Our Bloody Valentine
So – mounting evidence to the contrary – we’re being told that the American adventure in Iraq is coming to an end now.
All I can say is, “Damn fine war, damn fine war.”
Yup. We sure showed ‘em, didn’t we? Showed ‘em how to really fight a war.
Showed ‘em how to kick some Ay-rab ass. Showed ‘em who’s boss. You know, “shock and awe” and such.
I’ll tell you what. The only awe left around here is the awesome degree to which an entire nation is left stumbling through history in total shock. And it ain’t Iraq I’m talking about, either.
It’s in the nature of things that the more vociferously people assert a given point, the more likely they are to be doing so in order to counter their own fears of just the opposite. This week, Ken Mehlman, former head of the Republican Party and 2004 chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign, revealed what just about everyone in Washington had known for a long time – that he is gay. Recall that one of the central strategies of that 2004 GOP campaign was to mobilize religious right voters via a series of state initiatives on banning gay marriage. Nice work, Kenny.
Can you say “self-loathing”?
Similarly, when an empire has to label its military gang-rape of 25 million other people by the title “shock and awe”, it’s a safe bet that the folks who need convincing are the ones doing the giving, not the receiving.
Given this recurring motif, we probably ought to crank out some new Madison Avenue slogan to memorialize the occasion, as we (ostensibly) hit the Mesopotamian exit ramp. Prolly “Mission Accomplished” would not be a good choice, and not just because it wasn’t. “Never Again” pops to mind, but then that one is already taken. Plus, it’s a downer. And, given the general wisdom of the American electorate, it’s hopelessly Pollyannaish. How likely does it seem that this country has now given up its penchant for invading third world countries with fourth-rate militaries and wasting a whole boat load of inconvenient brown people who don’t even speak ‘Murican? Not very, brother. Not very.
No, something else is needed. Something to divert our attention from the reality of this war. Something with a nice fall theme, perhaps. How about, “Are you ready for some football?!?!”
All wars are tragic. Most, by definition, entail the height of human stupidity. Many are rooted in the rudest lies of the grossest proportions. Iraq was among the worst of all wars for all these reasons. It was the most unnecessary conflagration imaginable, based on the biggest stack of lies – many overtly told, but just as many silently formed around the unspoken assumptions of conventional “wisdom” – ever told to a population, and one which absolutely should have known better.
Everything about this sick war was wrong from the start, which is precisely why it had to be sold as a wholesale marketing package of complete deceit. Indeed, it is why it had to be sold at all. If the war had really had anything whatsoever to do with national security, that never would have been necessary. It’s not like FDR had to recruit a bunch of advertising suits to swing public opinion behind American entry into World War II. The Bush scum (I choose my words carefully – I can think of few other terms appropriate for those who could cause such carnage, on the basis of lies, for their own self-interested political purposes) understood this thoroughly, which is why they also understood that lies, intimidation, insulation of the public from the costs of the war, and false urgency were critical to their malevolent enterprise. They employed all of these and more, in spades. If the product of their campaign hadn’t been so utterly lethal, we might even admire them for their amazing capacity to pull off a scam this stunning in its proportions.
They had a lot of help, of course, from a public that was stupid, lazy, and willfully stupid in order to facilitate their laziness. It was one thing for the Bush people to lie about WMD and get away with it. Americans rightly recognize that they are not in possession of reliable intelligence data about national security questions (not, as history has repeatedly shown, that the CIA is either – but that’s another story). The public doesn’t know WMD from BFD (hell, no one had even heard the acronym prior to 2002), and they understand that they have to, within certain bounds, rely on their government for that information. (This, by the way, is one of the great unspoken tragedies of the war, and a gift that is likely to keep giving for a long time. By lying so egregiously to the American public, the freaks on the right who are always telling us how the government is our enemy gave hundreds of millions of Americans every reason to spend the rest of their lives believing them.)
But people should still have known better, even if the government was boldly and baldly lying to them about the rationale given for the war. None of that remotely held up to scrutiny if one simply asked the most basic of logical questions. Why Iraq, if it had nothing to do with 9/11? Why Iraq if several dozen other countries in the world also had WMD? Why Iraq if it was neither attacking the US nor threatening to do so, nor molesting its neighbors? Why the unrelenting urgency to invade, especially since the weapons inspectors were asking for only another month or two to determine whether the country had WMD? Why, since they were assuring us beyond all doubt that Saddam did possess such weapons, didn’t the Bush administration tell the inspectors where to find the WMD? Why wouldn’t the deterrence doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which had worked for four decades against the Soviet Union, not also prevent puny Iraq from committing suicide by attacking the US? And, if Iraq surely had WMD and was anxious to use them against America, what was sure to be the outcome if the US attacked the regime, with the stated purpose of liquidating it entirely? What could be the only possible outcome of backing a WMD-possessing “madman” against the wall, with nothing left for him to lose?
Any one of these questions of basic logic alone individually called the premise of the invasion deeply into question, without the necessity of Joe Sixpack possessing classified national security estimates on the WMD threat. Together, all of them made the case for going to war against Iraq an obvious and massively overdetermined lie.
