Rope-A-Dope Politics

Email Print

On matters
political, I am so far out of the loop that I don’t have an agenda.
I don’t get excited about “our” victories, and I don’t get despondent
about “our” defeats. I occasionally get a kick out of “their”
defeats, but only because I like to see professional politicians
knocked flat. The political system, however, remains unchanged.

I see politics
as one long boxing event. When most middle-aged Americans think
of boxing, they think of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. Those were
the days! They may even remember Ali’s tactic, which he called
rope-a-dope. He would allow himself to get “trapped” against the
ropes. His opponent would keep punching him. But every punch had
its force distributed over the ropes by way of Ali. Eventually,
the puncher got tired. Then Ali would finish him off. Of course,
for the tactic to work, Ali had to survive the pounding.

Many years
ago, I figured out how the American political system really works.
It’s a variation of rope-a-dope. The voters are like two prize
fighters. Every four years, they beat the stuffings out of one
another. Bloodied, they vow to win the next round. Each one does
his best to get his opponent on the ropes. The dopes never learn.

After watching
this take place every four years for about 20 years, I finally
figured out how the political fight game really works. In boxing,
the only one who makes guaranteed money, year after year, is the
promoter. He also doesn’t get a glove laid on him. So, when I
think of American politics, I don’t think “Muhammad Ali vs. Joe
Frazier.” I think “Don King.” Well, not quite. I think “Don King
with a haircut.” The only reason why the public remembers King
is his hair, which can be described as neo-Tesla.

Here, my
friends, is the secret of American politics: “Nobody pays attention
to the promoters.”

I am not
saying that one or another fighter is paid by a promoter to take
a dive. I am saying the sport is rigged. It’s not rigged as blatantly
as wrestling is rigged, but it’s rigged.

Then who
is the dope? The electorate.


The popular
vote for the Presidential race was close: 51% to 48%.

The Senate
remains tilted toward the Republicans, but the Democrats can still
gum up the works through filibustering — a concept never dreamed
of by the Constitution’s Framers. They can talk the Senate to
a halt if they can muster 41 votes. But no political party’s Senators
can do this very often without incurring the wrath of the voters.

I like filibustering. It shuts down the Senate.

can’t do any harm when there is a filibuster going on. Anything
that shuts down politicians can’t be all bad. When it’s “shut
up” vs. “shut down,” I prefer “shut down.”

The House
is now a Republican stronghold, even though the margin is thin:
well under 10%. This is sufficient. That’s because the good old
boys who are in office have a bi-partisan agreement with state
legislatures: “You make me vote-proof back home, and I’ll keep
quiet when you make my opponents vote-proof up here.” Congress
refuses to change the laws governing state legislatures’ gerrymandering — another
concept undreamed of by the Framers but developed in the early
nineteenth century by one of the signers of the Declaration of
Independence, Elbridge Gerry, the Governor of Massachusetts, who
was soon voted out of office because of public outrage over his
plan, but who was immediately picked for Vice President under

Every ten
years (usually), after the latest census figures are released
by the Department of Commerce, state legislators re-draw the state’s
Congressional districts, so as to favor the majority party of
the legislators at the time of the redrawing. But they also do
their best to benefit existing Congressmen’s districts, even those
in the opposing party. This keeps Congress happy. The districts
sometimes wind up with weird shapes. Democrats are squeezed into
large, irregular districts that vote overwhelmingly for Democrats
(60+%), and so are Republicans. This skims off the rival party’s
voters from most Congressmen’s districts, so that most incumbents
are safe from a challenge.

The sacrificial
lambs are the ones whose districts disappear because of shrinking
state populations, or who wind up with 51-49 party registration.
These few Congressmen then have to fight for re-election.

The incumbents
are self-interested. They want to retain their jobs. They don’t
care much about what happens in some other district. So, only
about 30 seats out of 435 are up for grabs in any election, and
even here, the incumbent usually has the advantage. Isn’t democracy

An old friend
of mine finally lost his election this time: Phil
Crane. He represents the 8th District in Illinois.
He began serving in the year that Neil Armstrong walked on the
moon. There are some people, I am told, who think of that event
as ancient history, even though it happened almost yesterday.
Congress’s retirement program being what it is — based on
years of membership — Dr. Crane will not be greeting people
at Wal-Mart next year. (I hope he will write a book. His 1964
book, The
Democrats’ Dilemma
, is still worth reading. It’s not about
the Democrats as much as it’s about the British Fabian socialists’
American wing, which captured the Democratic Party).

