Habbakuk on Ideological Blinkers

Our friend DAvid Habbakuk writes from England to comment on my "Foreign Policy" piece.  pl


"Colonel Lang:

This is a brilliant piece: the argument about the roots of neoconservative success in widely held beliefs makes it an invaluable extension of the argument of the Drinking the Kool-Aid paper.

anna missed:

The argument that precisely because of its ethnic diversity the United States not only was but had to be held together by an ‘American creed’ based upon the notion of the equality was put forward by the English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton back in 1922. An extract is online at http://www.libertynet.org/edcivic/chestame.html. If then the notion of equality becomes conflated with that of identity – and this is already hinted at in Tocqueville – one may end up on the horns of a dilemma. It may be that the beliefs which hold the United States together also make it difficult to – in Colonel Lang’s words – ‘deal with alien peoples on their own terms, and within their own traditions’, and tend to create a propensity to ignore reality in favour of the ‘dream versions’ to which he refers. This was hardly a problem in 1831 or 1922, but becomes a major one if the United States is attempting to be a hegemonic power in the world system – and particularly if in so doing it relies heavily upon military force.

The argument of Colonel Lang’s paper would also seem to suggest that, in exploring the questions about intelligence raised in his earlier ‘Bureaucrats and Artists …’ paper, one needs to look further at the roots of ideological blinkers created by ideology: our own, as well as that of those we attempt to interpret. This problem gets greater the closer one gets to government, because political leaders necessarily must talk in terms of ideological simplicities.

An article by Michael Vlahos in The American Conservative deals with some related matters – online http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_02_12/feature.html: although I rather feel that the sharp distinction he uses between modern and non-modern is part of the problem. It tends to lead to a view of everyone outside the bright lights of Western ‘modernity’ as hopelessly atavistic and thus essentially threatening; as well as a propensity grossly to exaggerate the extent to which our own societies actually fit the stereotypes of ‘modernity’.

Some excerpts from Chesterton – who was of course writing before the advent of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘political correctness’:

“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just ……

“Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. And this is true even of the most disastrous distortions or degradations of that creed; and true among others of the Spanish Inquisition. It may have been narrow about theology, it could not confess to being narrow about nationality or ethnology …

“Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship ….

“When we realize the democratic design of such a cosmopolitan commonwealth, and compare it with our insular reliance or instincts, we see at once why such a thing has to be not only democratic but dogmatic. We see why in some points it tends to be inquisitive or intolerant….

“This idea is not internationalism; on the contrary it is decidedly nationalism. The Americans are very patriotic, and wish to make their new citizens patriotic Americans. But it is the idea of making a new nation literally out of any old nation that comes along. In a word, what is unique is not America but what is called Americanization. And the process, as I have pointed out, is not internationalization. It would be truer to say it is the nationalization of the internationalized. It is making a home out of vagabonds and a nation out of exiles …

“.. the idealism of America, we may safely say, still revolves entirely round the citizen and his romance. The realities are quite another matter, and we shall consider in its place the question of whether the ideal will be able to shape the realities or will merely be beaten shapeless by them ….”"

David Habbakuk

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27 Responses to Habbakuk on Ideological Blinkers

  1. Frank Durkee says:

    Is one of the darksides of ‘drinking the coolaid’ the business of thinking that oocal Iraquis cold not manufacture the EFPs that we claim comd from Iran. Alexander Cockburn has revisted a story from several years back that speaks to the manufacture in Iraq of the copper heads for these weapons. I’m not suggesting no Iranian involvement, simply pointing to alternative realities we tned to ignore. “Exceptionalism” carries one of its dark sides a subtle or not so subtle denigration of “the other”, whomever that may be. To quote Kipling the are all “…..lesser breeds, without the law.”.

  2. Babak Makkinejad says:

    DAvid Habbakuk:
    US is a polity dominated by protestant forms of Christianity. These forms of Christianity posit that men can have a personal relationship & dialogue with the Almighty.
    Many many people in US subscribe to such a view. Thus, US is deaf to the concerns of other peoples since her population is in discussion with God.
    One only needs to look at US policies in Central & South America to see this.

