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July 01, 2005

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Maybe the anti-war crowd's worst fears were accurate after all. Maybe Iraq was always only about revenge.

Maybe the rhetoric about freedom, democracy, liberty was an afterthought, a retcon; meant to salve a conscience there and here, for anyone who still had one.

The Iraq war wasn't about WMDs. It wasn't about a threat to America. It wasn't about Saddam and OBL being in cahoots. Those claims were thoroughly refuted by the way US troops were deployed; by the simple fact that known weapons caches weren't secured; by the lack of any useful intelligence about OBL or AQ coming out of Iraq.

And the "freedom, democracy, liberty" claims are going the way of the WMD, threat, and cahoots claims; also thoroughly refuted by our actions. Actions like torture and murder at Abu Ghraib; rolling over Fallujah and other cities one by one; killing fathers, mothers, children; dispossessing and terrorizing and debasing families; dismissing murders of people who might actually have helped, who actually maybe believed what we said about liberating them as "Oh, it's just them killing each other."

Maybe Iraq was all about revenge. About taking revenge on someone who hadn't actually committed the original crime, and who couldn't say no. A rape, really.

And looting the country, giving billions to Halliburton, enriching neocons everywhere - was just icing on the cake.

And the damage done to our country? The dead and wounded, the ruined lives and sundered families, the vanished hundreds of billions of dollars, the polarization and demonization of our citizens, the ruination of our nation's reputation and the degradation of our honor - what was that? Just collateral damage?

Rape. Pillage. Salt the earth. In Iraq, and here.

Bush's war. Bush's vision. Bush's legacy.

Of all the indications that one objective was the destruction of Iraq as a functioning state, the staffing of the CPA and 'reconstruction' with right-wing children is the strongest. Perfect from their point of view, in the way that combined looting opportunities with complete fecklessness; Iraq as lab experiment for right-wing fantasies of 'governance'.

I dunno, Nell. I think (but am prepared to be contradicted) that, with one thing and another, there's the same people in charge at the White House who were in the Nixon administration when the US assassinated President Allende in Chile and then sent in a bunch of inexperienced economists with a Theory to help the new dictator "improve" Chile's economy - the Chicago Group.

It seems to me that you could equally argue this is the same people, thirty years on, who have come to believe that the only reason their attempt on Chile didn't work too good was because they were thinking too small: don't just assassinate the President and topple the government, invade the country.

Larry Diamond is an interesting case. In September 2004, he was defending his analysis against the position that Iraq was a fool's errand to begin with in this way (in Foreign Affairs):

We should never invade and conquer a country merely because we want to see it become a democracy. That kind of imperial mission is likely to fail, and it will discredit democracy promotion worldwide. But Iraq was invaded and its dictatorship toppled in a preemptive war driven mainly by security concerns, however misjudged. The challenge after the war was to build a more decent, lawful, and democratic political order-something the Iraqi people desperately want.

A lovely sentiment. But now that there's documentary proof for the idea that Bush and company knew this had nothing to do with weapons (or democracy promotion), I wonder what Diamond thinks. He opposed the war before it began; did he honestly think the administration were just mistaken about weapons?

I don't know guys. The 24 year old is stupid. Why not also the people who chose him?

I think you can take at face value the assertion that the folks in charge of rebuilding Iraq -- and of designing the invasion -- really did think it would be easy. They really did think those of us who were saying that it would not be easy are -- like them -- ideologues first, observers of reality a distant second. Why do I think this? Come on, the same people are all around us. Mouthing the same trite, inch-deep analyses. Hell they're still saying that our warnings that the policy isn't working are motivated not by a belief that the policy isn't working, but by a hope that it won't work and that the President will be discredited.

Nell, people are, in general, really good at the Dance of the Seven Veils (of the mind). When one starts with strongly held beliefs, it takes both strong evidence and strong character to confront violations of those beliefs. It takes even stronger evidence and character to acknowledge that the violations aren't just 'a few bad apples'.

I think that by that point, the majority of people will fail, unless the evidence directly confronts their interests (e.g., by May 1945, probably a strong majority of Germans figured that Hitler wasn't leading them anywhere but Hell).

To go beyond that, to realize that the failures aren't failures, but the desired results of fundamentally evil beliefs (held by people they support), is something that most people just can't do.

