Before his death, John Kenneth Galbraith noted a key difference between reconstruction in Iraq and reconstruction in Japan after the Second World War. There were many comparisons between the US role in Iraq now versus the role in Japan then. Why was reconstruction in Iraq going so badly — so much money going to waste, or just disappearing; projects begun, never completed; projects proposed, never begun; total destruction of cultural treasures; utterly inadequate attention to schools, hospitals, roads; and failure to foster a healthy new governing structure.
The key difference, Galbraith said, was in the intentions of the planners, the problem solvers. In Japan, Galbraith and others saw a genuine problem to be solved honestly. Today, the key problem entertained by Bremer, Petraeus and their masters in the US has been how to make the most money with the least effort, and even that has been tainted by sheer bigotry and gross ignorance.
Now, another nation stands in need of reconstruction — the United States.
Its economy is failing. Its environment, along with that of the rest of the world, is in decline. Schools are declining. Roads and bridges decaying. Healthcare becoming unaffordable for all but the rich. Retirement becoming unreachable.
But the overwhelming sense conveyed by first the Bush planners and now the Obama planners is that their key concern is how to make a buck, or to save the bucks for the billionaires they seem most intent on representing.
In his inaugural address, Obama suggested the words of John F. Kennedy — that we the people have an obligation to our nation, that is, to all Americans. This is the rhetoric of responsibility, a popular theme for at least 40 years, one usually turned on the least fortunate to condemn them for their misfortune.
The poorest and increasingly the substantially impoverished middle classes are enjoined to consider their own responsibility and thus not turn to the government for a handout.
Never in the course of American history has so hypocritical demand been made. It is an ancient notion that the most fortunate bear a special responsibility to those who are less so. But in this absurd nation, the most fortunate demand and demand and demand ever more aid from those least able to provide. President Obama offers only the most tepid criticism of this threat-backed begging. He offers little or nothing of substance to remind the most fortunate of the obligation they bear by virtue of their fortune.
There are in history precedents for this hypocritical demand on the many to aid the privileged few. They are not happy ones. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Vietnam, the Middle East.
We are at a crossroads. In a sense, every moment in history is just as weighty as every other. But intuitively we grasp that some moments are of greater weight in the course of human development. This is such a moment.
The developing oligarchy of the United States has failed. We can challenge that orthodoxy, or we remain immobile, dumbstruck, complacent, while the oligarchs, now represented by President Obama, sweep us along over the edge into the abyss.