Evening of Empire

Hubris, Bravado and Hypocrisy
The Evening of Empire

By WERTHER

When the admirable Tiberius upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. “Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?” He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: “How eager you are to be slaves.”
— Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Amid the onrush of Caligulan sex scandals, suspension of the Constitution, depressing bulletins from the Babylonian front, and all manner of bogus “events,” a recent news item has passed with remarkably little public stir, despite being featured above the fold on the front page of The Washington Post, a bulletin board as eagerly read by the capital city’s strivers as Pravda in its day by the fellow-traveler, or Osservatore Romano by the untramontanist Catholic.

The article [1] informs us that the President has signed off on a “National Space Policy.” The cornerstone of this new policy is the administration’s intention to “oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interest.”

The document adds elsewhere that the new policy must “enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interest there.” Note the unctuous use of the modifier “our”–as if the interests of parasitic contractors, government placemen, and neoconservative scribblers constituted the res publica.

If the English language means anything, the plain intent of the policy is to assert that the United States (or rather its governing clique) can do anything it likes, and treaties be damned, including the Outer Space Treaty currently in force. This conclusion would be consistent with the administration’s treatment of other judicial impedimenta, such as the Geneva Convention or the late Constitution. Similar to the Senate’s craven grant of plenary power to the Roman Emperor, a supine legislative branch has encouraged the administration to believe its own whim is law–to make war, to torture, to “unsign” treaties.

Yet the Post journalist, in the idiot-savant manner made famous by Bob Woodward, stenographically quotes a “senior government official who was not authorized to speak on the record” as saying “This policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space. Period.”

Ah, just as the Military Commissions Act was not about torture! How like the administration to assign one of its “senior” functionaries to pretend to speak without authorization in order to add verisimilitude to an assertion that it plainly wanted to disseminate–an assertion at odds with the plain text of its policy. And the Post’s reporter fell for it like a yokel at the Barnum circus. Thus the rest of the article becomes a fraudulent “debate” between the administration’s allegations and those of its critics; thereby lending weight to the presumption that there are legitimately “two sides” to any issue involving the administration.

While the Establishment press (other than the Post) gave little attention to the space policy story, the blogosphere (to the extent it paid any attention) behaved in a predictable fashion: the usual hand-wringing about the militarization of space, the unilateralism of the Bush administration, and forecasts of dark tidings generally. There is some truth to these assertions, but they are subsidiary to a more significant point.

The space policy document is not so much a blueprint as a symptom. But of what?–of fiendish Machiavells, plotting to storm the very heavens? Perhaps that is the intent of these laptop Flash Gordons, but between the desire and the fulfillment falls the shadow: the shadow of utter incompetence.

What is to be said about an administration which dreams of policing outer space, when for three and a half years its legions have been stalemated in their occupation of a broken-down country with a pre-war GDP less than that of Fairfax County, Virginia? The Iraq war has been such a riot of fecklessness as to take one’s breath away.

Read the rest here.

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