  3. anna missed says:

    Thank you David Habbakuk for elucidating my query, indeed it is my greatest fear that “the ideal will (not be able to shape the realities but will) be beaten shapeless by them. In that the seeming egalitarian template of formal exceptionalism (and hedge against socialism) is being “beaten shapeless” by its informal “popular” incarnation. And used by this administration as a most profoundly cynical tool of propaganda. That the war on terror can be forged into an unquestionable mandate, that purges the very idealism they mean to propagate strikes me as ideological cannibalism. Or some kind of zero sum cultural Wal-Martism of the mind. Of which the Iraq debacle, is but a symptom.

  4. Chris Marlowe says:

    The US creed was sustainable for more than 200 years because US growth and the economy did not rely much on foreign powers; internal growth meant little reliance on outside powers, and a steady stream of immigrants all contributed to this worldview.
    On the economic plane, it is no longer sustainable because the US is heavily dependent on foreign goods, and on overseas purchases of US Treasuries to finance a standard of living which is no longer sustainable.
    This is already changing; the Chinese have announced that they are not going to be as ready purchasers of US Treasuries:http://www.chinaeconomicreview.com/dailybriefing/info/China_to_select_riskier_investments.html
    It may be hard to believe now, but in 10 years Bush will be remembered more for the lasting damage he did to the US economy than Iraq.
    The American creed will have to adapt to a new reality; how will that happen?

  5. wisedup says:

    One great truth is that familiarity breeds contempt — or at least indifference.
    The Great Society has been dropped by liberals since perfection appears impossible to achieve.
    Evangelicals are trying to smash the melting pot since they feel too constricted by the pot and indeed are simply frustrated in general –Other Christians ascribe no timetable to their faith and so are able to join the polity.
    The pot is now dominated with a group that sees no alternative to survival than ginning up wars, alarms, and threats to ensure that the public hands over its cash and its future.
    Habeas corpus, the Great Writ, has been destroyed — absent its rapid reinstatement by act of Congress, what future conditions would allow future generations to regenerate it?

  6. ikonoklast says:

    Good comments by everybody, on this and on the Colonel’s great essay. I’m reminded that many of my minority friends – American citizens treated as less equal than others, to steal from Mr. Orwell – prefer the metaphor of a “tossed salad” over that of the “melting pot.” There are subcultures rooted in this continent that in many cases precede those of the majority. Black slaves in the 1600’s, Latinos going back to the conquistadors, Indian nations – why should they subsume all of their traditions? American exceptionalism exists on the domestic front as well.
    Combined with this is the recent weird nationalism. I don’t recall the US being described as the “Homeland” prior to 2001, and on first encountering it I heard disturbing echoes of the Nazi “Fatherland.” An ugly parallel, to be sure, but use of Homeland as a description serves to create a yet more powerful distinction between ourselves and the “other,” the rest of the world, a division as clear and obstructive as the proposed fences for our borders. (To the Canadian contingent: you have forgiven us for 1812, haven’t you? Some people in our government apparently are worried about retribution.) WE, the people of the Homeland, have the bright future and democracy. THEY have … well, something else that couldn’t be as good, that is a failure in some undefined way, regressive. A delusion, like the insistence that American healthcare is the finest in the world while our infant mortality rate barely ranks in the top third among nations. Add to that our seemingly willful disregard of geography, of other languages and cultures, and … here we are.
    As inferred in some other posts, I feel it’s true that the majority of Americans would not have turned a hair over the invasion of Iraq had it not been bungled so badly, and this is worrisome. I love my country, despite – and in many ways because of – our faults. Like all peoples everywhere, we are what we are, good and bad, wise and foolish – human. What’s wrong with that? We should have no fears about acknowledging this, and especially we shouldn’t allow our own fears and deficiencies to drive us.
    Perhaps we’re no longer, or never were, the “last, best hope of mankind.” Who besides ourselves ever really expected us to be? The founders of the Republic, pragmatic to a fault, certainly did not. Their best hope was that they’d designed a system that wouldn’t self-destruct as had all the democratic designs that had come before. In that goal, modest as it may seem to us today, they succeeded admirably. We can be proud of that achievement without forcing our history on the rest of the world at gunpoint. If our culture and ideas are admirable enough, those who want it will be attracted, as they have been for over 200 years. (Note to the AEI – leading by example works, you’re not getting anywhere by trying to bring narcissistic light to imaginary savages. People can talk, and reason, you know. No … no, I suppose you don’t. Check it out.)
    One more item that I don’t know where else to place, concerning the ongoing threads about James Webb for the presidency. I respect and admire Senator Webb as a man and as a patriot, and I intend no reflection on him in any way. I’m wary, though, of the current trend of looking for a strong leader that will get us out of our mess. In a recent fit of insanity the country turned to Bush and Cheney to save us and … no sense in belaboring the point, eh? That particular bandwagon still has us under its wheels; we’re just enjoying more company from people who have now decided to jump off. The whole process still makes me nervous, and regardless of the person’s qualities it’s not an experience I’m anxious to repeat.

