War and Rumors of War

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War and rumors of war moved the markets.

Prices for oil and gold shot up in the morning, as traders watched TV monitors for news from Lebanon. Then came a rumor that Israel would pull out in a couple of days. The Israelis denied it immediately, but the markets seemed ready for some good news and oil and gold sold off in the afternoon. The dollar rose; worried money must still see it as a safe-haven.

Some people fiercely defend Israel. Others take the Palestinians’ part. We have no opinion. What surprises us is that other people have so many of them. And what amuses us is how pointless they all are.

But this is the world of endless public spectacles we live in. There is the news on TV and in the newspaper. There is commentary running on the World Wide Web 24 hours a day. Even something as distant, complex, and intractable as Israel’s relationships with its neighbors — a story that began in the Old Testament and continues into the New Era — is something people in Des Moines and Butte feel they need to think about. That…and Britney Spears’ pregnancy. With so much going on in public life, there is little time or energy left for the private, marginal details that make so much difference in a person’s life. Conversations are never had. Proper meals are not cooked…or eaten. Work is left undone. Worse, there is no evidence of any deep reflection about anything.

We have no proof for this assertion. It is not even a theory, but a feeling that wells up in us when we read today’s headlines. It’s not that the headlines are so much ado about nothing. It’s that they nothing one can do much about.

Take the matter of war in the Levant. Anyone who has bothered to blow the dust off a history book knows that people in the region cut each other’s throats from time to time. What you learn from this history is that when that happens, you’re better off being somewhere else. There is little that the news today can add to that lesson.

But, this morning, European and English newspapers are having some fun out of the whole business. One of their lead stories attempts to show that the president of the United States of America is a moron. The evidence they present for this is an off-the-record exchange between George W. Bush and Tony Blair, in which the American addresses the British prime minister by his last name, as if he were a gunnery sergeant talking to a new recruit. “Yo, Blair. How are ya doing,” is the headline in the Daily Mail, accompanied by a series of unflattering photos. The president then gives his opinion of how the trouble in Lebanon could be put to rest — a view untainted by history or reflection. It too might more likely have come out of the guardhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue rather than the Oval Office itself: “They need…to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh** and it’s over.”

Yes, and Thomas Friedman’s recipe for ending terrorism in Iraq was just as puerile: Get the Islamic community leaders to delegitimize terrorism.

Life is simple when you are not handicapped by too much reflection. Just get someone on the phone for goodness sake. Get him to do something.

“I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to Assad and make something happen,” Bush continued. This is the very same president who greeted the Lebanese prime minister three months ago, saying, “Lebanon can serve as a great example of what is possible in the Middle East.”

He was right about that, though not as he intended. Lebanon does serve as an example of what is possible — the phony war on terrorism could become a real war. Instead of reducing oil to $20 a barrel (“The greatest thing to come out of this [war in Iraq] for the world economy…would be $20 a barrel for oil,” we recall Rupert Murdoch announcing in February of 2003), the price could easily go much higher. Think the U.S. consumer’s back is breaking now? Just wait to see what happens with oil over $100.

We do not blame the president. He is what he is; he is no moron. He has a role to play, just as we all do. On the whole, he does a pretty good job of it. His role is to destroy America’s commanding lead in the world. Nature cannot abide a monopoly for long. Great empires, which monopolize military power, must be brought down…if not from the outside, then from the inside. Mr. Bush is merely an unwitting instrument of history.

In this role, the president is fortunate in having a whole coterie of barmy advisors and intellectual scalawags to assist him. William Kristol, Mr. Murdoch’s man in Washington, for example, urges the president to get further involved in the Near East, the Middle East, and everywhere else east of Eden. “Weakness,” he writes as if he were advising the Emperor Commodus, “is provocative.” He suggests a tighter connection between the United States and Israel, and a show of force, including an immediate strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. We don’t know whether that would be good or bad, in the big scheme of things, but if it’s provocation Mr. Kristol worries about, we can hardly think of a worse one.

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.

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