Friday, April 25, 2008

Hobson's Choice

The drums of war have been beating more loudly lately. Our military commanders have been ramping up their accusations of Iranian mischief, and today the oil market spiked on reports that a U.S.- chartered ship in the Persian Gulf fired a shot at an Iranian patrol boat. Evidence is piling up, they say, that Iran is responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. And of course, it is received truth that Iran is developing nuclear technology not, as they say, as a potential power source but as a step on the road to a weapon of mass destruction.

Most of the politicians have taken up their own drums. John McCain’s hawkishness is well known, and now Hillary Clinton warns that, were Iran to mess with Israel, the U.S. would “obliterate” that nation. (I have no doubt that the U.S. would rush to Israel’s defense. That’s the political reality. But is there a treaty somewhere? Did I miss that?)

That brings me to the dilemma confronting some voters this fall. It is likely that the choice will be between (1) a Republican who will look for any excuse to escalate the Middle East War and (2) a Democrat whose redistributionist, populist impulses will destroy what’s left of our free-market, free-trade economy.

This is not the first time voters have faced this Hobson’s choice. The far right apparently believes that our freedom rests on our willingness to project our military power. The far left is hostile to a capitalistic, meritocratic system that creates winners and losers. And that’s where we are (again) in 2008, with candidates playing to the most hawkish and most socialistic fringes. It tells us something about ourselves that politicians can win votes, and maybe elections, by threatening other countries with obliteration or demonizing “big business.”

It’s hard to be optimistic, but there is a possibility that Barak Obama would be less likely than Hillary to launch the B-2s and less likely than his rhetoric suggests to declare war on business. The choice of running mates will tell us a lot about the candidates. And they say that, once the primaries are over and the general election campaign begins, all candidates will rush to the center. Maybe. But I am not likely to forget that back in 2000, George W. Bush convinced me that he was firmly against trying to remake other countries in our own image.