Friday, June 10, 2005


Superfluous beliefs

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!

That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

—Excerpt from "The Conqueror Worm" by E.A. Poe

I've just been catching up a bit on Iraq punditry (thanks to Information Clearing House for the links) and was struck by how easily the obvious gets buried in denial and metaphor. And the obvious to which I refer is the true U.S. reason for going to war.

John Deutch, one of the CIA directors under Clinton and an academic, gave an annual oration to Phi Beta Kappa. Alvin Powell of the Harvard Gazette wrote in his report of it—

Deutch's talk reviewed the arguments surrounding the Iraq war's start and he said he accepts the Bush administration's contention that officials thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he also said that he believes there was a deeper reason behind the military action: the belief that intervention would result in "a near-spontaneous conversion of Iraq, and with luck, the entire Middle East, to a democratic society."

Deutch's own beliefs about the Bush administration's intentions oddly seem to mirror what the administration has said of itself to the public. First, that we were invading Iraq to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. Then when that didn't pan out, that we invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Middle East. If this is the best insight that Deutch has been able to gain, I'm glad he's no longer director of the CIA—not that it matters any more.

Deutch calls for withdrawal from Iraq—

Deutch supported the five steps to disengagement in Iraq outlined by U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in January, including letting Iraqis make their own political decisions, adopting a clear exit strategy and timetable, beginning the military withdrawal, establishing regional diplomacy to discourage external intervention in Iraq, and continued training of Iraqi forces.

Since he doesn't understand—or more likely, won't acknowledge—why we're there in the first place, his steps for disengagement leave a few rungs off the ladder—and leave several in place that are the very opposite of disengagement.

Of the steps Deutch enunciates, Step One, "letting Iraqis make their own political decisions," just may result in the decision to partition the 80-year-old nation-state. Step Four needs to be examined very carefully to determine just what the administration has in mind. And Step Five is ridiculous. "Continued training of Iraqi forces" is what the U.S. now says is its principal activity. This is not disengagement but occupation under a different name. Withdrawal means withdrawal of all American military forces—period. Anything less is only the camel's nose under the tent.

But the first step in disengagement must take place in the United States. That step ideally would be the revelation of the Bush administration as the liars and war criminals that they are. Short of that it may be possible to put them in sufficient fear of such revelations that some kind of wink-and-nod compromise can be worked out behind the scenes to let them duck and run—thereby saving their sorry asses. In fact, given our political and cultural history, the latter scenario seems far more likely.

On the topic of revelations let me shift to the Downing Street memo. This memo is not the Iraq War's equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, but it will have to do for now. The media have grudgingly been forced to acknowledge its existence, and a few newspapers are expressing shock at its contents.

Such was yesterday's editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which began

On the subject of when, why and how the United States decided to attack Iraq, American citizens' recent seeming lack of interest has been a puzzle to many in the rest of the world. As the Bush administration's stated reasons for war shifted, ebbed and flowed, many simply went with the flow, finding each succeeding reason -- well, reason enough. Some became more and more skeptical, even cynical; others just didn't know what to believe.

To the rest of the world the reason seems quite obvious (and is). So naturally the world is puzzled why the American public can't seem to get it.

The editorialist reviews the memo's contents, then concludes—

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith explained in the meeting that, as the memo relates, "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation."

How could one of those occur? Blair did not address his own response to Straw and Goldsmith as described in the memo: "The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors."

This is stunning. As Mark Danner wrote in Sunday's New York Review of Books, "Thus the idea of UN inspectors was introduced not as a means to avoid war, as President Bush repeatedly assured Americans, but as a means to make war possible."

The editorialist finally limps off the page with—

These and other points make the Downing Street memo one more in a string of accounts that undercut the administration's version of events. Tuesday's brief, narrow denials may have generated the desired headlines, but they did little to set the record straight.

And neither did the editorial writer by neglecting to address the topic raised in his opening paragraph.

The one thing the Downing Street memo does not reveal is why this administration wanted to go to war. It refers to a "desire for regime change" but fails to say what lay behind that desire. This omission is of paramount importance; yet like the silent hound of the Baskervilles, no one is noticing the memo's silence on the topic.

Two days ago Ted Rall, a writer I admire, fell victim to confusing the tactics of propaganda with the reason for this war and ends up painting the Bush administration as a victim of its own propaganda—

Purveyors of propaganda, like pushers of narcotics, seal their doom when they start partaking of their own product.

Politicians live or die on their sense of what the average voter cares about and suss out their take on any given issue. Republican leaders put a thumb right on the national pulse after 9/11: Americans were willing to do just about anything in the name of fighting terrorism, including going to war against two countries that had little to nothing to do with the attacks. Working up the gay-bashing anti-abortion bigots proved equally potent in 2004. But victory wasn't the blank check for which they'd hoped. They lost touch. They believed their own hype. They overreached.

George Bush is quasi-delusional and very well may believe his own hype—or at least some of it. But that is irrelevant to this war, which Bush did not and could not start of his own accord.

Cheney and the Powers-That-Be may be disappointed that reality has turned out to be such a bad sport, but I do not believe they are deluded, as you would ordinarily understand the term. And while I certainly hope they will get their comeuppance, I am far from certain of it.

Rather early in life I had a brief exposure to some true corporate bigwigs—the movers and shakers—and I was amazed at their indifference to anything I would recognize as truth.

Some months ago I used what may be an apocryphal quote from Jeb Bush as the Quote of the Day—

The truth is useless. You have to understand this right now. You can't deposit the truth in a bank. You can't buy groceries with the truth. You can't pay rent with the truth. The truth is a useless commodity that will hang around your neck like an albatross -- all the way to the homeless shelter. And if you think that the million or so people in this country that are really interested in the truth about their government can support people who would tell them the truth, you got another think coming. Because the million or so people in this country that are truly interested in the truth don't have any money.

Whether Jeb Bush said this or not, I do not doubt for a moment that it represents his perception of the world, and it is also the perception of those who are conducting this war.

So now that I've led you down this garden path, you may be wondering to what end. You may even have surmised that I've brought you here only to say that we went to war for oil.

But I didn't. Oil itself is only a means to an end. If the world were as heavily dependent on nuclear fission as it is for petroleum, we would be after the uranium producers of the planet.

"We the people" are not after anything but a reasonably quiet and comfortable existence, but our rulers are. They are not after oil; they are after power. Perfect, complete, absolute power. Imperial power. Totalitarian power.

If you imagine that they are about anything else, that they hanker for anything else, that they are motivated by anything else, you are holding a belief about their goals that is superfluous. As George Bush père so famously said, "I like being President." But he was only voicing the shared sentiments of his class.

... one cannot fairly satisfy the great without injury to others, but that is not true of the people, whose objectives are more honest. For the former wish to exercise oppression, and the latter merely to avoid it.

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