Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winters of Discontent, Here and Abroad

These times echo the opening lines of Shakespeare's "Richard III," rage against the world by "deformed, unfinished" voices.

In the Middle East and our own Midwest, discontent boils up into acting out of bone-deep beliefs, hatreds, tribal feuds and jealousies.

The turmoil proceeds on separate but parallel tracks yet, in a grownup conversation about American reality, is there no room for an overview that encompasses our approach to both?

What these crises share is that, in an era of scarcity, the U.S. is spending more than it can afford on both real domestic needs and a concept of security that unquestioningly keeps pouring billions into propping up so-called allies and containing slippery adversaries.

Yet, half a century after failing in Southeast Asia, a discredited theory is alive and well in the Middle East.

Back then, President Eisenhower described "the 'falling domino' principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences."

Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran... It's hard to keep track of the shaky dominoes and even harder to foresee where all this popular anger is going. As we nevertheless keep pouring billions into Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, isn't it time to reconsider this reflexive expenditure of billions into an idea of security that may be outmoded.

We were wrong about the domino theory then. Shouldn't we reexamine our assumptions now?

Meanwhile, in domestic discontent over comparative trifles, the "deformed, unfinished" spawned by the Tea Party strut on the stage, with the opening scene set in Wisconsin where a new governor is not satisfied to cut back union benefits in an economic crisis (no one could argue with that) but emasculate their power in the same stroke, triggering a farce rather than a sane debate

In Washington, John Boehner hails "democracy in action" as he pushes through a partisan budget-slashing bill that has no chance of surviving a Senate vote and/or Presidential veto. Posturing keeps trumping political reality.

Are we living in an era of Shakespearian tragedy or low-rent slapstick on a grand scale? If we don't start sorting all this out, we may have the worst of both.

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