Sunday, August 10, 2008
In 1995, Saturday Night Live did one of their funniest fake commercials ever, a spot for Old Glory Insurance, with paid celebrity endorser Sam Waterston. The premise is simple enough. Seniors need to be protected from robots, because robots eat medicine for fuel. In the best comedy tradition, everybody plays the ridiculous scenario completely straight, though there are times when Waterston looks like he's going to bust out laughing if the take goes two seconds longer. One of my favorite parts is a text warning that comes up on the screen near the end. "Warning! People who claim there are no robots may be robots themselves."
What makes me think of this fake ad from thirteen years ago is the current world situation. The Bush administration's foreign policy has been robot insurance, expensive boondoggles the American taxpayer has been sold to protect against non-existent threats. We had to protect ourselves against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam might hand over to one of his terrorist friends in al Qaeda. Never mind that he had no such friends or that if he had powerful weapons, it would make no sense for him to develop them just to hand them over to others. We were told the truth that he had biological and chemical weapons in the 1980's and early 1990's, but we weren't told that these weapons have expiration dates. We invaded a country literally half way around the world and claimed our national security was in immediate danger. So we bought a big policy of robot insurance.
If we were buying protection from a non-existent threat, were there reasons that did make sense? Iraq posed a much greater danger to Israel than it ever did to the U.S., and the Iraqis had the second largest oil reserves in the world. Of course, to bring these things up was considered the province of the tinfoil hat brigade, and probably anti-Semitic to boot. But now, five years into an occupation that was supposed to be a five week warmup for the neo-con invasion of Iran, all we have to show for it is a de-fanged Iraq that may or may not let us have permanent bases and may or may not let the big oil companies come in to take the oil under Iraqi soil and give the Iraqi people as little as possible in return for it. The "victory" that John McCain babbles incoherently about is the Iraqis lying down and ignoring their own best interests. It's a very low probability scenario.
The threat of Iran is another example of robot insurance. Condoleezza Rice recently signed an agreement with the Czechs to put up anti-missile defenses in that country. With a straight face, the administration said, "Draw a straight line from Tehran to Washington, and it crosses the Czech Republic." Yes, we did this to protect ourselves from Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles! Never mind that the longest range missile the Iranians have can just barely reach Israel if everything goes right, some 1,200 miles away, or about 2,000 kilometers. We have to protect ourselves from nuclear-tipped missiles from Iran, a country that has no nukes and no missiles that can travel the 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers).
Is there any other reason we might want to build a missile shield with the Czechs? Well, the Russians still have nukes and ICBMs, but we can't come right out and say that's what we are doing, because we kind of promised them we wouldn't surround them when the Soviet Union collapsed, though that is exactly what we have been doing ever since with the expansion of NATO. Now, the Russians and Georgians are in a shooting war over the territories of Ossetia and Abkhazia. The whole region is dotted with miniature versions of Armenia and Kurdistan, small ethnic enclaves with a long history of being oppressed by the local ethnic majority. In Ossetia, the oppressors are the Georgians, so the Ossetians made friends with the biggest dog on the block, the Russians. The best information right now is that the Georgians, our allies, started this most recent mess and are getting their asses handed to them by the Russians. John McCain wants NATO to get involved. That may sound like the safe and fair thing to a Western audience, but the Russians hear something completely different.
So we live in a world where we actually bought a few policies of robot insurance. It was a funny commercial parody, but here in real life, we are seeing the answers to the questions of "What happens next? If we spend all this money on something we didn't need, what happens in a real emergency?" The staggering incompetence of the Bush administration has made these new emergencies we face inevitable.