REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST AND PRESENT

                            By Sy Schechtman

                                 

          Approximately  25 years  ago,  in 1981 I believe,   a  debate  was published in Commentary  Magazine about  the current status of the two most  powerful world economies---the United States and Japan.   Then, as now, the United States was the most powerful. But the trend, and momentum,   was definitely on the side of the up and coming  Japanese  economic juggernaut.   That was the time when the Japanese were very cash rich  and investing   profligately  in  real estate, as buying up Rockefeller Center  in the heart of New York,  and  also paying very substantial  sums for classic western art.   This was the time that their increasing market share  in automobile  sales and   electronics  among other things  made them seem invincible economically too.   But  their  evident success  in gaining foreign market share was  the result of distorted economics, artificially  selling  at little of no profit  abroad, and keeping prices high in the Japanese  home market.  The sardonic, somewhat grim joke was that native Japanese  came to the United States  to  buy high quality Japanese cameras  and then sold them back in Japan   at a profit!   (Also the strong US dollar then helped  foreign  products compete in our country).

          Besides their lopsidedly buoyant economy  to contend with was our “buoyant” crime rate, especially murder,  and the generally  neat  and orderly Japanese environment; not the messy  place  that most urban    areas in the United States were.    

No! America’s day in the shining sun of number one super power status was about over, and even the editor of the Wall Street Journal,  who was still adamantly pro capitalist, free market  United States, failed to convince faint hearted, despairing  me.   The admiring, pro Japanese spokesman   seemed  most convincing, and as the supposed  Goliath of new industry  in the Far  East  started to slowly  diminish  in strength we all felt confident that this was only an inevitable, very transient stumble;  which has now continued  for about 25 years.!      

          The Dow Jones Average  in 1981-82  was around  800-825.  Today  it is  near all time highs, around 11,000.     The major Japanese  stock index  is about half the value of    its  1982 level.

 

          Now, of course, the tantalizing question;  can history  repeat itself?  The United States is still  the super power, not the “paper tiger” laughed at in the early eighties --Reagan corrected that image—but  there are  many  jeremiads  about  our Iraq venture and the large the large public debt partially resulting from  this has been a very worrisome thing,  and there have evidently  been civil rights incursions  in our zeal to preempt more terrorist  violence in our midst, and in general our country  has now become the  loathsome aggressor  in many people’s opinion.  Among  others   British historian  Niall Ferguson  has weighed in with the warning  about  debt,  claiming in his book  Empire  that the once mighty  British  Empire  collapsed eventually  not  because of  military  weakness  but because of growing insolvency due to foreign debt, and warned that we could  be in the same bind sometime soon. as nations refuse to lend us money because of our seemingly soaring debt.  (Ferguson generally supports Bush’s foreign  policy  notwithstanding).  And, beyond this is the alarming right leaning growth of the fundamentalist Christian evangelicals, whom Kevin Philips thinks are ever stronger   in the Bush  regime and who don’t believe  at all in the separation of church  and  state  in our predominantly Christian  nation.  But basically  the true unrest is, of course, the conduct of the  war in Iraq, which obviously   has not  been going well at all.    Beyond  the now academic conjecture of  weapons of mass destruction  (WMD)  and  the possible duplicity  about them   is the great  dissatisfaction of the present conduct of the war,  which now seems on the verge of possible civil war. 

          The great disconnect,  even among Bush supporters,  in  which camp I am still  rather unhappily in,  is the obvious  fact  that not enough  troops  are there  to  completely control  the  situation.  And the proper planning to implement the transition from overt war and invasion to  adequate stability and security.     Thus the initial  looting  and destruction of key  installations   of great value  strategically and  for civilian use  went unchecked.   Oil pipelines, electric power  plants and transmission lines  and many military  weapons storage  sites  were looted and destroyed, as was the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, a site of  great historic and cultural importance.    To all this Bush has adamantly insisted that “my generals have never asked  for more troops, and if they did I would certainly send them”.    All the while looking the camera right in the eye,   the epitome  of sincere, simple  striving  honesty.    No one, fortunately,  had the tact at these awkward   moments in leadership  fallibility to ask  where these additional troops could be obtained  as our military seems already over committed  in various  key places  world wide, and also in the face of now retired  General Shinseki,  the army Chief of Staff immediately before the start of the Iraqi  war,  who stated flat out that we would need  at least a quarter  of a million troops to adequately control  the situation  both in war and its crucial aftermath.   (We have  a comparative paltry  150,000 there now).

