Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 47 Republican Ronin Take on Iran « LobeLog

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The 47 Republican Ronin Take on Iran « LobeLog
by John Feffer (Institute for Policy Studies)

 In traditional Japanese culture, a samurai without a master is known as a ronin. The most popular tale featuring these leaderless samurai is the 18th-century Chusingura. It tells of a feudal lord who must commit ritual suicide after assaulting the court official who had insulted him. Of the lord’s several hundred retainers, 47 loyal samurai plot their revenge on the haughty court official. After two years of scheming and subterfuge, they put their plan into motion. They surround the court official’s mansion, kill a number of his guards, locate the wretched man, and cut off his head. Revenge complete: a head for a head.
But since the shogun had ruled out revenge in this case, the 47 ronin had knowingly defied the government. They’d felt a need to obey a much deeper tradition in Japanese culture: to honor their former master. They also knew that they’d have to pay a price for discharging this debt of obligation. Except for the messenger who delivered the news of the court official’s murder, the ronin are all ordered to follow the example of their master. They, too, commit ritual suicide.
Their graves at the Senkaku temple in the heart of Tokyo are even today a destination for pilgrims. The Chusingura has taught generations of Japanese that obligation must always trump political expediency. This venerable Japanese tale of treachery, honor, and revenge has been performed many times on stage, both with puppets (bunraku) and with actors (kabuki). But a new production, modernized and updated, has now been remounted here in Washington, DC.
Even though the show has gotten some terrible reviews, I feel obligated to add my own critical voice. In this new American production of the Japanese classic, 47 Republican senators play the roles of the 47 ronin. They too deliberately defy the shogun, played with equanimity by President Obama. But the American ronin are out to kill a policy, not a person. Led by upstart Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, who earned his samurai sword on the field of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 47 Republican ronin send a letter to the distant shogunate of Iran. The epistle, which comes at a critical moment in the negotiations to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, offers two arguments. President Obama doesn’t really have the authority to make a binding nuclear deal, the ronin maintain. And even if such a deal were concluded, a future president or a future Congress could quickly undo it.
 These rogue senators are not interested in obeying the letter of the law: They prefer the law of their letter. Nor do they feel any need to show deference to their commander-in-chief. Like their Japanese counterparts, they too believe that they’re acting toward some greater purpose. But unlike the Chusingura, they have no desire to pay the political cost for this treachery — the loss not of their heads but of their offices. But it may well come to that. This is no laughing matter. Still, as Marx once said, history repeats — first as tragedy and then as farce. So, what does the farce of the 47 Republican ronin teach us about Capitol Hill politics today?"
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