I've watched it in one clear case on the Web: Phil Carter of Intel Dump. John Cole of Intel Dump is still in the 'maybe' column (IMHO, he's still commited to a non-existant sane Republicanism). Andrew Sullivan doesn't count; he didn't turn against Bush until the anti-gay policy of the GOP was so strong that it pierced even his self-delusion. Krugman doesn't count; he was always a centrist economist, who had 'merely' the strength of character to hold fast, although the ground shifted.

It was a lynch-mob.

Lynching in the name of democracy, liberty and "defending our culture and way of life."

You are going to have a very hard time getting me to believe Cheney and Rumsfeld are stupid. Sorry, not my default position, I have known of these guys for 35 years.

People like Frist and DeLay can be stupid and blinded by ideology, arrogance, hubris. If Cheney and Rumsfeld are going over a cliff it is because they have tested the airbags.

Aren't the next round of pictures supposed to be released today? Or did the government appeal?

Barry--

I agree that Bush's betrayal of gays was the last straw for Sullivan, but it wasn't the only thing. He is also genuinely appalled by the torture problem. What continues to baffle me about him, though, is that he still holds to the "Little Father" view of Bush, i.e. that Bush is a decent and honorable man who just happens to be surrounded by a crowd of thuggish incompetents. (It's Brad DeLong who reminded us all of this trope from Tsarist history). Oh, and for some reason not only did he hire nothing but thuggish incompetents, but when they get caught red-handed in acts of thuggery and incompetence, he promotes them. One of these days Sullivan, and the rest of the country, will lose their last illusions that there is anything honorable, decent, or likable about the man. Till then, some people find him charismatic, though I'm not someone who can explain his charisma.

Which reminds me: you know part of what I liked about Kerry? The fact that I didn't like him that much. He struck me as competent, experienced, smart enough, and likely to do a good job. And completely incapable of eliciting hero-worship or cults of personality.

We have had too many cults of personality in the WH lately, and it is an extremely dangerous trend. I never trusted that aspect of Clinton, or of his followers, and I loathed the canonization of St. Reagan. I was too young to keep track of JFK's presidency, but in hindsight I think it was far too personalized as well, too.

Democracies should elect public servants, not messianic celebrities. Elect an executive, elect a cabinet, elect a team of people to do a job for a fixed time. Don't elect a Savior of the Nation. Approaching elections that way is a small step towards fascism. (And remember, o ye Godwin cops, that I include the nation's attitude towards JFK and Clinton among these small steps to fascism).

That's one of the reasons why I'm a "Bush-basher", i.e. someone whose political objectives do not stop merely with resistance to the content of policies (e.g. I want to stop him from destroying the environment, Social Security, etc.), but extend to a desire to have him publicly and historically exposed for the fraud that he is. I hope that it will help the nation move back away from the cult of personality model, towards a model of democratic equality. (And since that's the end I really want, I would not be at all happy if Bush-bashing merely led to having Bush replaced by a Democratic personality-cult. "He's a fascist demagogue but he's our fascist demagogue" is not an attitude I can endorse at the domestic level, either).

Even in a democracy, there are good reasons and bad reasons to vote for someone. We infantilize the electorate when we focus on the bad reasons (hair style, accent, smile) and dismiss the good reasons (experience, education, competence, record of concrete achievements). The trend over the last many years has been that bad reasons drive out good ones, and candidates with charisma defeat candidates with qualifications. (The closest to the model I endorse, i.e. the non-charismatic public servant, was Carter. He lost to a man who was long on charisma and completely unqualified.)

I don't know if there's any way to reverse that trend, but it is a central reason why I don't simply want to defeat Bush's unsound policies, I want to expose the basic corruption behind the fabricated image of decency.

As far as I can tell, the Presidency has always been about a "cult of personality," and the ideal of the President seems to assign him more power and responsibility in the public eye than the office, in fact, holds.

Any presidential system will invariably trend towards such, it seems.

Wow, Tad. That sums up so many things I've been thinking in recent years, compactly and clearly. Good work. I share the same hope: I would like to see the current wave of personality cults break and recede, and yield to some genuinely competent, genuinely honorable public servants rather than public masters.

One of the things that keeps me from going very far with Lakoff's work is his talk about the state in terms of contrasting styles of parenthood. I don't want the state to be my parent at all, or anyone elses. It's neither Mom nor Dad, and we are not its children or its subjects.

