Friday, September 28, 2012

High-five for Polanyi perspective

  • In a similar vein, Canadian Nobel Laureate John Polanyi adds a political element: “The picture would present itself of two non-Islamic nations, with an arsenal of nuclear weapons, attacking an Islamic state that might be on its way to getting one.” “The effect would be to poison relations with the Muslim world for decades.” To which we can add that nothing would strengthen Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamanei domestically more than an attack on Iran.
  • Benjamin Netanyahu is clever but not wise.
(From Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, September 26, 2012, included below)
There is a kind of pattern to neo-con thinking and insertion into political debates.
It could be described as reductionist, simplistic, hard-edged, macho, Manichean, self-righteous, tactical (not strategic, never global,) exclusive (never inclusive), unilateral, capable of being captured in both headline and soundbyte, black-and-white (never multicoloured) spondaic as opposed to iambic, militaristic as compared with symphonic, binary as compared with calculus, rifle as opposed to 'shot-gun', and "clever but not wise."
We have seen this pattern emerging from the mouths of people like Michelle Bachman, Stephen Harper, Benjamin Netanyahu, Carl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Mike Harris, John Baird, Scott Walker, both others over the years, and quite recently. We have watched as, seemingly driven by both intensity and hubris, infrequently by humility and moderation, the "bull-in-a-china-shop" image has come to mind in various public theatres where issues are engaged.
  • It can be seen in the cyber-bullying that infects all middle schools in North America.
  • It can be seen in too many foreign policy interventions in the recent past by the U.S.
  • It can be witnessed in the conflict between competing masculinities of the Alpha Male and the Evolved Man, the Marines and the Ballet.
  • It can be (and has been) documented in the speeches by conservative leaders over centuries as compared with more liberal speeches over the same time frame.
Integrating the execuitve "function," "action," "decisive," intuitive capacity with the more diffuse, mystical, reflective, imaginative, has and will continue to be one of the more troubling of human dilemmas. Nevertheless, both sides need each other. Caesar needs Hamlet! And Hamlet needs Caesar! And both of them need Brutus and Cassius, Mark Anthony and Othello, Beethoven and Wordsworth!
And Polyani (above) posits the larger picture of "two non-Islamic states with an arsenal of nuclear weapons attacking an Islamic state that might be on its way to getting one" as an ideal prism through which to view the nuclear ambitions of Iran.
Sometimes, in Canada, we are rightly accused of interminable "talk" and little or no action especially on long-standing social issues like poverty, homelessness, environmental protection. And our capacity to act is curtailed, if not completely blocked by competing political interests refusing to collaborate. And sometimes, we simply do not wish to imitate our elephant neighbour to the south. And sometimes we have to "campaign" to get elected, and as then Prime Minister Kim Campbell tragically reminded us, a campaign is no time to debate complex issues.
(She was pilloried for such political apostasy by her opponents and the media and suffered the largest and most tragic defeat in Canadian political history, for telling the truth.)
Our academic tradition negates multi-disciplinary, multi-party, multi-cultural and multi-dimensional original research, believing that one has to aspire to and accomplish individual mastery of a subject, no matter how micro, and that a project underaken by a large group will inevitably drag the sluggish into unwarranted 'success' and the project itself down to the mediocre. It is only after one has completed one's own academic coronation in either or both doctoral or post-doctoral studies that one can then enter into the collaborative, co-operative, "multi-party" approach that demands the rigours of a 'team'.
Nevertheless, we all know that only by the full commitment and participation of a team can the best decisions be advanced, examined, debated, inflected and refined and that the greater the engagement of the "general public" the higher the likelihood of a decision that reflects the public good. And when the "team" includes a variety of perspectives, from all points on a large continuum, both ideologues and non-ideologues, pragmatists and idealists, poets and scientists, artists and engineers, there is some promise of both conflicting sparks and enhanced enlightenment, not to mention 'light' as well as heat.
How one reaches decisions, especially in the face of external threats and overt bullying is a mark of the kind and degree of strength and maturity needed in a leader in complex, threatening and seismic forces. Pandering to one side or another cannot and will not produce either effective or enduring outcomes.
As Ian McGilchrist warns, humanity is facing the prospect of drowing in the force of a left-brain tidal wave. And for each of us to bring our Polanyi-perspective of the big picture, the long-term perspective, including all the large and smaller details into our own perspectives, on both sides of competing political interests, is not only something we might call admirable, but increasingly required.
And when we read Siddiqui, Polanyi, Suzuki, Cohen (both Leonard and Andrew), Friedman, Krugman, Slaughter, Hedges and their ilk, we can take comfort that the narrow and immediate and unilateral will not take over no matter how deeply bankrolled are their ranks.
It is more than conceivable that, in the twenty-first century, we are raising more "clever" Natanyahu's than "wise" Polanyi's. In fact, it is quite likely, tragically!

