Wednesday, July 12, 2006
by Jemand von Niemand
Lawrence Kaplan, on the New Republic's website, posted a brief three paragraphs on the insurgency in Iraq (I won't link to TNR on principle; you can read it in full via Josh Marshall, here.) It was a litany of real terror, and a stuttering admission by one of the Right's passionate necon supporters of the war.
Kaplan's post made me consider what appears to be his grudging, dawning awarenedss of the utter horror our lack of foresight, our lack of any foreign policy, has brought to the people of Iraq -- and that one consequence of the neocon's bankrupt political theories may be the beginning of the end of one of humankind's most creative eras.
It wasn't an admission that he, and the rest of the neoconservative mitwissers centered around PNAC were wrong in what they planned, or that they - along with Rumsfeld, Rice, Hadley, Franks, Powell, Wolfowitz, and other members of the Cheney administration -- are personally responsible in some degree for making violence like this possible:
One international official told me of reports among his staff that a 15-year-old girl had been beheaded and a dog's head sewn on her body in its place; and of a young child who had had his hands drilled and bolted together before being killed. [Kaplan quoting CNN's Nic Robertson]
Instead, Kaplan fumbled with the truth and his own lack of personal responsibility, and only shrugged out an admission of policy failure, finally saying:
Even if America had arrived in Iraq with a detailed post-war plan, twice the number of troops, and all the counterinsurgency expertise in the world, my guess is that we would have found ourselves in exactly the same spot. [All Emphasis added]
No matter how reprehensible and abhorrent the belief structure of a person like Kaplan may be, after pushing hard for an aggressive projection of American power into the world, he now tells everyone: No matter what we had done in Iraq, the all-but-openly-declared civil war between Sunnis and Shiites would have happened anyway.
Which begs the question, If there were no WMD's, no Iraqi links to Al-Qaeda; if a civil war was the inevitable result; if we were going to suffer useless casualties, and condemn innocent civilians to die in cities without reliable electricity or sewage or proper medical care... If we knew children would be decapitated and mutilated -- then, why did we invade the country? I don't think Kaplan has an answer to these questions -- or, rather, he's already given the answer, or as much of one as we're likely to get from him or those like him.
I'd like to celebrate that fact that someone who arguably has a degree of blood on his hands begrudgingly admits that the centerpiece of his working life as an adult is a failure. Kaplan won't like the comparison, but too bad; he's earned it: Larry, now you know how so many nazis felt in the summer of 1945.
I'd feel gratified -- except my mind keeps returning to the images of a mutilated child's corpse. I try to imagine the rage, the need to dominate as an antidote to despair, and the utter lack of empathy in the human being who committed such an atrocity.
Even if Robertson's CNN report turned out to be apocryphal, there are plentiful horrors in Iraq with more documentation:
... Green and other soldiers planned to rape a young woman who lived near the checkpoint they manned in Mahmoudiya... three soldiers allegedly accompanied Green into the house, and another soldier was told to monitor the radio while the assault took place.... Green shot the woman's relatives, including a girl of about 5; raped the young woman; then fatally shot her... [the soldiers] then set the family's house afire... [CNN, 7/10/06, "U.S. Military Names Soldiers Charged In Rape, Murder Probe"]
In this story, too, I try to fathom the rage, the pain, and the utter lack of empathy. That absence of a connection with another human being's misery and fear has the chance to become the true hallmark of the early 21st Century. Not precisely the legacy Kaplan and his crowd had in mind.
It has been five years since the Cheney administration, and the peevish dullard who is its mouthpiece, decided to inflict on America and the world a mixture of arrogant brutality abroad and a `faith-based', corrupt, Fox-news culture at home. It's a rudderless government which, in its pathology and disorganization, encourages anti-intellectualism and "enlightened self-interest", and rules by fear in place of policy. It isn't Nineteen Eighty-Four; it's Brazil.
It's my unlicensed opinion that the small clique of `christian' zealots and hardcase neocons running the country enable violence and corruption through example. But we aren't alone -- the U.S. government isn't the only group which wants to turn the clock back over two hundred and fifty years, or even a thousand, which made me consider what we really have to lose in the present ideological conflict that was created by two very similar groups of men: the spirit of reason, and the conscience of the future.
The Enlightenment -- described in Wikipedia as a flowering of "rationalization, standardization and the search for fundamental unities ... the economics of Adam Smith, the physical chemistry of Antoine Lavoisier, the idea of evolution pursued by Goethe; the declaration by Jefferson of inalienable rights [which] in the end overshadowed the idea of divine right and direct alteration of the world by the hand of God."
The Enlightenment began based in faith, but continued through the Age of Reason to drive the growth of secular philosophy and logic as the basis for science -- and Rousseau's works, Thomas Jefferson's and Tom Paine's writings, led to a Revolution which gave real power to the ideas of inalienable rights and the equality of humankind.
The Enlightenment was a process, a backlash against six hundred years of Feudalism and intellectual constraints of the Middle Ages. The Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance were others. More followed, leading to British indifference and Colonial rebellion; the French Revolution and an exchange of the tyranny of the Committee and the Terror for the tyranny of Napoleon. Regal absolutism would lead to confrontations with Socialism, Anarchism - and, ultimately, Communism. Conditions of labor led to the development and the rise of unions. It was an almost unbroken tapestry of thought, achievement and experimentation, which not even the disruption of the Great War, or fascism and the Holocaust that followed, could extinguish.
