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