But the governing class has gotten really good at how to get the public out of the decision-making loop, overcoming the infuriating inconvenience of the few shreds of democracy remaining in the system, in order to continue feeding the military-industrial complex all the blood and bodies it requires for its sustenance. The Masters of War (as Bob Dylan aptly called them – before he went electric, before he went country, before he got religion, before he got a different religion, before he started selling women’s underwear, and before he became just plain weird) got twenty years of good mileage out of Vietnam, and then only had to wait less than a decade for Reagan to come in and re-open the floodgates of spending. Nevertheless, I’m sure they were quite spooked that the public finally found a way to shut down the war and deny them their booty. So they figured out that – by killing the draft and saddling an all-volunteer military with outrageous burdens, by completely coopting the media, by giving the public tax cuts instead of traditional wartime tax increases, by banning Dover Air Force Base photos of the war dead, and by scaring the living shit out of the Democrats in Congress – they could still have their wars and more or less no one would notice. Which is pretty much how it has gone down. The vast majority of Americans are as insulated from America’s wars as they are from the ones in Central Africa. Iraq might as well be Upper Volta for all it impacts the daily lives of most Americans.
As big as the lies were going into the war, so too are the ones coming out the back end. We are going to be told, for the third time now, that the war has been won – and this time it will be a new president spinning that tale. The first time came via the comic-tragic scene of George Bush, rich kid Vietnam War avoider, in full flight gear on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, informing us that the mission had been accomplished – a sight that virtually defined the meaning of imperial hubris. This was actually less a lie than a miscalculation. The war was, for the Bush team, not even remotely about WMD, US national security, bringing democracy to the Middle East, freeing Iraqis from the jackboot of Saddam’s tyranny, bringing stability to the region, fighting terrorism, or any of the other stated purposes for going in. So, in actuality, for them it really was a case of mission accomplished. They had gotten what they actually came for, and were absolutely too infatuated with their own fantasy power to see the boomerang bearing down hard on their Cro Magnon-shaped little regressive heads, like it was one of their beloved heat-seeking missiles. Call this one a hubris-seeking missile.
The second declaration of victory came in 2007 and 2008, when desperate regressives labeled the reduced violence of that time as a victory in the war, based on Bush’s surge strategy. To make this leap, they of course neglected to account for every other causal factor that might have had influence on the outcome they noted, including the buying off of local combatants with profligate amounts of American dollars, courtesy of US taxpayers, the unfortunate success by that time of the neighborhood ethnic cleansing projects that had been the source of so much of the fighting, and the exhaustion of Iraqis from the relentless turmoil, which led them to turn against foreign fighters in country.
They also neglect to mention just what they were defining as success in order to make the surge leap as well. Think about it. If you were a leader of the insurgency and you were outgunned by a foe whom you knew would have to be leaving before too long, what would you do? Maybe hunker down a couple of years and wait for a better opportunity, knowing that the Americans were leaving and definitely not coming back? In this sense, I always thought it was as foolish and deceitful to claim victory in 2008 as it had been in 2003. And this is probably precisely what we’re witnessing now, as political violence is once again ramping up in Iraq. According to the New York Times story reporting on the thirteen simultaneous strikes in as many Iraqi cities that occurred this week, a prominent insurgent Website posted this warning:
“The countdown has begun to return Iraq to the embrace of Islam and its Sunnis, with God’s permission”. Oh joy. An Iraqi judge and former legislator is quoted in the same article as interpreting the attacks this way: “The message the insurgents want to deliver to the Iraqi people and the politicians is that we exist and we choose the time and place. They are carrying out such attacks when the Americans are still here, so just imagine what they can do after the Americans leave.”
Evidently, all those regressives in America who claimed that the surge won the war didn’t quite have those powers of imagination.
Moreover, that question of the degree of violence reduced points to another aspect of the great lie regarding the surge. Even if it was the extra troops that did the trick in 2007, rather than all the other factors, just what trick did they do? Reducing the level of sheer cataclysmic chaos and unmitigated violence from that of the all-but-full-blown-civil-war era of 2006 is something, indeed. But it ain’t necessarily winning a war. Suppose someone in your family has been getting plastered and wrecking the family car on a weekly basis, but lately dried up enough to bring that rate down to ‘merely’ once a month instead.
Just how good would you be likely to feel about that achievement? Twenty-five percent of Hell is still Hell.
It gets worse from there. America was supposed to be bringing democracy to Iraq, which, in turn, would launch a virtuous domino effect in the Middle East. Leave aside what a disingenuous claim that always was. (What happened to Turkey, long an Islamic democracy in the heart of the region? And if democratization really was the true goal, why not – instead of starting wars – lean hard on our major clients there, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which remain to this day as autocratic as ever?) But forget all that nettlesome logic stuff and just take a look at Iraq in 2010 to see the product of America’s handiwork. Three clear and prominent facts about Iraqi national politics fundamentally undermine any neocon con about democratization. First, the country is deeply divided, and it is divided principally on ethnic grounds. When it comes to the nation of Iraq, there is no there there. How, then, can there be a democracy? Second, one of these three ethno-geographic polities has already all but left the building. The Kurds have become independent of Baghdad in everything but name, and they may indeed finish the job and formalize the process once the Americans are out of the picture. And finally, look at the government that exists, such as it is. Months after the last election, there is nothing in Iraq resembling a national government – just an endless series of bickering fights between creepy power junkies like Ahmad Chalabi and folks of that ilk.