The closeness
of the popular vote has nevertheless produced what I never would
have imagined possible: a shut-out of the Democrats. The defeat
of Tom Daschle has removed the most visible critic of the Bush


The 1960s
are gone. So are the 1950s. The rules governing Presidential losers
have changed. Nixon got a second shot at the office, with Goldwater
in between. Adlai Stevenson also had two shots at it, and was
a contender for a third. A decade before him, Tom Dewey got two
shots. That was then; this is now. Al Gore won the popular vote
in 2000, but he was wise enough to know that he would not have
received the nomination in 2004. When you lose the race for President
these days, you’re branded as a sure loser by your party. It’s
like leaving a 35-year-old woman at the altar: you don’t get a
second chance.

The titular
head of the Democratic Party is now Bill Clinton. Hard to believe,
but true. He still has a good press. Crowds go out to hear him
and get a book signed. He is still a celebrity. But there is a
price to pay for the Democrats: ex-Presidents must be extremely
judicious in saying anything negative about the current President.
It’s a form of insurance. It’s the way a President emeritus keeps
from having bad things happen, such as the opening of closed files
by the incumbent President. As you may recall, one of Bush’s first
acts was to seal off the Clinton files from reporters and historians.

Clinton is
more vocal than other ex-Presidents. Truman was feisty to the
end, but he rarely said anything public about Eisenhower — not that
I recall, anyway. Stevenson, as a potential candidate, did speak
out. That’s because he had another shot at the office. After Nixon
lost the race for governor in 1962, he uttered his famous line,
“This is my last press conference. You won’t have Dick Nixon to
kick around any more.” After Goldwater’s statistically devastating
loss in 1964, Eisenhower became the titular head of the Republican
Party until Nixon decided to run for President again. Ike had
been a winner. Clinton was a winner.

The Democrats
are today in disarray, despite the narrowness of their loss. They
are in shell-shock. They had gone after Bush, hammer and tong.
They got a higher turnout than expected. They lost anyway.

What now?

All roads lead to Hillary. Nobody in the Democratic Party knows
how to put up a “Detour — Road Closed” sign. Hillary’s the one.

If you think
Republicans turned out in large numbers to defeat Kerry, wait
until they get to vote against Hillary. Even I look forward to
it. Maybe Jeb Bush will run against her. Clinton vs. Bush: what
fun it would be!

The dopes
would truly be roped. I might get into the ring to throw a few
punches myself.


Never lose
sight of the promoters: the
Council on Foreign Relations and the old money families that dominate
. Take seriously the words of a member of the Gore family
dynasty, which in 1795 owned much of what is now called Washington,
D.C., and which sent three of its members to the U.S. Senate in
the twentieth century, and very nearly won the Presidency with
the third and least impressive member of the trio. This member
is famous today for his literary efforts: Gore Vidal. He made
the following observation in 1991 regarding the lives of senior
American politicians.

But as
the American oligarchy selects, at what often looks to be absentminded
random, its office managers, the private lives of these public
functionaries arouse no particular interest unless there is
comedy in it.

Little did
he know of the amusement that awaited the nation with the arrival
of the Clintons from Arkansas less than two years later. Their
years at Yale did not polish them much.

the attention shown to the hirelings, Vidal said, with the attention
shown to those who do the hiring.

On the
other hand, the private lives of the actual rulers of the country
are as out of bounds to American historians as they are to all
of the other paid-for supporters of that oligarchy which controls
the sources of information and instruction, that is, the “media”
and Academe.

Do not imagine
that “the Democrats are finished.” Do not imagine that “things
will be different now.” The editor of Foreign Affairs,
the quarterly outlet of the Council on Foreign Relations, was
asked in late summer what it would mean to foreign policy if George
Bush were re-elected. His answer
was published in the September issue of The Washington Monthly.