  7. Got A Watch says:

    Babak – “Many many people in US subscribe to such a view. Thus, US is deaf to the concerns of other peoples since her population is in discussion with God.”
    Well, if The Almighty is really “in discussion” with GWB and the neo-cons, his deity license should be in question. Some really epic bad advice given in those discussions, judging by the outcomes.
    I got a chill the first time I saw GWB explain (while the aide with the “football” was nearby, no doubt) how he talks to God on a nightly basis and God answers him back. Truly scary stuff.
    Simple religious “faith” has probably started more wars than all other causes combined. And it’s so beautifully simple: “God commanded me/us to strike those vile un-believers down!” Who can argue logic with that?

  8. matt says:

    Anna Missed stated:
    “In that the seeming egalitarian template of formal exceptionalism (and hedge against socialism) is being “beaten shapeless” by its informal “popular” incarnation. And used by this administration as a most profoundly cynical tool of propaganda.”
    I definitely agree with this, and I think (building onto ikonoklast’s comment that “exceptionalism exists on the homefront as well”), it can be most clearly observed in G.W. Bush’s domestic policies.
    To wit: the continual verbal trashing of Social Security in an attempt shift the public perception onto “the need” for dismantling one of the few threads of social insurance (safety net) we still maintain.
    total bs. total use of this exceptionalist ideology for domestic political gain.
    It failed a year or two ago, but there was some bluster after the elction about him making another run at it in spite of the Dem. control of the legislative branch.

  9. pbrownlee says:

    “Collective hysteria, or mass hysteria, is the socio-psychological phenomenon of the manifestation of the same hysterical symptoms by more than one person. It may begin when a group witnesses an individual becoming hysterical during a traumatic or extremely stressful event. A potential symptom is group nausea, in which a person becoming violently ill triggers a similar reaction in other group members.
    “Examples include certain cases of rioting and frenzy, and accidents in which people act ‘irrationally’ (screaming, running in the wrong direction, attacking scapegoats, etc.).
    “Writer Jerome Clark — while recognizing that mass panic can undoubtedly be genuine and widespread — argues that mass hysteria can be ‘a classic blame-the-victim strategy’ in cases where authorities or experts can find no explanation for puzzling or frightening events. It can also manifest in situations where there is a problem that is endangering their society, but the people want to find a scapegoat and take out their frustrations out on him/her/them (often fatally to the scapegoat) instead of looking for the cause of the problem and potentially finding themselves to be guilty.
    “Depending on one’s personal beliefs, the phenomenon can also be theorized to be described in certain religious contexts.”
    The homeland/Heimat rhetoric should have caused shudders among those familiar with its prior manifestations and its use as a justification for previously unthinkable horrors of all kinds.
    The scapegoating good “us” and evil “them” is intrinsic to this “Homeland” mode of thought and is reinforced by all the blarney about “values” and “culture” wars.
    It is the unending war between those who support the Bill of Rights and the surprisingly numerous cheerleaders for acts of attainder.

