years before). And although the terrorists scored a big hit (Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne), the financial markets took it in their stride. Stocks barely moved.

It was not until the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia on the evening of July 23 that investors began to feel nervous. Its terms were truly formidable, particularly the demand that Austrian officials be allowed into the country to investigate alleged Serbian sponsorship of the terrorists. The government in Belgrade immediately dismissed the ultimatum as "impossible." Germany took the Austrian side; the Russians lined up with the Serbs. By Aug. 4, a little Balkan difficulty had become a full-scale European war

And here is part of the now-chilling concluding paragraph of an article written only last week:

But try rereading the events of 1914 with the place names changed. Imagine... The U.S. ... sends an ultimatum to Tehran. Israel takes the American side; Russia lines up with the Iranians ....

Against this backdrop consider Bush's speech the other night:  dressed in funerial black, somberly confronting destiny with the grim determination of one confronting the fatal culmination of a Quest:

Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom. Yet times of testing reveal the character of a nation. And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed. Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can, and we will, prevail.

We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours. Thank you and good night.

This is not the speech of somebody waiting for a Congressional or UN resolution to act.  And indeed, from today's comment by irishamerican on Kagro X's entry, we find out that the Bush administration explicitly believes it already has the authority to act:

Does the President feel he has authority to expand your mission to cross borders into Iraq or Syria without having to consult Congress first?

That Authority has already been given Senator. As of 2005, Stephen Cambogne already recieved Authority from the necessary Congressional Authorities for such Actions...

He Has? What Congressional Members gave the President that Authority? What was the Nature of that Authority?

Senator, I don't have the list of names with me right now, but I believe the Authority came out of the Intelligence Commitee.

The Authority to seek across Borders?

Pace: (looking REALLY uncomfortable)
Yes Senator, that authority is WORLD WIDE!

Personally, I think the Bush administration has made it very clear that Iranian and Syrian assets in Iraq are "fair game" as far as it is concerned, causus belli or not.  The naval buildup, etc., I suspect is intended to dissuade them from any sort of cross-border retailiation.  So long as this game is played out physically in Iraq, the situation doesn't get that much worse.  I suppose that's why the world seems no different now than it did 48 hours ago.

If everything goes according to plan.

No, yesterday the Dow Jones industrials set a new record.  Life goes on with complacency.  Russia and China are quiet.  Surely this is nothing...
"He couldn't be that stupid! Could he?"

Could he?

In 2007, that is what is between us and the abyss.

Originally posted to New Deal democrat on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:11 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (22+ / 0-)

    Hat tip to kossack lysias, who got me thinking about 1914.

    Mojo and recommendations gratefully appreciated.

    •  Maybe the 'markets' like the idea. (0+ / 0-)

      Also, what is so special about the markets.   They tumbled after 9/11 for no good reason.  In that, the existence of the twin towers affects the world not a bit, and yet everyone panicked. Why?  Speculation and hysteria.  People are governed by passions not strategy. The markets are not that sophisticated when you really think about it.

    •  A very well-woven, very sorry tale (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3goldens, MadGeorgiaDem, fairfax

      that belies a very possible future, without immediate intervention.

      Most know there is potential for greater conflict looming on the horizon. When I heard the close-of-market pricing for the NYSE yesterday, I knew it was a record, but NPR didn't even claim it as a record. I sensed the hesitancy with which the numbers were reported. It made me think about the conditions which might have caused that hesitation.

      There are economic reasons for a bit of temporary joy, but few political ones. Those trading the day market must have felt good about the prospect of more war as an economic stimulus.

      The rest of us recalled a certain Roman emperor and his violin.

      Mahatma Gandhi on Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

      by 4Freedom on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:24:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  What a gorgeous extract from Wharton... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3goldens, TheFatLadySings

      Can you share with us the title of that work?


      "No man should have to clean up after another man's dog." --President Gerald R. Ford

      by Mogolori on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:29:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for this (5+ / 0-)

      Of course, TIME was wrong about something very important.  Serbia did not categorically reject Austria's ultimatum, which consisted of (IIRC) ten points.  The Serbians in fact agreed to almost all of them (8 of the 10, if memory serves), balking only at letting the Hapsburg officials conduct the demanded inquiry and allowing Austro-Hungarian troops to occupy Belgrade while this hearing was conducted (Belgrade was just across the Danube from Austro-Hungarian territory).  Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm wrote his reaction on a copy of the Serbian response: "A brilliant solution--and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected. A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade. On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilization."  (Emphasis mine)

      Unfortunately, rather like the present US administration in March 2003, those in power in Austria were determined not to take "yes" for an answer to their demands.

      BTW, in The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman makes mention of a book that was all the rage in the years before the Great European Tragedy (as I like to call it).  I forget the title and the author, but the premise was that as of the book's present time (circa 1912), a major war between the Great Powers had been made impossible by the extent to which international business and finance crossed borders and made the various economies interdependent.  Therefore, no nation could wage war for more than a couple of months without risking the complete collapse of its economy.  Ergo, there would be no more wars between the major powers, except for occasional skirmishes that might last a few weeks.  This book was an huge bestseller, and it's informing idea accepted as gospel by millions of people.

      Yes, even 95 years ago an ur-Thomas Friedman was declaring that "The World Is Flat"!  Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

      •  I'd love to know the title of that book (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Alexander G Rubio

        A decade ago there was a theory that "no two countries that both have a MacDonald's restaurant could ever go to war with each other."  That was disproven with the Kosovo conflict.