Many people
seem to think the upcoming presidential election will inevitably
send American foreign policy down one of two radically different
paths. Writing in the Atlantic, for example, the political commentator
Michael Barone argues that this year’s balloting may be the
“most important in generations” since the Bush team would see
reelection as a vindication of its aggressive course while a
Kerry administration would end up kowtowing to Europe and the
United Nations. Similar views echo from The Nation to
the National Review.

Pish posh.
Sure, there would be some differences between what the two camps
would do, both in style (a lot) and substance (a little). But
the similarities would be far more pronounced because Bush and
Kerry’s current positions on major issues just aren’t that far
apart — and because whoever is elected will have relatively
little room for maneuver.

The key words
are these: “Whoever is elected will have relatively little room
for maneuver.”


Colin Powell
warned Bush against invading Iraq. “You’ll own it,” he said. And
so he does.

of ownership, the central banks of Japan and China together own
about 20% of U.S. government on-budget debt. They own enough of
it so that American foreign policy in Asia is now hedged in by
the threat of dumping by those banks. Of course, these are rival
banks in rival nations. But debt-dumping by either one would put
the other in a bind: the falling value of the dollar, rising U.S.
interest rates, and capital losses on all long-term bonds held
in the vault.

The Chinese
government eventually is going to bring Taiwan back under the
formal sovereignty of mainland China. It is basic to China’s domestic
policy that Taiwan be brought back officially under mainland control,
just as Hong Kong was in 1997. Whether the Chinese government
will risk an invasion — assuming an invasion will be necessary — before
the 2008 Olympics is an open question. My guess is no. But after
2008, the risk goes way up. By then, China’s central bank will
hold so much U.S. debt that the Administration will not challenge
the loss of Taiwan’s existing sovereignty.

China has
economic leverage supplied by mountains of Treasury debt. It also
has military leverage. Some of you may have read about the Russian
anti-ship missile, SS-N-22, called the Sunburn. It has been around
for a decade. The Sunburn flies at mach 2, meaning 2 times the
speed of sound, at an altitude of about 10 feet. It then rises,
turns downward, and hits a carrier’s deck. It can carry a 750-lb
warhead. There is no known defense against it.

A startling
article on its capabilities was published on the Internet on October
26: “Iran: A Bridge Too Far?” The title refers back to a 1977
movie on the disastrous World War II battle at Remagen Bridge
in Holland. On November 2, the essay was posted on Rense’s site
with a different title: “The

The author
begins with a description of U.S. Navy maneuvers held in July,
2004, called Summer Pulse.

Never in
the history of the US Navy had so many carrier battle groups
been involved in a single operation. Even the US fleet massed
in the Gulf and eastern Mediterranean during operation Desert
Storm in 1991, and in the recent invasion of Iraq, never exceeded
six battle groups. But last July and August there were seven
of them on the move, each battle group consisting of a Nimitz-class
aircraft carrier with its full complement of 7—8 supporting
ships, and 70 or more assorted aircraft. Most of the activity,
according to various reports, was in the Pacific, where the
fleet participated in joint exercises with the Taiwanese navy.

Taiwan was
significant. China’s government has been making statements regarding
Taiwan as being part of China. This has always been China’s position,
but the rhetoric is escalating. A joint operation sounds ominous.

. . . Summer
Pulse amounted to a tacit acknowledgement, obvious to anyone
paying attention, that the United States has been eclipsed in
an important area of military technology, and that this qualitative
edge is now being wielded by others, including the Chinese;
because those otherwise very ordinary destroyers were, in fact,
launching platforms for Russian-made 3M-82 Moskit anti-ship
cruise missiles (NATO designation: SS-N-22
Sunburn), a weapon for which the US Navy currently has no defense.
Here I am not suggesting that the US status of lone world Superpower
has been surpassed. I am simply saying that a new global balance
of power is emerging, in which other individual states may,
on occasion, achieve “an asymmetric advantage” over the US.
. . .

The author
points out that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the surviving
Russian government was short of Western currencies. The military
fell into a state of disrepair.

But in
the late 1990s Moscow awakened to the under-utilized potential
of its missile technology to generate desperately needed foreign
exchange. A decision was made to resuscitate selected programs,
and, very soon, Russian missile technology became a hot export
commodity. Today, Russian missiles are a growth industry generating
much-needed cash for Russia, with many billions in combined
sales to India, China, Viet Nam, Cuba, and also Iran.