          Indeed, not unexpectedly, many moderate  prior supporters  of the Iraqi invasion  are  opting  out,  at least  in the sense of supporting  Bush’s conduct of the war.   His approval   ratings  are way down, probably  the lowest ever of any president.   But  the memory of the Vietnam  debacle is still  alive and well,      where  public support for the war at home  eroded  even as we were beginning to  win  on the military front.    But the last Tet offensive by the Viet  Cong  was  really a last   gasp  effort, as the leader, General Gap, conceded later,  saying that  while they  were on the verge of losing on the battlefield   they won the battle  of public opinion  in the American press, for  people became too discouraged  that  the violence  seemed to be escalating,  with the American readership  not discerning that this  Tet offensive was, in fact, a last gasp  event.    Indeed, thirty years  before we had the last  gasp  German offense  in the Battle of the Bulge, which came  perilously  close to succeeding and prolonging  the war,   as the over confident  Allied forces  did not  conceive  that the German forces could still mount such   a counter offensive,  which resulted in many lost allied  troops,  much larger than immediately  reported,  since only official  press handouts  were available  then,  and not the  detailed  embedded  reporters  anecdotal, inferential  and many times  contradictory, and discouraging  accounts  we are flooded with today,  and which were so effective in discouraging  us in Vietnam   But as indicated above,  the memory of the  premature withdrawal   from  Vietnam  is  fresh enough  to preclude  the same mistaken  course now.

          So, can  we right  our apparent  slide  into the doghouse of universal  public opinion  and be once again the envied and respected super power as before?    Most certainly!   Primarily because  we ourselves  are not  depressed   or  despondent---remember the famous “malaise”  that Jimmy Carter  moaned about?    We certainly are unhappy  about  Iraq  but  public confidence  in the country  is strong  as witnessed  by the all time highs in the stock averages---even in the face  of the current  debacle   at General Motors!   Our economy  is still  the most productive in the world, inflation is low, as is unemployment.  (And  70% of our people are home owners!). And our relatively positive dilemma  is the illegal aliens  situation where millions of poor people are constantly voting with their feet to come this country,  and earn considerably  more  then  at home  even though much lower than our  average  national wage.

          Our national age is much lower than moribund   France, Germany and Italy,  and  the formerly high flying Japanese.    And the seemingly  dynamic  Chinese  are beset with the internal instability  of  free market capitalism  and  totalitarian  politics, a probable collision course  that will  most  probably impede  their future economic  expansion.   Wisely,   for  once!,  President Bush  has just returned from a state visit  to  India, the other  dynamically  growing  entity  in Asia,   after  signing a landmark  agreement  to share nuclear reactors, fuel and expertise with this energy starved country.    We are  thus  in Asia  starting to align ourselves  with  a  progressive/backward ferment of a country ---India—which  is still  nurtured  in the bonds of Hinduism,  that marvelous technicolor  pagan  religion  of many many mostly benign gods and goddesses,  where many  western

dignitaries have been honored  with quasi sainthood   and great respect.     Not a trace of militant  Hinduism  or Buddhism;  no  concept  of Hindu  Jihad  or  70  compliant  virgins  to reward  Hindu  suicide  bombers.    But also  a striving  thriving  younger generation  of Indian youth   making great technologic strides in modern  science  and  telecommunication,  already  deep  into the art and skills  of our modern  era;  not like the   modern barbarians  of Islam,  whose  greatest  modern creation  is still the suicide  bomber,  whose  greatest productivity  is  the ratio  of how many non Moslems  killed  per  one suicide bomber.

          But here, immediately on the home front,  we must accelerate  our  media  production-----and FIRE  DONALD  RUMSFELD!!     The message to our  intractably  stubborn  president   is that loyalty  is not  necessarily  a political  hallmark  of integrity; just because  you never vetoed a bill  is not going to be your shining legacy,  so firing  Rumsfeld  will  not  tarnish your  image as a compassionate  conservative,  but as an alert  leader   who  once again has been “misunderestimated”.    This  time by admitting some of the planning  was  below  the mark.   This will help  immeasurably  with public opinion; and the fact that the Democrats  still don’t  have  clue  as to how to proceed.

Their attacks and threats of censure are like shooting themselves  in the foot.  

          Unless, of course,  there is some  sort of ugly “smoking gun”   soon to emerge!