Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My observations

The two sides in the Washington hearings clashed over interpretation of statistics relating to dead bodies: how many, location, and manner of death. And naturally, the more this kind of discussion continued, the more the distinction between the war party and the anti-war party blurred and finally melted away. It was the equivalent of analyzing 9/11 by breaking out the victims by manner of death, race, social class, and so on, as if the issue was the social structure of the World Trade Center, and it had never been hit by aircraft. The fact is that in the discussions about Iraq, maintenance of that level of discussion is taken for granted. That is the insult and the vulgarity of it.

The social chaos that the war party now relies on as the basis for continuing the occupation is something that came to Iraq with the occupation itself. The occupation was wrong. It was based on lies (or was it honest misapprehensions?), and it was conducted in a way guaranteed to bring about the collapse of the state infrastructure and the emergence of sectarian strife (or was it merely unclear lines of authority between Washington and Baghdad, followed by mistaken policies?). But at every turn, the discussion is turned away from the question of aims and objectives and their moral underpinning, and morphs instead into a discussion of techniques. And so it shouldn't be surprising if the current discussion of the surge has turned into a debate among statisticians. The point is, there are other issues.

But in Washington they dare not speak their name.

There were a lot of bin Laden jokes following his video appearance on Friday, on the theme that he would make an ideal Republican presidential candidate, being a charismatic person in favor of a flat tax, an opponent of gay marriage, and someone serious about the War on Terror. In short, a values person.

But what is even funnier is that there is something behind the jokes. It had been three years since the last bin Laden video, and there was a long list of issues, internal and external, that some expected him to discuss and rule on: The much-debated question of whether Islamic State of Iraq was a good idea or not, the polemic between Zawahiri and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, how to cope with the Saudi "reeducation" campaign, and so on. Bin Laden dealt with none of those, and so the commentators were left to discuss the significance of things like the color of his beard. But even though he didn't raise any of the specific issues, he was saying something. It was above and beyond those specific practical issues. It had to do with "values". True, the idea of large numbers of Americans converting to Islam is a ridiculous one. But his point was that if you Democrats and progressives can't end the war even when you are in a majority, then perhaps the problem is one you can't deal with merely by the manipulation of your democratic system. In bin Laden's world, the only way to illustrate that is with Islam. (And what exactly he was trying to accomplish with that is unclear. Hence the jokes).

But forget about Islam, and think about the fact that the debate in Washington has resulted in reducing Iraq to a statistical aggregate of dead bodies. Really laudable amounts of effort have been spent on exposing the manipulation of those statistics. But what of it? Doesn't the question of American policy go somewhat beyond those issues? And Washington can't find the words or the concepts to lift the debate to that other level. Don't we stand for something?

I think what's happened is that the "progressives", by tying themselves to the Democratic Party with all of its Washington-system baggage, have made sure that policy debate and discussion never goes beyond the system of partisan calculations. But the dynamics of those calculations ensure that it is in moral terms a race to the bottom. Policy aims can't be critiqued (perhaps because of the unpatriotic war-crimes implications, or perhaps just because it's better for Democrats not to talk about aims, so as not to have to propose their own, and expose themselves to criticism); in the absence of saying anything about policy aims, the debate is reduced to discussion of implementation techniques; and as far as that goes, the Democrats can't be seen as soft on national-security; so the differences become more and more minute; until finally the only way they have of discussing Iraq is in terms of the distribution of the dead bodies, such as we are seeing now.


Anonymous Alison said...

Of course, “the social chaos that the war party now relies on as the basis for continuing the occupation” is not merely “something that came to Iraq with the occupation itself”, it is continually being exacerbated as the US manoeuvres to maximise its own leverage and secure its own predatory interests – nakedly Machiavellian aims that have underpinned American foreign policy for decades.

As Tom Hayden writes:

“The illusion is that we are preventing a sectarian civil war when the reality is that, in the best British tradition, we have been fomenting and feeding a civil war which will fragment, subdivide and eliminate the basis of Arab nationalism in Iraq.

The intellectual proponent of this division is Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, an on-the-ground adviser to Gen. Petraeus. Biddle writes that the US should support both sides in the civil war. We should arm the Sunnis to gain leverage against the very Shi’a we put in power, and we should increase the Shi’a ability to create mass violence as an incentive for the Sunnis to compromise on their demand to end the occupation. This was written in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2006.

The much-touted Petreaus plan to further divide Iraq by helping Sunnis fight other Sunnis in Anbar and Diyala provinces is little more than Kit Carson’s plan to arm the Ute mercenaries against the Navajo over a century ago. I make the comparison because the Sunni fighters on the US payroll are even called the “Kit Carson Scouts.”” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-hayden/ending-the-war-in-2009_b_63552.html

8:58 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Thanks for that.

Any my apologies to anonymous who called attention to an interesting Al-Jazeera English item available on youTube on Abu Risha and the whole Anbar scam. I sanctified it for publication but it disappeared. Maybe I hit the wrong button. The item is available in clickable form on Abu Aardvark's thumbnails under "AlJazeera English: Al Anbar progress?" q.v.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're so right Badger, as its the American way - to compartmentalize, objectify, and to analyze human experience as if it were nomenclature devoid of meaning - hence our (in)famous history of denial. This is made painfully obvious by the total disregard and neglect of the recent BBC/ABC polling of Iraqi opinion, from the big report in progress. As if what the hell could they know, they only live there.

anna missed

9:55 PM  
Anonymous gj said...

Badger, you're absolutely right in recognising the underlying conflict is about values. Bin Laden makes that point time and again in his utterances, most notably when he declared war on the US back in '98 or thereabouts. And so does George W Bush when he is speaking about the war on terror declared in response to Bin Laden's 9/11 attack on US homeland.

In contrast, war on Iraq wasn't about values and is rarely seen as such. Stripped to its essence it was about Saddam having made US look weak in the 10 years following the 1991 ceasefire plus events of 9/11 demonstrating in strategic terms a regional threat to US and western dependence on ME oil supplies?

What would have been surprising under the circs of 9/11 is a US Admin of either complexion NOT using the post 9/11 opportunity to remove Saddam and the Baath after the events of the previous 10 years?

Saddam was very unadroit (unlike Ghaddafi) in his handling of the new post-9/11 circumstances, but I guess he was fooled by his (correct)certainty he had the French and Russians in his pocket and his knowledge they and UN were hopelessly compromised by the OFF rort.

Getting back to your point - values did not play a part in the Iraq equation - which was the naked use of Ist world military power against a relatively defenseless - in conventional terms - third world country already weakened by economic sanctions. I suggest this is the reason why values do not figure much in US debate over Iraq?

4:05 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Another comment got zapped in the moderation process, I think from Michael it was. Sorry Michael. I think I'll forget about moderation...

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Democrats are in no hurry to end the war. They intend to keep using it as campaign fodder. And, I imagine, they are secretly delighted with the increasing power of the government. When they win, they can use it, too. I have no faith in either party. All they care about is power and money.

1:50 PM  

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