Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

14 July 2015

A Good Three Weeks for Our Species


There’s a lot to lament in our modern globalized world. Our species spends far too much money on arms and armament, preparing to murder each other. Apart from Germany, we spend far too little on the global Energiewende that we all know is inevitable. Our rich are far too rich and arrogant, and the rest of us far too confused and powerless. In the midst of all this misplaced energy, a gross and vile buffoon named Donald Trump is “seriously” running for president of the world’s number-one economy and chief superpower.

So if you have a pessimistic bent, you can easily justify a good despond.

But sometimes, once in a while, we humans get things right. The last three weeks have shown what we can do if we’re smart, dogged and humble, much like Pope Francis.

The most important event occurred this morning: the long-awaited deal with Iran. If it sticks, it will be the crowning achievement of Obama’s presidency. In the long run, it will be more important even than “Obamacare,” which already has given over twelve million ordinary people new access to the world’s leading medical science and technology.

Why so? The Iran Deal shows that we humans have learned a vital lesson: treating a nation—any nation—like a cornered rat is not good policy. Economic isolation and sanctions can work as deterrents, but they don’t work as punishment for past behavior. They work only if the target has the power to remove them by changing its future behavior for the betterment of all mankind.

We learned this lesson the hard way about a century ago. The victorious World War I Allies punished a defeated Germany collectively, kicking it when it was down. Our then president, Woodrow Wilson, was a thoughtful ex-professor, just like our current one. He strongly urged the Allies not to do that.

They didn’t take his advice. So what they got was World War II—a massive exercise in collective self destruction. Had the Nuclear Age arrived a little earlier, it might have extinguished our species. For almost half a century, the whole world suffered for the Allies’ blunder. About fifty million people died prematurely.

But our species can learn. And so we have the now-concluded Iran Talks, which turned the collective punishment of sanctions into an effective deterrent. No war. No wanton destruction and murder. No entrenchment of the natural hatred that flows from murder and mayhem as blood from a wound. Just hard pressure—the stick—plus the carrot of letting a proud, ancient and capable people rejoin the modern world.

Never mind that this problem was largely of our own Yankee making—maybe our biggest foreign-policy blunder after Vietnam. Never mind that it all started just over half a century ago, when we and the Brits engineered a coup to depose Iran’s duly elected prime minister, all over oil. Never mind that we made things worse by inciting Saddam to wage a murderous war against Iran that accomplished nothing but killing an estimated one million people on both sides.

Today Iran, after a half-century detour, is very close to being a democracy again. Today peace and rapprochement with our one-time Big Cold War ally are no longer fantasies. Today the end of our senseless and tragic Little Cold War with Iran is in sight. As Winston Churchill once said, we Yanks always do the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives.

Our species’ next big achievement was the deal between Greece and the EU. Few recognize how vitally important that accord was and is. Most think it’s all about money.

But it’s not. The EU is one of our species’ most glorious and noble creations ever. In a way, it’s even more important than our own Yankee nation, especially in our current state of mental and emotional frazzlement.

Unlike our nation, the EU is a melting pot of entirely different cultures, with different languages, religions and long and enduring histories. Many of them fought each other for centuries, over territory, religion, cultural differences and imperial ambitions. Now they are at peace and increasingly productive, despite their durable differences.

That is the EU’s significance and the significance of the somewhat smaller Eurozone. Now the German, Dutch and Finnish taxpayers have agreed to pay more, and the Greeks have agreed to work harder, to maintain the integrity and preserve the future of one of the most significant political achievements in human history. The effort is not just worth the money and the suffering. It’s priceless.

Next to these two monumental achievements, the two remaining ones of the last three weeks may seem small potatoes. But in the long run they, too, will have their salubrious effect. Having passed the one-quarter milestone in fully renewable energy, Germany shut down its first-to-close nuclear power plant on its way to Energiewende. And our own confused and beleaguered nation maintained its leadership in human tolerance and equality by allowing same-sex marriage nationwide.

To be sure, there is still the possibility of backsliding. But the President has his veto pen, not to mention right and history on his side. If Europeans stop thinking for just a moment about money and start thinking about their own miserable history and human progress, they will stop doubting their European Project and double down on our species’ most constructive inter-cultural effort yet. The Germans, with their fine engineering and dedication to purpose, will continue to lead the way in renewable energy.

And we Yanks, once the world’s undisputed leaders in just about everything, will continue to lead the way in human tolerance, equal treatment of individuals, and personal liberty. If so, some day every human may, along with Pope Francis, shrug his or her shoulders at behavior that has no direct effect on him or her and ask “Who am I to judge?”

So take some time, this week or next, to do what we self-named Homo sapiens do best: celebrate. Raise a glass and congratulate our species for taking some giant steps in growing up.

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