When the CIA engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1953 in favor of the more compliant Shah, who would have ever thought that 26 years later the nation’s youth would invade our embassy and take our diplomats as hostages? When our president’s national security advisor instigated secret support for the Afghanistan Mujahideen the same year in their resistance against the Russian army, who would have imagined that 22 years later one of the Mujahideen leaders, Osama bin Laden, would direct the 9-11 attacks on America?
When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 without just cause, who could have foreseen that five years later as many as a million Iraqis have been killed, tens of thousands of American soldiers have been grievously wounded or died, more than a trillion tax dollars have been wasted, and our troops are still not welcomed as liberators?
When the CIA and the U.S. ambassador secretly engineered the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 and after the U.S. encouraged the Israeli-trained Georgian army to invade the disputed enclave of South Ossetia five years later, who could have predicted Russian peacekeepers would be killed causing Russia to invade Georgia and overrun its lilliputian army provided by U.S. taxpayers? The only thing for certain to result from all such Machiavellian maneuvers is chaos, pure chaos.
The classical theory set forth in Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick in 1987 is that “a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York.” Basically, any attempt to accurately discern outcomes from discrete and random inputs is much like reading entrails or trying to guess which card will be dealt after God reshuffles the deck “under the table” after each hand.
From a political standpoint, chaos theory requires us to consider the effect of a vice president flapping his lips on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf or in the former U.S.S.R. republic of Georgia on starting World War III or Cold War II.
In May 2007, Vice President Cheney threatened that, “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike, we’ll keep the sea lanes open.” And, “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”
Last week, Cheney belligerently stated, "America will do its duty to work with the governments of Georgia and our other friends and allies to protect our common interests and uphold our values."
Given the fact that between them, Iran and Russia control a substantial portion of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves, it would seem such bellicosity can only have dire consequences for those of us whose petroleum supplies are running thin and whose military is dangerously overextended.
With the presidential election only a few weeks away, and the candidates all trying to out-tough the others by threatening war against Iran and Russia or promising to “finish the job” in Afghanistan by invading Pakistan, a brief discussion of how an application of chaos theory could improve the practice of politics might of interest.
Seeking Order Within Chaos
Although the systems being studied, such as the weather, may appear at first to be disordered, chaos theory seeks to identify the underlying order in the apparently random data.
Meteorologist Edward Lorentz first experimented with the theory in 1960 as he worked with twelve computerized equations to model the weather. He observed that a tiny, statistically insignificant, difference in the starting value resulted in a wildly different weather pattern at the end. Thus, while the flapping of a single butterfly’s wings only produces a tiny change in the local atmosphere, over a period of time, the world’s climate may be dramatically different from what it might have otherwise been.
In addition to the weather, a variety of systems exhibit chaotic behavior, including fluid dynamics, lasers, electrical circuits, and population growth. However, these systems are not entirely disorderly and they lend themselves to a degree of mathematical order and determination.
Unfortunately, there are no existing mathematical formulas to help predict the consequences of political words, decisions, and actions; however, it might be rewarding to at least have a basic set of standards to improve the reliability of political practice.
The Ten Commandments have existed for more than 3,500 years as an ethical guide for human behavior and are recognized by all three of the major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Whether or not one is a believer, the Commandments provide a commonsense guide to avoid adverse consequences in most decision making and conduct.
In order to reduce political chaos, the following suggestions are offered as discussion points for establishing a basic set of political standards.
Certainly, if these standards were being commonly adhered to, the irrelevant and random noise of the current presidential campaign might be reduced and we would hear less about lipstick on pigs and more about the critical issues facing our country in the next four years.
I. Have no master before you except those who elect you. Never forget whose trust you hold. Only citizens of the United States can vote in its elections, and corporations, irrespective of wealth and power, are not citizens.
II. Look at the big picture. Just like playing chess, political statements, decisions and acts must be based not just upon the immediate situation or motivation, but on how they conform to everything known about the issues and the probable consequences. If not enough is known, then gather more data before speaking or acting.
III. Create thoughtful policies. Among other things, policy is based upon traditions, experience, practice, law and commonsense. It serves as a logical guide for decision making and the creation of programs. Modify policy when circumstances change or when more is learned.
IV. Don’t be stupid. Accept proven facts, and reject unproven beliefs. Engage brain before putting mouth in motion.
V. Don’t tell lies. Respect, honor and value the truth. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
VI. Follow the law. Or, change the law. Ignore the law at your peril.
VII. Don’t be greedy. Don’t steal or take what doesn’t belong to you or your government.
VIII. Respect and care for others. The cultures and beliefs of others are special to them and must be respectfully considered in the decisions and actions that affect them. Have empathy for others and the pain and hardships they suffer.
IX. Don’t hurt or kill others. There may be some legitimacy in unavoidable self defense, but an unprovoked attack is always the mark of a cowardly bully.
X. Follow the Golden Rule. The Rule, in one form or another, is a basic part of all religions and has a foundation in ancient Greek philosophies, including that of Epictetus, "What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others."
The current crop of candidates for president and vice president are all flapping their lips (with and without lipstick) making thoughtless statements that can and will come back to haunt us in the future.
Obama says he will “take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan” (a nuclear-armed nation against which we have not declared war). Biden called Obama’s threat “misguided,” but goes on to compound the offense, “The last thing you want to do is telegraph to the folks in Pakistan that we are about to violate their sovereignty.”
McCain sided with Cheney when he told Georgian President Saakashvili that he and his country have the support of Americans in their struggle for “freedom and democracy.” According to Mc Cain, “Russia used violence against Georgia to send a signal to any country that chooses to associate with the West.” Claiming to speak for everyone (Republicans, Democrats, Independents and those not allowed to vote), McCain said, “I know I speak for every American when I say to him [Saakashvili] today, we are all Georgians.”
When Palin was asked if under the NATO treaty, the U.S. would have to go to war if Russia again invaded Georgia, she responded,
“Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help. [sic] And we’ve got to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable.”
What are these people thinking? These are the kinds of careless statements that can ignite a nuclear war in which millions, perhaps billions die – when humanity gets wiped out along with a lot of other innocent creatures of God! At least, shouldn’t we expect those who seek our vote to learn from history, particularly our most recent experiences? Can’t they see what has happened in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia as a result of our ill-advised meddling?
It’s like there’s a Dr. Strangelovian “Doomsday Machine” out there and these politicians either don’t know about it, or else they know about it and just don’t care, or perhaps they really aren’t as smart as they’d like for us to believe.
Hopefully, God will be kind enough, and forgiving enough, to allow us to escape the flames of devastating consequences scorching their tower of babbling when the day for judgment arrives.
William John Cox is a retired supervising prosecutor for the State Bar of California. As a police officer he wrote the Policy Manual of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Role of the Police in America for a national advisory commission. Acting as a public interest, pro bono, attorney, he filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 on behalf of every citizen of the United States petitioning the Supreme Court to order the other two branches of the federal government to conduct a National Policy Referendum; he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical right-wing organizations in 1981 that denied the Holocaust; and he arranged in 1991 for publication of the suppressed Dead Sea Scrolls. His 2004 book, You’re Not Stupid! Get the Truth: A Brief on the Bush Presidency is reviewed at http://www.yourenotstupid.com, and he is currently working on a fact-based fictional political philosophy. His writings are collected at http://www.thevoters.org, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.