        It goes to show that free market economic theologians, and financiers, do not bother to read history.  And if history conflicts with their elegant theory, well then, history must be wrong!

        •  Just searched the index of Guns of August (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          New Deal democrat

          In that "Search Inside" feature has, and I found it.  It was published under two different titles, Europe's Optical Illusion, and The Great Illusion for the American market.  I was wrong about 1912, it was first published in 1909.  The author was Norman Angell, an admirable gentleman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1933.  I did not know that about him prior to finding that Wikipedia entry.  Therefore, I apologize for suggesting he was just some earlier version of Tom Friedman.  As you can see from that link, he had a long and distinguished career, and there is reason to believe his idea about economic interdependence was less utopian than has generally been suggested.  That last point is also new to me, as I've only seen his book briefly discussed as a well-meaning but almost laughably incorrect bit of utopian daydreaming.

          •  many thanks n/t (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            •  My pleasure (2+ / 0-)

              And here is a brief excerpt from the book:

              What are the fundamental motives that explain the present rivalry of armaments in Europe, notably the Anglo-German ? Each nation pleads the need for defence; but this implies that someone is likely to attack, and has therefore a presumed interest in so doing. What are the motives which each State thus fears its neighbors may obey?

              They are based on the universal assumption that a nation, in order to find outlets for expanding population and increasing industry, or simply to ensure the best conditions possible for its people, is necessarily pushed to territorial expansion and the exercise of political force against others.... It is assumed that a nation's relative prosperity is broadly determined by its political power; that nations being competing units, advantage in the last resort goes to the possessor of preponderant military force, the weaker goes to the wall, as in the other forms of the struggle for life.

              The author challenges this whole doctrine. He attempts to show that it belongs to a stage of development out of which we have passed that the commerce and industry of a people no longer depend upon the expansion of its political frontiers; that a nation's political and economic frontiers do not now necessarily coincide; that military power is socially and economically futile, and can have no relation to the prosperity of the people exercising it; that it is impossible for one nation to seize by force the wealth or trade of another -- to enrich itself by subjugating, or imposing its will by force on another; that in short, war, even when victorious, can no longer achieve those aims for which people strive. . .

              The warlike nations do not inherit the earth; they represent the decaying human element....

              I must say, whether you agree or not, it's a damn sight better than anything I've ever read by Friedman, so again I apologize for my earlier crack.

  •  Perhaps other countries such as China, Russia, (5+ / 0-)

    the EU, still think that not even Bush is so crazy as to attack Iran given the likely consequences for the entire world.
    It might well be the case that they misunderestimate his lunacy.

    we're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression

    by Lepanto on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:15:42 AM PST

  •  Great, and scary, historical comparison (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3goldens, MadGeorgiaDem, fairfax

    The markets are not always prescient, it seems.

  •  They Think Our SYSTEM Isn't Crazy Enough (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to let him act at will.

    Ultimately though it's probably just as safe a bet.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:22:56 AM PST

  •  I've always said (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3goldens, fairfax

    that World War I, not Vietnam, is the best analogy for this mess. "I have a brilliant new plan! All we need is to try again! We are better and more virtuous than the filthy enemy, and therefore we will succeed." Not to mention Colin Powell's and Eric Shinseki's historical ancestors.

    •  How about Lebanon. (0+ / 0-)

      The Israeli's went in to get the PLO, who had helped
      destabilize Lebanon as it's tri-partite government fell apart.

      The Israeli's found themselves in a fight they couldn't win
      and couldn't end.

      25 years later it's just worse.

  •  He can, so he will--res ipsa loquitor... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    as we attys say.  For W and Cheney not to order an attack on Iran would be utterly out of character compared given their past performance in office.  What makes anyone think that they'll act out of character this time?

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:45:25 AM PST

  •  NDD (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zombie, New Deal democrat, fairfax

    I saw the market results yesterday and shook my head, wondering how they could look so good given what Bush more than hinted at in his speech on Wed. evening.  I am actually (and in a very odd way) somewhat relieved to read this diary because after shaking my head in disbelief at the markets yesterday, I wondered to myself if maybe it was me who was foggy-headed and not the rest of the world.  It was a very strange feeling.  I keep hoping that somehow we will be able to back away from the precipice we're poised to go over--but then I have those "moments of reality" when I realize there is something very, very wrong in this atmosphere in which we live.  Thanks for reassuring me I'm not going looney.

  •  Historian and author (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Alexander G Rubio, zombie, fairfax

    Barbara Tuchman, in her outstanding book entitled The March of Folly; From Troy to Viet Nam, points out the many errors in judgement made by "outside" observers.

    In her first paragraph, of the first chapter titled "Pursuit of Policy Contrary To Self-Interest" she writes: "Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests?"

    [Of course one problem in forming a current analogy here is that Tuchman assumes reason and enlightenment is present. Clearly she did not know George Bush.]

    It's a very fine book--I highly recommend it.  And the epigram Tuchman uses as an introduction is all too frighteningly apt:

    "And I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still...put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends or by madmen to nonsense and disastor." (Joseph Campbell)

    To God: Please stop talking to George Bush. Too much is being lost in translation.

    by miriam on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 12:12:51 PM PST

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