He says that
the only defense against this weapon is to take out the missile
on the ground or on board a ship before it is fired. This raises
a tactical problem: Iran’s topography.

But US
naval commanders operating in the Persian Gulf face serious
challenges that are unique to the littoral, i.e., coastal, environment.
A glance at a map shows why: The Gulf is nothing but a large
lake, with one narrow outlet, and most of its northern shore,
i.e., Iran, consists of mountainous terrain that affords a commanding
tactical advantage over ships operating in Gulf waters. The
rugged northern shore makes for easy concealment of coastal
defenses, such as mobile missile launchers, and also makes their
detection problematic. Although it was not widely reported,
the US actually lost the battle of the Scuds in the first Gulf
War termed “the great Scud hunt” and for similar reasons.

Hussein’s mobile Scud launchers proved so difficult to detect
and destroy over and over again the Iraqis fooled allied reconnaissance
with decoys that during the course of Desert Storm the US was
unable to confirm even a single kill. This proved such an embarrassment
to the Pentagon, afterwards, that the unpleasant stats were
buried in official reports. But the blunt fact is that the US
failed to stop the Scud attacks. The launches continued until
the last few days of the conflict. Luckily, the Scud’s inaccuracy
made it an almost useless weapon.

The Sunburn
is no Scud. It is not only fast, it is accurate.

The Sunburn’s
amazing accuracy was demonstrated not long ago in a live test
staged at sea by the Chinese and observed by US spy planes.
Not only did the Sunburn missile destroy the dummy target ship,
it scored a perfect bull’s eye, hitting the crosshairs of a
large “X” mounted on the ship’s bridge.

The strategic
problem facing military strategists is two-fold: Iran and China.
China has the Sunburn, and Iran may have it.

In 2001,
Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that Iran was attempting
to acquire anti-ship missiles from Russia. Ominously, the same
report also mentioned that the more advanced Yakhonts missile
was “optimized for attacks against carrier task forces.” Apparently
its guidance system is “able to distinguish an aircraft carrier
from its escorts.” The numbers were not disclosed.

The author
is concerned about the possibility of an air strike on Iran by
the Israelis. The U.S. would get blamed because, in order to get
to Iran, Israeli planes would have to fly over Iraq.

He does not
mention this fact: neo-conservatives, especially the American
Enterprise Institute’s Michael Ledeen, have recommended an American
invasion of Iran to take out terrorists, just as American troops
invaded Iraq. Ledeen wrote this on October 6: “Use military force
where necessary against both the terrorists and the sponsoring
regimes, and support democratic revolution.” This, in an article
called, “Iran, when?” His
answer: “Faster, dammit.”

The threat
of the Sunburn against U.S. aircraft carriers is no idle threat.
If the missiles work as expected, the U.S. would not be able to
keep open the Straights of Hormuz. As the author of “The Sunburn”

With enough
anti-ship missiles, the Iranians can halt tanker traffic through
Hormuz for weeks, even months. With the flow of oil from the
Gulf curtailed, the price of a barrel of crude will skyrocket
on the world market. Within days the global economy will begin
to grind to a halt.

if the Israelis attack Iran, there will be a flow of weapons to
Shi’as in Iraq from the Iranian government that will dwarf anything
we have seen so far. The Iranians will let their confessional
brethren take the brunt of U.S. attacks in Iraq, while supplying
the weapons free of charge. They will let the Iraqis serve as
their surrogates because of their assumption that we are the Iraelis’

Bush is where
the editor of Foreign Affairs said he would be: “Whoever
is elected will have relatively little room for maneuver.”


keeps getting cheaper. This expands the market. While the kind
of high technology weaponry that the U.S. possesses for attacking
centralized command posts is unstoppable, this does not solve
the problem of 4th-generation warfare: insurgency,
which has no central command posts. It also does not solve the
tactical problem of decentralized technologies like the Sunburn
missile, which treats an aircraft carrier as a central command
post, which it in fact is.

The clock
is ticking. Moore’s law — chip capacity doubles every 12
months — is still in operation. The price of high-tech weaponry
keeps falling. Performance is increasing. The ability of rogue
states to buy innovative weapons from states too big to be labeled
rogue states is working against the United States.

