Friday, April 01, 2005

Friday Musings

A giant is dying in the Vatican as we speak. He reminds us of an ideological time -- where nations and their people bet everything on ideas, and for all the realpolitik that went on, ultimately it was great ideas that prevailed over other great ideas.

We are in lesser times now. All we get to fight is the spineless evil of Al Qaeda. No wonder even thoughtful people argue that great power rivalries are over, that this is time for constructive engagement -- even with ideological enemies.

We can understand lesser nations living by this confused and promiscuous credo of our lesser time. But, for great nations (like India), this should be a time to assert national character.

First, lets examine the dance floor. Here everyone's dancing with everyone else, committing to no one at all. Consider:

America opposes dictatorship -- except in China and Pakistan. To China it readily sells its debt, to Pakistan its gunpowder. China lusts for Taiwan who dances with America whose steady partner Europe, in turn, flirts with the dragon. India courts China and Iran and Burma and Hugo Chavez, rousing American jealousy. America courts a hard-to-get India to check China and Iran and Burma and Hugo Chavez. Russia frolics with Iran and Europe and India and China while America steals Ukraine and Georgia and maybe more -- America's President can still see into the Russian President's soul. Japan locks lip with America, waltzes with New Delhi, and marks time with China.

Is this chaos really Francis Fukuyama's famous and triumphant end of History? Is this why, in our post-ideological time, (Kautilyan?) realpolitik has replaced conviction?

Or has it? Does the global group-grope we described above really constitute rational (and legitimate) preservation of self-interest? Or, does it instead reflect a deep anxiety about our future -- what darkness is en route, who will lead and who will wilt, and most important, will the global order survive as we know it?

We think it's the latter. Because nations (even hyperpowers) do not know the shape of the future, they do not know how to place their bets. Accordingly, as any gambler would do, they place small bets with everybody.

We are not very fond of realpolitik (except as a short-term, tactical maneuver), see From Morality to Pragmatism: A Pendulum Swung Too Far. Our politics are rooted, and seek purpose, in moral ideology. To us, the confusion of our times is unnecessary and unbecoming -- afterall, even if we can't see the future to align our "pragmatic" bets, we still have our national character to guide our choices of friends and enemies.

To dramatize this point, we recall Hal Holbrook's words in the film Wall Street: Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

The same's surely true for nations. At this abysmal moment of geo-political confusion and promiscuity, our national characters are surely on test. Hopefully, India can find its character, make the right commitments, and stand tall when there is light again.

This means, at least, three things:

One, our friends must be those with whom we share abiding, democratic values (e.g., US, Japan, Israel, UK, Australia); not those who we guess might bring us short-term gain (not that we really can know who this latter set is)

Two, if our confused allies (e.g., US) place tactical bets (e.g., F-16 sales) with our ideological enemies (e.g., Pakistan), we shouldn't be frustrated; these bets hold little meaning and will just as easily reverse when the fog begins to clear -- conversely, we should not exult when someone sweet-talks us about forging a "Strategic Partnership"

Three, whenever the fog clears and the music stops, not every nation will have a chair; only those who have the national character to keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs, will come out ahead -- this is how India can finally breakthrough as a great power

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