Meanwhile, violence escalates, the military and the police are impotent to deal with it when they aren’t actually in full-on corrupt collusion with the combatants, and nothing remotely works in the country – not power, not water, not sewage, not security, not infrastructure, not education, not government, not nothing. What a shock it is – no? – that the neighboring people of the Middle East haven’t been clamoring for all the joys of freedom and democracy America has brought to Iraq with its invasion. Astonishingly, you don’t see people marching in the streets of Cairo, Damascus or even Tehran (where they have in fact been marching for democracy), demanding that their countries become more like Iraq. Golly, could Paul Wolfowitz actually have been – gulp – wrong about his crap shoot with a million (of other people’s) lives based on his elaborate but bogus ivory tower theory? Well, at least he had the decency to admit his error, apologize and decline Bush’s subsequent offer for a nice plum job, saying, “Look, after Iraq I’m not fit to run anything from here on out, let alone the World Bank”. Oh, wait a sec. I must be thinking of a different Paul Wolfowitz. This one actually did follow Robert McNamara into the ignominy of the World Bank presidency, where he stayed until they caught the great exponent of moral virtue with his hands in the cookie jar and finally threw his skanky ass out.
Bush’s big adventure was also supposed to enhance American security. Uh, let’s do the math here and see... Over 4,000 American soldiers are dead. Tens of thousands of them are gravely wounded. Perhaps hundreds of thousands are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome effects, after the multiple tours in Hell that the cowards Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and the rest deployed them into. We now have a military that even the sell-out king of all time, Colin Powell, described as “broken” from all the stress and depletion. The war cost America a trillion bucks so far. When we get done – literally generations from now – providing expensive care to the wounded, replenishing the war materiel supplies expended, and paying off the debt for all the money borrowed to run this little party, that figure is likely to get closer to two trillion, or more. Iran – infinitely more the real adversary than Saddam ever was – is now vastly more powerful. Who knows how many anti-American Iraqis, crafted in the crucible of the disastrous occupation, seeking violent revenge. America’s global reputation in the toilet.
Dang. When you add it all up, that’s a pretty expensive little fling, all for the purposes of ameliorating George “Caligula” Bush’s personal insecurity and Dick “Satan” Cheney’s sociopathic lust for oil and blood. What did we get for our efforts? What’s behind Door Number One, Carol Merrill, for which we traded all that money and lives and security and honor and reputation and morale and morality? One dead dictator who had fallen out of favor with us, after previously being our client (back when he actually was using WMD, requiring Republicans to cover for him in Congress and at the UN). That’s it, pal. It sure ain’t no democracy. It sure ain’t no delivery from the peril of weapons that never existed. It sure ain’t no improved national security. It sure ain’t no peace in the region.
And, of course, the greatest irony is that what Iraq sadly really needs right now, what it will probably get one way or another, and what the US government will no doubt slap some lipstick on and call a democratic beauty, is simply another Saddam. Assuming, that is, that it is even possible to talk meaningfully about Iraq as a country anymore, given the breakaway tendencies of the Kurds and the unwillingness of either the Sunni or Shia to live under the authority of the other. If you can get past that, however – and likely the only way you can get past that – you’re probably gonna need a brutal dictator to hold together this multi-ethnic state of bitter rivals, the creation of European imperialists and no more the better for it than is Belgium, which may suffer the same fate very soon now, though probably less violently.
The other thing to remember, of course, is that Obama’s ‘ending’ of the war may prove to be every bit as legitimate and lasting as the last two were. I have often wondered what any president – let alone one so timid and so intimidated by the right as Obama – could get away with politically in presiding over the withdrawal of troops if Iraq was blowing up simultaneously, something I’d judge to be either quite likely to happen, or perhaps already happening as we speak. The right – these children of Joe McCarthy who make the old tail-gunner look tame by comparison – would undoubtedly wrap themselves in military garb and start in with the chorus of “Obama lost Iraq”, hammering him for dishonoring and wasting all the lives already sacrificed.
What would happen next could go either way. On the one hand, it feels a lot like 1975, with the public now showing little stomach to remain in an endless overseas war for nothing. On the other hand, from what I can see, there is virtually no perceptible bottom to the pit of Barack Obama’s political cowardice. If he caves to the sick right (once again), we may have ‘win’ the war yet a fourth time before we actually get out of there.
And get out we most certainly must. There is, after all, a real limit to what any nation can expend on exporting its virtues to the rest of the world. Altruism of the magnitude we’ve shown in the Middle East cannot be unlimited.
Much as we might like to generously continue donating so many more kindnesses to the (remaining, un-dead) people of Iraq, those resources are now needed more than ever here at home.
There are plenty of mosques to be stamped out, plenty of cab drivers to be stabbed, lots of Korans to be burned, and a frightening number of Muslims to be feared and loathed right here in the good ol’ US of A.