  10. jr786 says:

    The notion of American Exceptionalism is, I think, just a convenient propaganda tool to justify the economic imperatives behind imperialism, in much the same way that Kipling tried to persuade his readers that there was some noble purpose to Empire. We have seen this before.
    United States Senator Ben Tillman, for example, an early president of the American Anti-imperialist Society, gave a speech on the Senate floor at the height of the U.S. war in the Philippines, a colony absorbed by the U.S. after the Spanish-American war of 1898. Using Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden as his guide, Tillman takes it not as a plea to assume that burden but as a warning to the United States to stay away from places it’s not wanted:
    “Those peoples [i.e. Filipinos] are not suited to our institutions. They are not ready for liberty as we understand it. They do not want it. Why are we bent on forcing upon them a civilization not suited to them and which only means in their view degradation and a loss of self-respect, which is worse than the loss of life itself?”
    The parallels between the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan speak for themselves. Tillman continues by answering his own rhetorical question:
    “I am nearly done. Nobody answers and nobody can. The commercial instinct which seeks to furnish a market and places for the growth of commerce or the investment of capital for the money making of the few is pressing this country madly to the final and ultimate annexation of these people regardless of their own wishes.”
    The purpose here is simply to point out that while the places and players may have changed over the last century, the terms of the debate have remained the same.
    Those terms have always been expressed as a muddled mixture of capitalism, liberal democracy and religion. What is different today, however, is that religion has been curiously removed from that mix, few people talk about saving souls these days, after all, while the fundamental economic explanation has been replaced by absurd accusations of oil being plundered the way that gold and silver were once hacked out of the Americas. While that scenario may recall the Spanish conquistadors’ notion of empire what is more likely is that the stated American effort to first liberate and them democratize the Islamic world, beginning with Afghanistan and Iraq, is much closer to Macauley’s vision of an independent India. While Macauley’s infamous Minute on Education is well known, what is rarely cited is the following passage from that same minute, which also includes the notion of Empire. Referring to British dominion in India, he writes:
    “It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.”
    As the inheritors of this project, the United States and its allies are currently engaged in a tremendous effort to bring ‘civilization’ to the Moslem East, this time under the rubric of liberal democracy. The project is not to steal oil (there isn’t any in Afghanistan) but to enable the citizens of newly formed democracies to use their own oil revenue to buy the excess goods of the industrialized West, at the same time that the excess capital of the West finds new channels for investment in the repair and development of the infra-structures of those countries newly liberated. While there are certainly people who do realize this, the actual, centuries old process described by Hobson, Conant et al. has been reduced to corporate symbols like Halliburton, or catchphrases like “No blood for oil” which ignore the underlying fact that no matter what or who the actual agents are, the mere fact of introducing democracy into the ‘uncivilized’ Moslem world will inevitably result in what Macauley envisioned for India. Since the introduction of the Western system of liberal democracy is designed to replace previous anti-colonial strategies like Arab nationalism, already a discredited project, and since capitalism is the handmaiden of democracy, there seems to be little room for resistance to either other than in religious fundamentalism.
    I’d be a bit more wary of using Chesterton as source; he’s notorious for paradox, after all. In his 1905 essay Is America a Young or a Dying Nation he states immediately that most stock political notions are delusions. C. Eric Lincoln succinctly described the American Creed as:
    “…a body of ideals, a social philosophy which affirms the basic dignity of every individual and the existence of certain inalienable rights without reference to race, creed, or color. The roots of the American creed are deep in the equalitarian doctrines of the Enlightenment, Protestant Christianity and English law.”
    Here is the triple conflation: America = Democracy = Christianity that is at the heart of Huntington’s model of civilizational conflict and which forms the basis for the neo-conservative creed: the White Man’s Burden, minus Jesus.
    Sorry for the long post but this touches on a major reseach area of mine.

