The "ticking time bomb" gambit is a sure way to establish when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. You'll recall this was how the advocates of torture argued: what if the terrorists had a nuclear device designed to go off in the heart of, say, New York City's Times Square, and only torture could pry its location out of a captured detainee? Surely then we'd ditch our squeamishness about methods employed by the Gestapo and the KGB. American exceptionalism has its limits, after all.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice took this tack in the debate over Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction." "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," Condi infamously intoned. The same argument is being used today to justify a "preemptive" attack on Iran, which is supposedly building nuclear weapons at breakneck speed – a story we've been hearing for the past few decades or so....
Although the ticking time bomb scenario is most conducive to the realm of foreign affairs – where bombs, and other ticking devices, are largely to be found, along with a host of enemies ready to set them off – we hear variations of it on the home front as well. The current debate over the debt ceiling is a perfect example, with the Obama administration and its media shills claiming that if Congress doesn't raise it, an economic apocalypse is imminent. This is a very clever way of shifting blame for the ongoing financial crisis, one which may very well come to a head as Congress votes. Never mind that the more immediate cause of another lurch into the vale of depression is likely to be economic chaos imported from the Eurozone – American narcissism, a national malady, deludes us into thinking it's all about us. The fate of the world must always rest on our shoulders.
In any event, on the debt limit issue, the stance of those who want a more peaceful, less interventionist foreign policy is – or ought to be – clear. If we raise the debt ceiling, we are, in effect, giving the War Party a blank check. The pressure to cut military spending will end, and the spigot will be turned back on. Calls to cut back on military operations overseas – coming, these days, from fiscal conservatives as well as the usual liberal-left suspects – will have much less resonance in Washington.
There is another point, however, that needs making: the debt ceiling, aside from its legislative impact, is a powerful symbolic construct. It puts a ceiling on the ambitions of our officials, and, while not precisely teaching them humility, tethers them to reality. It is the American government saying: There are limits to our hubris.
July 15, 2011
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.
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