Why is the American political class so intent on reviving the Cold War? Why does Israel have it in for Iran?
These are complicated questions; many factors are involved.
But there is “a fact of life,” as it were, that bears on the answers to both questions: that to keep their regimes – their distinctive ways of organizing cultural, economic, and political institutions — going, the United States and Israel need enemies, and the ones most readily at hand no longer seem up to the task.
One reason why Russia has again become America’s enemy, and Iran Israel’s, is that good enemies are hard to find.
When the Soviet Union imploded, America’s political and economic elites found themselves facing a problem that they had not seen coming: how to make do without a rationale that had served them well for as long as anybody could remember.
Almost from the moment World War II ended, Americans were made to understand that an Evil Empire threatened the Land of the Free. That implacable foe, the Soviet Union was, by any reckoning, a worthy antagonist, and an enemy for all seasons — of limitless scope and world-class capabilities.
It provided our rulers with reasons why so much of our wealth had to be spent fattening an ever expanding military-industrial complex, why our basic liberties might have to be (and sometimes were) curtailed, and why dissent had to be kept in bounds.
In totalitarian societies, states force compliance with the demands of rulers and the exigencies of regimes through the use or threat of force. We Americans had little need of that; our propaganda system gave us motivation enough to make “defense” our highest priority.
A less formidable adversary could not have brought us to that point. What our rulers needed was a foe capable of “scaring the hell out of us,” as the stately Dean Acheson famously said.
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