  11. Cloned Poster says:

    Call me stupid or whatever.
    The core of the argument here is control of the lifeblood of the USA, oil.
    We are dancing on pinheads about identity, cultural values, democracy ad naseum. This is Empire Building but I am comforted to see that both Pace and Fallon are stopping (or trying to) the Iran War meme propaganda.

  12. ali says:

    “This was hardly a problem in 1831 or 1922, but becomes a major one if the United States is attempting to be a hegemonic power in the world system – and particularly if in so doing it relies heavily upon military force.”
    The neocons are following instincts as American as mom and store bought apple pie. Manifest destiny, isolationism turned inside out, a messianic mission to bring the good news of laissez faire capitalism to every last sinner in the world. It’s all part of a great tradition.
    The urge to whack complex problems with a big stick is also very American. It occasionally works. But military force has limited application in world affairs which despite US supremacy remains a tediously intricate game of balancing powers.
    The PNAC crusade to maintain and extend US hegemony is a flawed mission in both method and goal.
    A large factor in this is a paticularly blinkered attitude to other cultures that leaves many Americans unable to comprehend their complexities but there are other failings.
    The neocons didn’t just overestimate the utility of war as an instrument of policy. They dreamed of glorious networked battles fought mainly from air and space not down on the sordid ground.
    Rummie complained that you went to war with the army you had. But his term in the Pentagon did not correct an obvious short coming of the Bush Doctrine.
    The US military has an unsuitable force structure to prosecute a policy of aggressive preventative and endless warfare. This necessarily involves many neo-colonial missions like the conquest of Iraq.
    Pentagon procurement has increasingly focused on big ticket weapon systems rather than maintaining a large army. An executive distaste for the common soldierly is part of the problem but the necessity of pork in US political life is its source.
    The traditional American way of war is to have a relatively small standing army with recourse to conscription in time of need. This system is no longer politically practical for opportunistic wars.
    The population weaned on the motto “greed is good” has a deep ideological aversion to serving anything but themselves. American social piety now dictates that both genders must serve but it remains almost unthinkable that girls would be press ganged into a shooting war.
    That leaves foreign man power as the only option. The US with its rather prissy ideal of the citizen soldier has an unusual aversion to recruiting foreign auxillaries as cannon fodder.
    So allies are its remaining option. Here unfortunately, overwhelmed by the vanity of the unipolar moment, DC is increasingly unwilling to accept any longterm genuinely reciprocal alliance.
    I doubt if for example India with it’s easily expanded million man Army would accept an occasionally gratifying but essentially submissive backstairs relationship like London has with DC.
    The Bush Doctrine is simply no more a sustainable policy for the US than the Breshnev Doctrine was for the USSR. Pursuing it is having a similarly disastrous effect.
    Finally hegemony is overrated. After the end of the cold war DC suffered painfully from enemy deficit and the PNAC is a reaction to this. It had to be always 1936. Distant threats were conjured into frightening menaces to keep the familiar old Cold War games going. As a result of this mind set we’ve seen perceived American power alarmingly diminished as the spooked Bush administration flailed haplessly at puny foes.
    China and India peddling furiously are still specks in the rear view mirror of America’s cruising limousine. America should be confident in her might and accept that with its eventual decline other opportunity will come.
    As British slowly power faded they reluctantly accepted the rise of the USA and now ride grumbling on Uncle Sam’s coat tails. Far worse things can happen to an over mighty nation pursuit of hegemony as the Germans found out in the 20th century.

  13. ali says:

