A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[ARTICLE] Kingwell on the US in Iraq

Surprisingly enough, from the National Post:

In empire’s heart of darkness

Mark Kingwell
National Post

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Nobody should be surprised that post-invasion Iraq is a shambles, since that is exactly what both previous experience and logic demanded. After all, killing people is easier than ruling them. Nobody should be surprised, but still they are.

Recent cracks in the diplomatic edifice, with State Department lifers squaring off against ideologues from the White House, are just the most obvious signs of trouble. Ambassador Paul Bremer, the top civilian authority in American-controlled Iraq, was parachuted into the job after a behind-the-scenes struggle over the harsh direction of American efforts. Who needs diplomacy when you have Special Forces?

Meanwhile, there is still no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, those ostensible justifications for the illegal invasion. That means both the front and back ends of this particular business venture are currently in the tank, the sole remaining “success” a few weeks of highly visible killing. Even supporters of the President are a little worried. Pat Roberts, a Republican senator from Kansas, said he believed that weapons of mass destruction would be found, but added that “basically, you have a real credibility problem” if they are not.

You might well think so. And yet, Senator Roberts is wrong. There is no credibility problem when people don’t care to evaluate leaders according to credibility. The interest level of the American people may be accurately gauged by the flurry of witless comment on the “hotness” of George W. Bush after his appearance in a flight suit, fresh from the controls of his Viking S-3B jet. Hot! (Saddam Hussein: Not!)

Back in January, the Bush administration’s 18-month postwar reconstruction plan seemed a cruel fantasy, a bad joke. Now 18 months looks positively sane. The ruling order and its memory-impaired electorate alike think regime change happens at about the pace of an American Idol showdown. Any problem lasting longer than a television season defies comprehension, therefore does not exist.

The trouble here, as everyone agrees, is the growing burden of empire. An anonymous state department official criticized the administration’s plan to disrupt the government of Iraq, among other things banning Baath Party members from office. She called it “fascistic.” This person, whoever she is, was immediately mocked by the omelettes-mean-broken-eggs brigade for a lack of political realism, but in fact her comment was merely accurate. The American Empire is fascistic: It bypasses international law to impose its will. It uses violence to effect change. It dresses up self-interest as universal benefit.

The only difference from all previous empires, fascist and otherwise, is its degree of hypocrisy. Defeat of Iraq was not a victory for freedom or a liberation or anything else of the sort. It was a show of power in the service of self-regard and economic dominance. If you are inclined to that kind of thing, you might even say that it was a welcome surge of honesty in American foreign policy, annoyed beyond bearing by the silly restrictions of morality and law. Finally, some straightforward muscle.

Now, however, the U.S. faces the unpleasant challenge, familiar to bar-brawlers everywhere, of actually following through on bravado. The pro-Bush right-wingers are right that this cannot be done without ruthless disregard of things like individual liberties and the right to life. You have to get your hands dirty to run an empire. But the American people won’t go for it — if, that is, they can be convinced to pay attention at all. Economic dominance is one thing: It doesn’t look violent even when it is. Military dominance, on the other hand, means accepting overt mayhem and death.

It’s been said before, but can’t be said too often, that the American empire, though a political reality, is a contradiction in terms. The country’s founding myths, and sense of moral validity, all derive from anti-imperial resistance. Its culture is inward-looking, insular, indifferent to the different. Like the biggest kid on the block, it doesn’t see why it should care too much about what anybody else thinks or does.

And it’s hard to argue with that, especially if you don’t have any aircraft carriers or supersized military budgets. But it’s another thing when your own constituents begin to wonder what the hell you’re up to. Without its claims to liberal justice, derived from Kant and Jefferson, the U.S. is just another bully. This isn’t even a Hobbesian peace; it’s might for the sake of might.

Nor will “defeated” Iraqis co-operate indefinitely. Last week, Iraqi soldiers demonstrated in Basra and demanded that their salaries be paid by the occupiers: “If they don’t pay us, we’ll start problems,” said one. “We have guns at home. If they don’t pay us, if they make our children suffer, they’ll hear from us.” An Arab leader added: “The Americans promised us food and medicine and freedom. But we have lost our homes, our land, our crops … If we don’t have a solution, we will fight the Americans even if they kill us. It is better than sitting here with nothing and just dying.”

U.S. occupation of Iraq may someday result in something good; good things have come from unjust acts before now. But the costs of transgressing Iraq’s sovereignty will be many and various, and not all of them calculable by the harsh arithmetic of realpolitik. The parallels with Vietnam are impossible to ignore, the results likely to be just as complicated and ignominious, just as tainted by the moral rot in empire’s heart of darkness.

This invasion should never have happened. Now that it has, there are only two options. Either the Americans will make a muddle of it and withdraw, leaving the country more chaotic than before. Or they will sacrifice their self-regard and accept that their 21st-century empire is fascistic, not democratic.

Heads you lose; tails you lose your soul.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2003 at 10:17 am

Posted in Assorted

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