Monday, October 06, 2008

Pfaff calls it

David Seaton's News Links
Readers of this blog will know that my favorite commentator on politics and world affairs is William Pfaff. I find his mixture of long experience, wide culture, analytic acuteness, and intuitive perception quite unique. He is always showing me the correct path to take in focusing on world affairs.

Pfaff has just written a piece which articulates something that I have felt, and stumblingly expressed, for several years, to wit: that the United States, to the extent that it has been deformed and conditioned by the Cold War, to that extent, is the USA damaged and in decline.

In this analysis, at the heart of all America's present troubles lies in the damage that the cold war did to the United States: its economy, its institutions ,or if you prefer, even its soul.

I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here is a short excerpt from Pfaff's piece:
The nuclear physicist Leo Szilard once remarked that the fall of the Soviet system would eventually lead to the fall of the American system. He said that in a two-element structure the interrelationship and interdependence are such that the one cannot survive without the other. This comment has been relayed by a friend, and as Szilard has passed to his reward I am in no position to explain his meaning, but it is possible to restate it in political terms, and we are seeing the result in finance and in war. I think that Szilard was implying what a very intelligent opponent of the United States also said when the cold war ended. Georgi Arbatov, former head of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute of the Soviet Union, said to an American interlocutor: we are about to do something truly terrible to you. We are going to deprive you of your enemy. Without the enemy, the machinery of power begins to race, with nothing to resist it; megalomania sets in. The end of the cold war coincided with the beginning in the United States of globalized finance, launched under the Clinton administration. It operated with ever more dazzling and daring gambles in which the constraints and tension of the cold war were replaced by the psychology of greed and excess. The economic crisis that has now overtaken the United States can be interpreted as the logical result of a financial system that had reached the point where there was no limit to what you could take out of it even when you were incapable of understanding the transactions taking place. Less apparent to most people but just as real are the signs of an impending crash of an American military system in which, since the end of the cold war, Pentagon dysfunction has metastasized so uncontrollably as to scandalize both the man who was Defense Secretary when the so-called war on terror began, and the current Secretary, Robert M. Gates, the man now in charge as that war mutates into the “Long War.”(...) The speech he gave last Monday [September 29] to the National Defense University in Washington accused the Pentagon bureaucracy of obsession with high-technology weaponry to defeat enemies the United States does not (yet) have, using hypermodern weapons yet to be invented. He accused it of “idealized, triumphalist and ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to upend the immutable principles of war.” He said that during four decades, the trend-line of Pentagon procurement has been towards lower numbers and higher technology, towards weapons systems “that have been ever more baroque, ever more costly, taking longer to build, and fielded in ever dwindling quantities.” There could not be a better description of a bureaucracy in decadence. Just as the same adjective must be applied to a financial system for multiplying the apparent value of fundamentally worthless securities. (It was Alan Greenspan who said that American finance had symbolically passed through the sound-barrier of the known financial system, and now was in an entirely new dimension. So it had, as we see now.)
If this analysis is correct, and I for one think it is, then there is either going to be some sort of Soviet style collapse or, more probably, a decades long decline into greater and greater poverty and irrelevance.

Till the rubble is finally cleared away, all we are going to experience is ongoing degradation, decadence and humiliation.
This presidential election won't change a jot or tittle of it: it is an election, not perestroika.

The near future should be especially unpleasant is could be a crash course in what the years to come may hold.

I have been searching for a metaphor to express what the next few weeks are going to seem like, as the economy continues to deteriorate, the presidential race gets low-down and slimy dirty and who knows what else hits the fan.

It came to me that this was going to be like going through a car wash tunnel with the car windows rolled down.

When you go through a car wash tunnel, you sit warm and dry in your car while only a few inches from your face huge rotating brushes dash and dart and rub a dub and pound, and torrents of scalding, soapy water spew and spatter as your car moves relentlessly down the belt. Exciting to be so close and yet to be only a spectator.

With the windows down... no fun

The media in my metaphor would be the car windows, what a certain moose dresser calls a "filter" and the tunnel would be reality itself... hot water, industrial strength detergent and no turning back. DS


bailey alexander said...

It's been happening for so long, David, a nation that has trouble coping. More and more turn to the bible, fearful, myopic maybe because everything appears too complicated, intertwined; they sue and pursue justice rather than work it out and they consider themselves somehow the victim, when after all, it's their god given right to own a home. And then we have Palin, who to better illustrate willful ignorance masquerading as native wit. As you know, there are many that like her. A lot. They can relate.

These pathological strains have become more apparent in the last 10 yrs and now we're seeing a global market that is effecting us all. I'm trying to work thru John Dos Passos's "USA", a genius piece that paints just how random the States was in the 20th century, flexible, yes, but insanely random. Now, it would appear the world is becoming much more random. Places like Barcelona, Berlin and Dubai are facile and exciting and new, and then, maybe, they're not?

Who knows, at this point, the game of chess has become far too complicated and who was better at playing the game but the Russians.

Random, hazard as the french translation goes...

Bailey said...

And yes, I completely agree, the next prez will have little impact, based on those inherent pathological strains...bay

RC said...

The mutual collapse of the bilateral power structure of the latter 20th Century is not a new idea or theory.
The US was already in big trouble by 1992 and a few convenient real and created bubbles kept it in facelifts for another 16 years.
But the bones are showing now. Se Acabo La Fiesta.
After many a summer dies the eagle.

oldfatherwilliam said...

If there's a model for a collapsed, defeated, festering empire-that-was I'm looking to Weimar. Someone please abuse and scold me for my ignorance in some convincing way. Thanks to RC for that Huxley reference but on the evidence eagles have some Phoenix characteristics.