    Very interesting on Macauley jr786. There are many valid comparisons between enlightened mercantile British Imperialism and the neocon project.
    Macauley is speaking nearly a century before the British left India to bloodily divide itself. He did not expect the British to actually leave India any time soon but saw mutual benefit in an India that adopted British culture and came to rule itself.
    It’s Macauley’s comprehensive system of law that the Raj adopted in the wake of the Indian Mutiny that laid the foundation of modern India. He was instrumental in the Indian adoption of English as a de facto national language. This is how nations are built from the foundations up over many decades. Fukuyama cites India and Korea as the only example of successful state building by a foreign power in modernity.
    There is a very major difference between the neocon vision for Iraq and how a Whig like Macauley saw India. There is an awful lot of hard nosed realism in the old abolitionist. The neocons on the other hand are given to flights of intellectual fancy unchecked by reality. Unlike Macauley they simply did not know what they were doing.
    While most neocons cling to their think tank ivory towers Macauley actually went and lived in India and experienced the odd compatability of Indian and especially English ways. He’d have noticed how Indians adopted much from their previous Mughal rulers. Macauley would have seen the madness inherent in creative chaos or the simplicity of regime change as a means of establishing democracy in a few short years.
    He’d have also doubted it’s sincerity being very familiar with the mundane thievery of his own age. The British were also out to shrink the gap and extend the core but they diligently made sure the enterprise provided short term rewards along the way.

  14. jr786 says:

    Ali, I quite agree with your take on Macauley and the relative incompetence of the neo-cons. My point is that I believe their role to be more as ideological cheerleaders than policy-makers, the post hoc expression of a well-known and perhaps inevitable process.
    For example, the economist Charles Conant, writing in 1896, stated that the ‘irresistible tendency to expansion’, now in American hands:
    “…seems again in operation, demanding new outlets for American capital and new opportunities for American enterprise. This new movement is not a matter of sentiment. It is the result of a natural law of economic and race development. The great civilized peoples of to-day have at their command the means of developing the decadent nations of the world. This means, in its material aspects, is the great excess of saved capital which is the result of machine production.”
    The language has changed a bit, but the spirit remains. Similarly, it is hardly an accident that the very first sentence of the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States declares that victory in the cold war also demonstrated ‘a single sustainable model for national success – freedom, democracy and free enterprise’. One is tempted to add: ‘By God!’ Part VI of the document is devoted to what amounts to neo-liberalism as political strategy, making the world safe for free markets.
    Hard-headed Sheffield manufacturers needed Kipling even as they scoffed at him, as Teddy Roosevelt did with the American Missionary Society. James Baker, perhaps the nearest thing to a Macauley these days, probably treats William Kristol the same way – as a useful idiot. The neo-cons provide the pseudo- ideological cover, the sentimental claptrap needed to persuade some people that there’s actually something different happening today.

  15. walrus says:

    Ikonoklast, I’ve tracked the use of the word homeland and as far as I can tell, it was first used by Kagan & Co at the AEI (where else?) in the paper “Rebuilding America’s Defences issued September 2000. Obviously “Fatherland” and “Motherland” already had bad connotations, but “Homeland” was sufficiently emotive but meaningless for their purposes.
    It was picked up by President Bush and used March 4 2001 in a speech at the launching of the USS Ronald Reagan, and the ‘Protect the homeland” mantra was born. No other President has ever used that term to describe America as far as I can tell.The AEI are expert propagandists.
    On the matter of American exceptionalism, I have to take the view that there are many dreams, not just an American dream, and the better dreams seem to have common elements in the same way that most motor vehicles have rubber tires, a steering wheel, windows and doors. But that is where the similarity ends.
    The American experiment may have been the seed for the mighty tree of liberty, but what the majority of Americans have totally failed to understand is that from the trunk of that tree there are many, many branches that are growing as we speak.
    The fatal error of the Neocons is their narcissistic belief that America represents the very pinnacle of perfection, the topmost branch of the growing tree, fresh and green, young and vigorous.
    Well it isn’t. It’s the trunk of the tree, and in some places the rot has set in, and in Iraq we have attempted to replicate America, complete with the rot. This is the root (pardon the pun) of the problem – we totally failed to even consider what the elements of “The Iraqi Dream” might contain.
    The evidence for the existence of this Neocon worldview is everywhere you look in the media. For example, Europe is denounced as “Old Europe” and for being “Socialists”. In reality where people want to go in the future depends on where they have been in the past, their traditions, myths and experiences. It makes no sense to criticise nations for their traditions.
    For example, Australia started out as a penal colony, and a brutal one at that. As a result inside every Australian you will find a remnant of the values of the convict; a contempt for formal authority, a moral imperative of looking after, and sticking by, friends no matter what, and a parching thirst for equity (not equality) in all transactions, especially between the small and weak and the powerful (It’s called a “fair go”. This is why Australians instinctively barrack for the underdog or weaker team in any competition and rejoice when they occasionally humble the mighty.
    And by the way, that is why the Australian population is almost incandescent with rage at America at the moment over the treatment of an Australian nobody, David Hicks, held in Guantanamo Bay for the last five years without trial. They are angry to the point where it may bring the Government down.
    There are Danish dreams, Swedish dreams, Indonesian dreams, and all in their own way are equally as valid as the American dream.
    Now modern communications has made it impossible for Islam to continue to ignore Western culture and values. That is the root of our troubles. They will not go away until elements of secular humanism and liberty are incorporated therein.
    For example, the Saudis dream of the day when the oil runs out and they can return to the simple life of the desert and their faith, but it isn’t going to happen, their children won’t allow it. Their dream must change to incorporate democracy and elements of secular humanism, and Al Qaeeda is a direct response to these pressures.
    Once one realises this, the direction the Bush Administration has taken all of us is revealed in all its horror. For instead of demonstrating our adherence to the values that we profess to worship, peace, negotiation, democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law, respect for life and so on, we have so easily and quickly discarded them, and to no advantage, and at a gigantic cost that America and Americans have yet to even understand.

