Sunday, February 06, 2005

Why This Country Sucks

For this country to be in its current state -- drifting towards authoritarianism, retrograde rightist forces dictating public morality -- cannot only by the fault of George Bush. I think liberals are now making the same mistake as the right did in the Clinton years -- making a single person the object of our ire. Bush could not be getting away with all he has unless the very institutions designed to uphold this democracy were not in a serious state of decay. These are institutional failures we are seeing, not just flaws in the president's character.

ACADEMIA: The professorate has disengaged itself from our public culture. They write for themselves, in a language only they can understand, and on topics primarily contrived to advance their careers. I actually think we are in Iraq, at least in part, because of this disengagement. In the run-up to the war, there was a dearth of academics on TV and in the press providing a historical perspective on the Middle East or putting Bush's proclamations in the larger context of American foreign policy over, say, the last 50 years.

Instead, these functions were fulfilled by pundits and policy wonks from think-think tanks. The deficiencies of the former are obvious: they're education rarely goes beyond a college degree; they are true experts in nothing so feel free to claim some expertise in everything. It's the policy wonks though, working for Washington-based policy groups, whose influence is more insidious. These people pass themselves off as scholars, and indeed they may have a Ph.D. and few esoteric books to their name. But in so far as they are based in Washington -- and many in fact have served in various administrations over the years -- their perspectives are compromised by their proximity to power. They lack objectivity; they tend to focus on a time frame only slightly longer than our attention-deficit starved politicians; they undertake research for the primary purpose of generating policy prescriptions, which means that they assess evidence in a compromised, biased way, seeking mainly to turn facts into policy prescriptions.

The debate over whether to go to war with Iraq saw these policy wonks spouting off on television news and in the newspapers endlessly. This horde of pseudo scholars didn't so much clarify issues so much as generate a fog of information that was really just so much noise. And while intelligent liberals, always willing to give the other side a listen and inclined toward open-mindedness, earnestly struggled to find scraps of truth amidst all this bloviation, the Bush administration simply went ahead and drafted war plans.

Continued tomorrow . . .


Blogger Brooklynlib said...

Once again, Lawrence Goodman has captured something that the well-paid pundits have missed: Although I have no love of academics, clearly it would be nice to be hearing from people who actually know the troubled history of the middle east (guys like Gary Sick, for example, who wrote "All Fall Down" about the hostage crisis) to provide a little perspective on why our gambit in Iraq was so remarkably naive (at best) and phenomenally hubristic (at worst). I mean, every imperial power throughout history has argued that they conquered people to bring them the blessing of liberty, while simultaneously sucking them dry. It would be nice if someone was reminding the American viewer that we have now taken our place alongside Rome, the Ottomans, Alexander the Great and Old Europe in the history books. One thing Goodman left out, by the way, is that in the name of democracy, Iraq has now elected fanatical religious Shiites who are allied with Iran, rather than secular technocrats who would, at least, be inclined to like the US. It shows that democracy in the middle east is a dangerous proposition.

8:48 PM  

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