Posted on Sunday 28 December 2008

The despots of the Twentieth Century weren’t terribly different from those that came before them. Kaiser Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia made a fine mess of things with World War I  taking his cousin-in-law Czar Nicholas II of Russia down in the process, effectively bringing the age of the Old World Monarchies to a close by the end of the war. And their successors, Adolph Hilter and Joseph Stalin, fared no better with their ideologic Dictatorships, but they sure both gave the world a run for its money in the process. The late-coming despot of the 20th Century was blowhard Saddam Hussein of Iraq, easily handled in the First Gulf War when he made his foray into Kuwait.

I suppose that that First Gulf War gave us a false sense of confidence – being such a walk in the Park compared to World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. We hadn’t yet understood the resolve of the Islamic Fundamentalists or their radical arm, Al Qaeda, under Osama Bin Laden. But the thing we had least prepared ourselves for was despotism in our own country.

des·pot \ˈdes-pÉ™t, -ËŒpät\
1. a:    a Byzantine emperor or prince
  b:    a bishop or patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church
  c:    an Italian hereditary prince or military leader during the Renaissance
2. a:    a ruler with absolute power and authority
  b:    a person exercising power tyrannically

des·po·tism \des-pÉ™-ËŒti-zÉ™m\
1. a:    rule by a despot
  b:    despotic exercise of power
2. a:    a system of government in which the ruler has unlimited power
  b:    a despotic state

If it seems a reach to call George W. Bush and Dick Cheney despots, I’d suggest you haven’t been paying attention. Sure, they went to Congress for approval of at least some of their decisions. But so did Hitler and Stalin. And like Hitler and Stalin, they had complete control over a majority in Congress which voted for their policies and programs en masse until 2006. But more than their control of the Legislative Branch, they expanded the powers of their offices beyond recognition, finding loopholes like Signing Statements to invalidate legislation they didn’t like. They exerted unprecedented authority over the Judiciary by appointments – turning the Department of Justice into the political arm of their Party. Their megalomaniacal interpretation of Executive Priviledge and War Powers just added to their concentration of power. It was a coups d’etat that used our existing agencies of government to recreate one more to their liking – again mirroring the techniques of Adolph Hilter and Joseph Stalin. They even went after the vote itself, though they’ve managed to keep most of the details under wraps. And finally, they used secrecy under the guise of National Security to over-ride basic American Principles like privacy and the Geneva Conventions. In more ways than I can ennumerate, Bush and Cheney have been despots [whether they donned the garb like their predecessors or not].

What motivates people to do such things? Or, for that matter, what motivates the financial despots like the billion dollar a year Hedge Fund Managers or a crook like Bernard Madoff to amass such an enormous amount of power? Friedrich Nietzsche actually thought that the "will to power" was a central ingredient in man’s psyche  – even more powerful than the "will to live" [survival]. For Hegel, it was the primal motivation tamed only when an individual learns that he values his life more than power – the master/slave dichotome. When one member of a fight to the death surrenders, he becomes a slave and enters into a civilized discourse with others based on trade and negotiation rather than power. And we are warned by the old saying, "absolute power corrupts, absolutely." Psychoanalysts have varied in their formulations about people driven to achieve positions of power. There have been Instinct Theories – the Aggressive Instinct – something in all of us that sounds like Nietzsche or Hegel. More recently, the hypotheses revolve around Narcissism, an overvaluing of one’s self [as, perhaps, a reaction to a private or unconscious insecurity]. These latter ideas suggest that a strong "will to power" is always pathological – something aberrant, a sickness, out of the mainstream of normal development.

If anything, the American system of government was constructed with a strong system of separation of power and checks and balances to prevent people like Bush and Cheney from taking over our country – men driven to power for its own sake. Either we’ve been lucky previously, or these men were very creative in finding ways to subvert the intent of our Founders. They changed to direction of the country with an eye on world domination, much as the despots of the last century. And, speaking of megalomania, they even wrote down what they had in mind in advance:

June 3, 1997
American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America’s role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.

We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We are living off the capital — both the military investments and the foreign policy achievements — built up by past administrations. Cuts in foreign affairs and defense spending, inattention to the tools of statecraft, and inconstant leadership are making it increasingly difficult to sustain American influence around the world. And the promise of short-term commercial benefits threatens to override strategic considerations. As a consequence, we are jeopardizing the nation’s ability to meet present threats and to deal with potentially greater challenges that lie ahead.
We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:
  • we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
  • we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
  • we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
  • we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.
Elliott Abrams    Gary Bauer    William J. Bennett    Jeb Bush
Dick Cheney    Eliot A. Cohen    Midge Decter    Paula Dobriansky    Steve Forbes
Aaron Friedberg    Francis Fukuyama    Frank Gaffney    Fred C. Ikle
Donald Kagan    Zalmay Khalilzad    I. Lewis Libby    Norman Podhoretz
Dan Quayle    Peter W. Rodman    Stephen P. Rosen    Henry S. Rowen
Donald Rumsfeld    Vin Weber    George Weigel    Paul Wolfowitz

And look at where they’ve taken us…
    December 29, 2008 | 9:16 AM

    In Scott McClellan’s book “What Happened” the author gives you a lot of insight into the Bush Administration. I haven’t finished the entire book yet but the title of his book is right on the money. There is a chapter where McClellan writes about Rove. “Rove headed four key offices(other Administrations have had different offices but Rove added at least one more than the others) aimed at one overarching objective:shaping and manipulating sources of public opinion, much as a political campaign, to help advance the Bush agenda and policies.The Office of Strategic Initiatives served as a long range strategic planning outfit. The Office of Political Affairs coordinated a broad range of politically oriented events and activities, keeping in close contact to RNC and with R leaders and activists in states and communities around the nation.The Office of Public Liaison worked closely with key constituencies——-and public interest groups, chamber of commerce etc. The last but not least Rove focused on state and local officials. Individuals of enomous political savvy and intellect headed each of these four offices throughout President Bush’s time in office. The director of each office reported directly to Rove.The existence of these four powerful office inside the WH–most established prior to Bush’s presidency–helped solidify the place of the permanent campaign in the national political landscape.” How sad and unpatriotic. I always felt that once a president was elected ( the key might be in the word elected, that the corrupt tools Bush, Rove and company used where what helped Bush get close enough to winning the 2000 election by being selected by the Supreme Court) Bush can’t hold a candle to most of the presidents and that is why he is now considered the worst president of the United States. Rove and company have to be investigated for all their lethal trickery(possible illegal) for all the harm and death they have caused by putting a fraud in the White House. I think if gov’t investigators like a special prosecuter read parts of this book, that this will be a tool to use like a how to book to get to the bottom of the Bush, Cheney, Rove Administration. Cheney may classify most papers, These four office with their heads(testifying under oath) will help uncover some of the sins of the 43rd president and his administration.

    December 29, 2008 | 11:20 AM

    In contrast to the comments about Rove in the WH, David Axelrod yesterday on TV said that his role will not be political. His task is to help get Obama’s message out to the public; when it comes time for the 2012 campaign, someone else outside the WH will run that.

    Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and Karl Rove probably said something similar. The difference is: if KR says it, I believe the opposite. But I think David Axelrod is trust-worthy. And I know Barak Obama is.

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