Reading Nic Robertson's quote in Kaplan's post made me consider: We may be experiencing another backlash in the early 21st Century that has always lain under the surface - a backlash against the process of unfettered, chaotic secular development; against logic, scholarship, personal freedom and creativity - the rise of openly gay identity; the images in modern art, literature and film; the diminishing of religious custom and law as a cultural focus; development of the consciousness of Feminism and the role of women. That backlash replaces possibilities of the future with fear, and offers answers to uncertainty in the comfort of unquestioning faith.
It was a confrontation that didn't have to occur, but the Lawrence Kaplans worked to make it a near-certainty that it would. And the outcome? A large portion of the Muslim world alienated from not only the U.S., but Europe and 'Western' culture. America, increasingly isolated from the world community, sliding towards eventual economic decline when the rising cost of war, coupled with what will shortly be a nine trillion dollar National Debt makes our 'higher standard of living' unsustainable for many Americans.
(If Gibbons were alive, it's even money he would either shake his head sadly at our going the way of Rome, or be laughing fit to bust at the irony of it all. Please don't feel I'm gloating. That we may well have passed a tipping point for our country as well as in the global environment fills me with disgust; it is enough, seriously, to break spirits and hearts. Not that Cheney or any in his administration give a damn.)
This is the result of the real `clash of civilizations' - a contest between states of consciousness; between secular rationalism, an interpretation of religious beliefs, and simple greed. Both sides admit zealotry and the possibility of brutality - and so we have Hidatha on one hand - the slaughter of thirty villagers -- and yesterday's murder of forty Sunis in Baghdad by Shia militia on the other, pulling terrified people from their cars and shooting them. On one side, torture and secret prisons; on the other, a child's hands drilled through and bolted together before they were killed.
When bin Laden refers to Bush as a `Crusader', a description of a religious zealot, aggressively proud of his ignorance (The Islamic Empire during the Crusades saw itself as the rightful center of human knowledge and culture) which isn't far from the mark. But bin Laden is Bush's counterpart -- he, and other Islamic Fundamentalists, dream of a world dominated by a single religion, where tribal domination and corruption go hand in hand -- and where they are the political and spiritual leaders of an entire faith.
Bush wants to create a world where American democracy is spread through military action (or the threat of it) to end "evil" regimes and shape world events to our liking, keep natural resources under U.S. control; with a constant reference to "christian" values. And a world where Bush's handlers -- the Robertsons and Dobsons, the Cheneys and Wolfowitzes, and corporate power -- are the real leaders; while Bush gets to play President, making speeches about faith and sacrifice and our noble dead.
Both men appear to believe power and domination matter more than compassion and service. Both offer examples to the world that violence is legitimate and always justified, and can rationalize any brutal order through scripture or appeals to prejudice and revenge.
I don't have the ability, or the right (no one does, I think), to judge the relative evil in sewing a dog's head on the body of a decapitated child murdered simply because she was of a different religious sect; versus a child blown to pieces by airborne munitions simply because she lived in or near a designated target. To my mind, both leave me equally speechless with horror and sadness.
What I fear most is that much of the world, exhausted by war and the threat of violence, will drift further into fear and seductively simple answers - that we lose both sides of the human heritage: the honest spiritual search, and the full development of our intelligence, ability, and recognition of the equality of our humanity. Sadly, these don't appear to be valid goals for True Believers on either side of the conflict between radical conservatives in the East, and the West.
The Lawrence Kaplans can debate the success or failure of their war, but they will continue to miss the essential point - not that there would have been a civil war in Iraq, no matter what we did there... but that their political theories have made the rise of a darker and more brutal world possible. That their objectives in projecting American power into the Middle East have ended in a tragedy which their mouthpiece has said will be solved by another President, after he leaves the office purchased for him -- in 2009.
America, for all its serious faults, used to embody for a large part of the world the hope that people might achieve the best in the human spirit, secular and spiritual. I hope we still have an opportunity to salvage our country, for our own sake if not for a community of nations. To save us from being just another failed nation which sold its principles for the price of a no-bid contract, or rigging the game for a small percentage of its citizens. Or, where political conservatives were seduced by their own desire for power into mounting a military action that creates the kind of rage and despair which ends in the decapitation of a child. And, possibly, a world where the secular views we take for granted are considered forbidden.
I enjoyed some of the finer points. But I think I'd like to share a word of caution. When we fight so hard against (or for) an alternative point of view, it's quite possible that we become blind with anger at what we perceive to be "wrong". This type of rage works on us is some subtle and other not-so-subtle ways. And eventually, through our rhetoric, the hate we started out denouncing seeps into our own hearts, and eventually poisons us. This is a slow process that we find difficult or nearly impossible to perceive. But I myself have already been down that dark road, and, thank God, I found my way back to the light.
For hate destroys only the hater.
Shut up! I hate you!
“Always remember that others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” -Richard M. Nixon
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.