Neodude, I agree, Rumsfeld and Cheney are, by any standard, extremely intelligent people; as are many of the other architects of the Iraq strategy. And, with their lifetime of experiences, probably they feel as if they have "tested the airbags". But airbags have been known to unexpectantly become inoperable. In the engineering world, we call it "catastrophic failure".

OT - o'connor just retired: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8430976/

Just as this Iraq adventure was beginning, I was asked by ABA Journal to check in with those who might be called on to help Iraq with its new legal infrastructure. I talked to the Carter Center, which had helped with the purging (the de-Baathification, if you will) of El Salvador's judicial system; with experts who had helped birth legal training in Eastern Europe and Cambodia (especially challenging in the latter, where there were something like 10 lawyers left alive in 1990); with business attorneys in UAE and Saudi; and with those still drafting Afghanistan's constitution.

Somehow, I didn't think to check in with the 20something "experts" being sent over by the Heritage Foundation to run the CPA. My tinfoil hat was a little rusted, and it didn't occur to me that anyone could actually be that stupid.

Now, given the well-known disregard of anyone with any experience in favor of those who can "test Rumsfeld's theories", we can only grimace at the results. I'm gritting my teeth waiting for Saddam's show trial.

We sort of knew that they were this incompetent last year, and it didn't really lead to anything. I recall Simone Ledeen's 15 minutes of fame that all the media ignored.

"What on earth could we possibly have been thinking?"

I typed that quote from Hilzoy's post into the comment box and then watched the cursor blink while I considered where to start and how wordy I might need to be.

So, let me just say this. Watch the Tom Cruise interview recently on the Today Show. Watch this intelligent, talented, good-looking individual display his utter certainty, his utter lack of doubt, his
Dan Rather-like steely-eyed determination to make the world in his image and you might, like an intern in a city hospital emergency room running across a series of patients presenting similar, dangerous, highly contagious symptoms, draw conclusions about the virus carried by all who inhabit the Administration.

They not only carry it, they culture it, nurture it, spread it through infiltration, recruit it. Replicate the 24-year-old ideologue and place his clones not only in Iraq, but throughout the United States -- start with local school boards and county commissions, move on to state legislatures, and then plant the carriers throughout the Federal government's agencies, its courts, etc -- and the media.

John Dioulio (sp?) and Colin Powell, and Treasury Secretary O'Neill: preserve their DNA, because they exhibited a rare resistance which might lead to a vaccine.

Found a university. Call it Patrick Henry University. Train the cadres in counter-intelligence and counter- insurgency as well, for later bigger battles on American soil. A new much more virulent strain of the virus, because the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the other hack-mills aren't quite good enough.

Prevent the institution of judicial review in Iraq. Then return home and write for Red State, or clerk at SCOTUS and kill judicial review in the United States.

Public service? There is no such thing to these children. They serve something bigger, more noble, more messianic: their ideals, for which they will kill many times over.

As to airbags: Rumsfeld's and Cheney's ideologies, like the Wall Street Journal's ideology page, don't permit airbags or seatbelts. Better children through the windshield than compromise the freedom to die.

Tad Brennan is absolutly correct: This government is created by George W. Bush in his image. Impregnable certainty; inexorable, implacable vengeance against enemies; the smirk, the swagger --- and then the lump in the throat and the welling of tears -- as he remembers the human being he once was before the drinking stopped and the mission began.

Well, I certainly achieved wordiness.

Billmon has a post on Larry Diamond that echoes some of my thoughts in the 4:00 a.m. post above and takes the question (Democracy or Imperialism?) much deeper. Highly recommended.

The tendency to a cult of personality around the US Presidency is a structural problem in the US Constitution (I'm a foreigner so I'm allowed to say that document has flaws as well as strengths).

The President embodies the nation and is therefore bound up with all those irrational tribal feelings of patriotism that we are all prone to. But at the same time he is given lots of very real power. You ought to have a symbolic Presidency that is a symbol of national unity, and a separate, less prestigious but more powerful Chancellor or Prime Minister to run the Executive branch. It is then safe to teach your children to revere the President (in the way constitutional monarchs are revered) while still teaching them to be sceptical of mere politicians like the chancellor/PM.

what derrida said. exactly.

the president is the father figure to the nation, that's why Clinton's blowjob was such a big issue. it didn't square with the mental image.

OTOH, starting a foreign war is just like slapping rowdy kids.

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