05 December, 2007

The Postmodern White House

You may recall that I was discussing theoretical approaches to International Relations. That ran into the ground a bit, sadly before I reached any of the more entertaining theories. One day I will climb back on the wagon.

In the meantime, an entertaining thing to do can be to look at real world political leaders or organisations, and try to work out what is their theoretical perspective. Take George W. Bush (please, take him*). Like most people, he probably does not think of himself as having a theoretical perspective, he just does things he reckons will advance whatever goals he happens to have at hand. Or maybe he just does things (the whole idea of people actually having clearly defined goals that they rationally work to advance is surprisingly problematic when applied to real situations). However, one can still look at what he says and does and attempt to deduce the perspectives that guide him, even if they are subconscious.

The Bush regime is sometimes seen as embodying a realist view of international relations, with all that willingness to project US power wherever they like and tell anyone who doesn't like it to shag off. But the current US administration is also often seen as being driven by liberalism, albeit a kind of crusading bad-ass liberalism far removed from the stereotypes of hand-wringing whingey liberalism. From this point of view, it is Bush's liberalism that drove him to invade loads of countries and threaten bloody war on others - he is trying to make the world a better place, and you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.

It might be, though, that in trying to place the White House in terms of the old-school big two of International Relations theory, people are missing the point big time. We live now in the 21st century, and the Enlightenment derived certainties that drove people in the past are looking distinctly frayed around the ages. Realism and liberalism are both approaches from within the tired Enlightenment tradition... could it be that in our post-Enlightenment era, the current US administration is driven by post-modern ideas?

In 2002, some journalist fellow called Ron Suskind talked with a Senior White House Figure. The SWHF took issue with something the journalist had written, and berated him for belonging to a "reality-based community", defined as being people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality". The SWHF went on talk about how the world no longer conforms to this paradigm: ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality" (SWHF quotes from this article by Ron Suskind: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush)

A key feature of the postmodern worldview is to repudiate the idea of objective reality. Instead, people construct a reality for themselves. Ideas and theories become more important than mere facts, and if you can get enough people to believe something you have created your own reality. Suskind's contact suggests that at least some people in the White House buy in to this kind of postmodern perspective.

The last few days have seen another example of the Bush regime's postmodern view of reality. Over the last while, the Bush administration has been talking a lot about how Iran has a nuclear weapons programme and how something needs to be done about it; that "something" is implicitly war of one sort or another. However, US intelligence officials have released a report that says that there is strong evidence to support the idea that the Iranian regime halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. While one could argue that this evidence supports the idea that a tough Western policy forced the Iranians away from nuclear weapons, it severely undermines the idea that Iran needs to be invaded or fucked up to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons in the very near future. President Bush, however, is determined to press ahead with his policy of ramping up sanctions against the Iranian regime, possibly as a way of building tensions that will have the way towards a US strike. Bush's response to the inconvenient, reality-based report of his intelligence community has been to ignore it - instead he has rhetorically urged Iran to come clean about its non-existent nuclear weapons programme. In doing so, he is attempting to conjure such a programme into being, at least in so far as it can be used as pretext for war.

Pictures from, in order: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, and the BBC.

* Thank you, I am here all week

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