Friday, April 26, 2013

Seize the Moment 1

I started Richard Nixon's 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World.  In today's post, I'll just comment on four passages that stood out to me.  Tomorrow, I'll write about Richard Nixon's views regarding post-Soviet Russia.

1.  On page 30, Nixon says the following about the war against Iraq in the 1990's:

"Had we not intervened, an international outlaw would today control more than 50 percent of the world's oil.  While the United States could survive if necessary without Persian Gulf oil, Western Europe and Japan could not.  What happens to the economies of the other industrial democracies directly affects the health of our own economy.  We therefore could not have afforded to allow Iraq to control access to Gulf oil and blackmail the world through its choke hold on our oil lifeline."

This reminded me of a conversation that I once had with a professor at my undergraduate institution.  He was telling a group of us that the U.S. did not get a whole lot of oil from the Persian Gulf, but Japan did.  I replied: "I don't remember the government telling us that when we were fighting the Gulf War!"  The professor replied: "Of course it didn't!  Can you imagine how Americans would have reacted had they learned that American troops were being used as mercenaries for the Japanese?"

Nixon essentially acknowledges my professor's point, but, unlike my professor, Nixon believes that what happened in the Persian Gulf was relevant to our national interests, even if we could survive without Persian Gulf oil.

2.  On pages 62-63, Nixon says the following about Soviet support for Saddam Hussein's Iraq:

"In the Persian Gulf War, Moscow had to choose between supporting its traditional ally, Iraq, and retaining its newly won respectability in the West.  Though the Soviet Union helped Saddam Hussein covertly with military advisers and spare parts and sought to save him from decisive defeat through last-minute diplomacy, Gorbachev ultimately endorsed the U.S.-led coalition's use of force to liberate Kuwait and to cut Iraq down to size.  Gorbachev is not a stupid man.  Faced with a choice of Iraq or the West, he chose the West."

The reason that this stood out to me was that it called to my mind a right-wing article that I read against George W. Bush's war against Iraq.  Essentially, this article praised Saddam for cracking down on the Communists in his country.  It was interesting to me how this right-wing article was looking at Iraq through the prism of the Cold War, about a decade after the Cold War had ended!  In any case, though, I wonder how the author of that article would have responded had he (I remember it was a he) learned that the Soviet Union had been a major backer of Iraq.  A parallel case is evident in what the right-wing thinks about Israel.  For a long time, there were right-wingers (not all, or even most, but some) who equated Zionism with Communism----as if there's a conspiracy that is both Communistic and also Zionistic.  And yet, the Soviet Union supported Arab states.

3.  On pages 29-30, Nixon says the following about President George H.W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War in the 1990's:

"After he achieved his fundamental military objectives and even after he shielded the Kurds from Saddam Hussein's wrath, he avoided the quagmire of playing kingmaker in Iraqi internal politics."

Nixon appears to think that it was a good thing that Bush I did not proceed to topple Saddam Hussein.
What would Nixon have thought about George W. Bush's Iraq War in the 2000's?  I don't know.  On the one hand, Nixon thought that Bush I was wise not to get involved in Iraqi internal politics, which Nixon called a "quagmire".  Had Nixon been alive in the 2000's, perhaps he would have believed that the U.S. would be unwise to take on the responsibility of nation-building in Iraq.  On the other hand, I can also picture Nixon thinking that U.S. intervention in Iraq would be justifiable, since Iraq affected U.S. interests: if he were alive in the 2000's, Nixon may have bought into the idea that Iraq had WMDs and thus was a dangerous presence in the region.  I doubt that Nixon would have accepted the neocon agenda of making the world safe for democracy, however, for he argues in this book that democracy is not necessarily the best government for everyone.

On the one hand, Nixon probably would have been proud of Bush II for going over the UN's head to attack Iraq, for Nixon is rather critical of the UN in this book.  On the other hand, perhaps Nixon would have thought that Bush II was unwise to go into Iraq without enough allies, for Nixon praises Bush I for forming an alliance in the first Gulf War.

I can only speculate, based on what I've read thus far.  Later in this book, there is a chapter on "The Muslim World".  It will be interesting to see what Nixon says there.

4.  On page 83, Nixon says the following about Gorbachev's spending on the military:

"He has pleaded for Western tolerance of excessive military production, citing the monumental difficulties----particularly massive unemployment----in converting facilities to civilian production.  That argument crumbles under scrutiny.  Like most government spending, military procurement is nonproductive spending.  Because it does not produce any goods that consumers can buy, it acts as a drag on, not a stimulus for, economic growth.  Moscow would be better off shutting down defense plants and paying workers not to produce tanks and other equipment.  Then, the steel, electronics, and other inputs could at least be put to better purposes----such as, for example, alleviating shortages of consumer goods."

This passage intrigued me because Jerry Voorhis makes a similar point in his 1972-1973 critique of Nixon as President: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon----namely, that military spending does not stimulate the economy because it does not result in the production of goods that consumers can buy.
But didn't military production get the U.S. out of the Great Depression?  How, then, could it be a drag on the economy?  It may have gotten us out of the Depression, but American goods had to be rationed during the War.  And in the war's aftermath, there was a lot of inflation, for there was a limited supply of consumer goods, yet there was increased demand for them as people returned home from the war, and as Americans desired to get back to normalcy.

I am not entirely convinced that military spending cannot serve as stimulus, to tell you the truth.  It creates jobs, since people are producing stuff for the military.  People with those jobs can then go on to spend money on consumer goods, creating a demand for them, and (hopefully) a supply.  The thing is, I wish that there were other ways to stimulate the economy than for the government to spend money on weapons that we don't really need.  If only government spending on infrastructure could employ more people.

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