Russia is
still very much in the game. Russia is not using client states,
as it did for decades. Instead, it is using “customer states.”
It is selling weapons that can be used to undermine U. S. foreign
policy, yet without suffering any military consequences. Meanwhile,
Russia earns much-needed foreign currency. Putin could say to
Bush, “It’s Keynesian economics in action: the mixed economy.
After all, we’re all Keynesians now.” It’s the “government-business
partnership,” as it is fondly called: an international free market
in weapons. Russia never could sell anything of value besides
raw materials and weapons. Russia would be the big winner in a
Sunburn-produced oil crisis. Get Iran to close the Straits of
Hormuz, and Russia reaps oil profits by the billions of dollars’

Is an attack
on Iran plausible? Yes. Ledeen’s voice is not necessarily that
of John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness. He is an influence
within the neo-conservative circles that surround the President.
Here is his advice.

before the liberation of Iraq I wrote that we were about to
have our great national debate on the war against the terror
masters, and it was going to be the wrong debate. Wrong because
it was going to focus obsessively on Iraq, thereby making it
impossible to raise the fundamental strategic issues. Alas,
that forecast was correct, and we’re still stuck in the strategic
quagmire we created. Up to our throats. So let’s try again to
get it right.

Like Afghanistan
before it, Iraq is only one theater in a regional war. We were
attacked by a network of terrorist organizations supported by
several countries, of whom the most important were Iran, Iraq,
Syria, and Saudi Arabia. President Bush’s original analysis
was correct, as was his strategy: We must not distinguish between
the terrorists and their national supporters. Hence we need
different strategies for different enemies, but we need to defeat
all of them.

The strongest
voice against this is Colin Powell’s. Whether Powell will choose
to remain as Secretary of State is a big question at this point.
“Four more years” may not be his career slogan. He is made a laughing
stock every time a TV news show runs a segment of his United Nations
speech about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. He looks like
a shill. He knows he looks like a shill. There are better ways
for him to make a living. A new term for the Administration is
a way for him to bow out gracefully. If he does, Iran will go
to the top of the President’s to-do list.

The official
enemy resides in every regime contiguous to Iraq, but he has no
borders to defend.

Osama bin
Laden is not only following Saul Alinsky’s tactic, “the action
is the reaction,” he is following Muhammad Ali’s. He is roping
the dope. There are many available ropes: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran,
Syria, and ultimately Saudi Arabia.

mainland China bides its time. Four more years.


Bush is in charge of selecting which rope to use to punch Osama
and his followers into submission. The Democrats are whipped.
For the moment, that roped dope has been flattened. They have
little say in the matter.

Osama is
still taunting him: “Bring it on!” What
he is really telling Bush and the Iranians is this: “Let’s you
and him fight.”

Ledeen calls
Iraq a strategic quagmire. On this point, I agree with him. As
the quagmire nature of Iraq becomes more obvious to the President,
he will face a choice: retreat or expand the theater of operations.
Flee or fight. Ledeen and the neocons are recommending the latter.

I don’t think
the President will risk initiating an invasion of Iran. I do think
he will be sorely tempted to allow Israeli planes to fly over
Iraq to launch an attack on Iran comparable to the one the Israelis
launched against Iraq’s nuclear power plant in 1981. I think this
scenario is increasingly likely. The longer that Ariel Sharon
waits, the more likely the United States will pull out of Iraq,
leaving him to deal with Iran alone.

Sharon presumably
agrees with Ledeen:

Had we
seen the war for what it was, we would not have started with
Iraq, but with Iran, the mother of modern Islamic terrorism,
the creator of Hezbollah, the ally of al Qaeda, the sponsor
of Zarqawi, the longtime sponsor of Fatah, and the backbone
of Hamas.

Where Israeli
planes are concerned, there are no permanent “no-fly zones” in
Iraq. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. Sharon understands
“four more years.” It may be even fewer for him politically.

wants out of the quagmire. Ledeen and the neocons are telling
him that the way out is by way of Iran.

I see a correlation
of forces fusing. I also see ropes.

On the day
that Colin Powell resigns, you had better not be short oil futures.

9, 2004

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit

North Archives

Email Print