Siddiqui: Netanyahu overplays his hand with Obama
By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, September 26, 2012
Benjamin Netanyahu is clever but not wise. No Israeli prime minister should publicly challenge an American president. But for decades of American economic and military aid plus countless vetoes in the Security Council, Israel could not have got away with its illegal and brutal occupation of Palestinian lands for as long as it has, 45 years and counting.
Yet for the past 18 months, Netanyahu has been hectoring Barack Obama — in the Oval Office, in Congress, from American platforms and on American TV — to follow his script on how to handle Iran’s nuclear program. He has in effect been demanding assurances that if Israel refrains from attacking Iran, America eventually will, or that if Israel starts the war, America will finish it. He has also ignored Obama’s call to halt illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians — an unresolved issue that has created unprecedented hostility against the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world, indeed beyond it.
Netanyahu considers himself an expert on America, having lived there for years as the Israeli envoy to the UN and also Washington. He thought he knew how to exploit this year’s presidential election to corner Obama, even while proclaiming that he was not interfering in domestic politics on behalf of Mitt Romney.
But like most ideologues, he did not know where to draw the line. This even though Obama has increased military cooperation with and funding to Israel to record levels and, unlike George W. Bush, corralled Europe, Russia and China into unprecedented sanctions on Iran.
After showing exemplary patience all these months, Obama has, finally, outmanoeuvred Netanyahu. In a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday — declaring that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” — he refused Netanyahu’s demand to draw the “red lines” that Iran must not cross if it is to avoid military action. The president even refused to meet the prime minister in New York.
While Obama has maintained all along that Iran’s acquiring of a bomb is counter to both Israeli and American interests, he’s now implying that attacking Iran now is not in America’s interests.
If Obama wins in November, the situation could only get worse for Netanyahu and also his neo-con American supporters, including those funding Romney by hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat Obama, whom they consider insufficiently obedient on Israel.
Indeed, it could be that the magic spell that the Israeli lobby has long had on American presidents would be broken. Thoughtful Israelis have been anticipating just such a scenario, and been warning Netanyahu against his high-wire act.
Critics have included such eminences as President Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Shaul Mofaz, and the heads of the security forces.
Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad (2002-2011), said that the Iranian leadership, despite all its hateful anti-Israeli rhetoric, especially Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s, is rational and acts for self-preservation. (The same point was made by the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey).
Yuval Diskin, the retired chief of Shin Bet (2005-11), even accused Netanyahu and his defence minister Ehud Barak of harbouring “messianic” fervour.
Mofaz, leader of the Kadima party and a former defence minister, accused Netanyahu in the Knesset of waging “an extensive and relentless PR campaign with the sole objective of preparing the ground for a premature military adventure. This PR campaign … threatens to weaken our deterrence and our relations with our best friends.
“Mr. Prime Minister, you want a crude, rude, unprecedented, reckless and risky intervention in the U.S. elections . . .
“Tell me, who is our biggest enemy, the U.S. or Iran? Who do you want replaced, Ahmadinejad or Obama? How low are you prepared to drag relations with our closest ally? ”
Majority Israeli public opinion is also ranged against a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran.
Very little of this is reported in the American and Canadian media.
Note also the sharp contrast between the above-cited Israeli sentiments and those of the American and Canadian politicians braying for war on Iran.
Stephen Harper has closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran, as if an attack on Iran were imminent and our diplomats there in jeopardy.
That’s an ill-advised decision, John Mundy, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, will tell a Toronto audience tonight (the meeting is organized by the Canadian International Council).
“Now is not the time to abandon diplomacy,” he told me by phone from Ottawa. “We never did this with the Soviet Union, when it was much worse of a threat than this Iranian government will ever be.”
Mundy drew attention to a recent high-profile bipartisan American report by the Iran Project entitled, “Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action against Iran”
It suggests that Iran is not close to making the bomb, that an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would only damage but not destroy them, that an attack would prompt Iran to retaliate and also be more determined to acquire the bomb.
In a similar vein, Canadian Nobel Laureate John Polanyi adds a political element: “The picture would present itself of two non-Islamic nations, with an arsenal of nuclear weapons, attacking an Islamic state that might be on its way to getting one.”
“The effect would be to poison relations with the Muslim world for decades.”
To which we can add that nothing would strengthen Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamanei domestically more than an attack on Iran.


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