  16. ikonoklast says:

    Oil, sure. And the American identity is partially about oil. The mythos of Route 66, freedom of the open road, from flappers in Model T’s through fins and muscle cars to soccer moms in minivans. See the USA in your Chevrolet, Texas gushers, NASCAR … all 20th century self-images, not to be screwed with. Ask Jimmy Carter about selling the 55mph speed limit as a patriotic conservation measure.
    The irony is that if the driving motivation for our misadventure in the ME is petroleum, the only contribution the public is asked to make is to slap a ribbon magnet on their SUV’s to declare support for the troops that are fighting to supply the growing thirst the vehicles create. How have we managed to turn the perception of a proud miltary into deprived poster children, by the way? George’s Kids …. echhh. In any event, the idea would be that it’s better to tear down Iraq than give up our cars. (And geez, in Venezuela gas is less than a buck a gallon! Dangerous socialism! Our free market can’t generate profits that way – keep those sabres rattling, boys.)
    It’s another example of the vacuity of Friedman’s flat earth, unless you truly believe that a rising sea floats all boats, unlimited growth without environmental disaster or failing resources is possible, and that oligarchs can be satiated. In any group of anti-globalization demonstrators it’s always interesting to analyze who’s protesting human rights violations and who simply doesn’t want to give up their stuff to foreigners.
    I don’t think oil is the sole reason we’re trashing the ME, though. It’s a foul synergy, a complicated concatenation of economics, politics, religion, greed, personalities, unproven theories, fear, history, and many other factors. In a way Iraq serves as a Rorschach; one can find a rationale for it’s failure through nearly any discipline. It’s special that way – its own poster child.

  17. david says:

    I have a lot of respect for you and am a regular reader of this blog, but I must admit I find the FP piece and this post to be utter nonsense. These cultural arguments are ridiculously misplaced. To reverse Chesterton, ALL nations are founded on a creed and they spend their historical lives debating the meaning of those creeds.
    The comparion of Iraq to the United States is equally ridiculous. Did you perchance see what happened to Louisianna in the aftermath of Katrina? What the United States would look like if it had suffered the economic, political and military fate of Iraq over the last 27 years I do not know, but I would bet it would register much higher on the scale of viciousness and that we would see the emergence of a purer form of tribalism (did not race and poverty become the touchstones of that calamity?)
    I am well familiar with the Middle East, but that experience has led me to the position that the dynamics driving human communities are largely the same, even if the particular crystals look different.

  18. W. Patrick Lang says:

    My article was about Anerica. pl

  19. david says:

    Thanks for your reply. I am perhaps guilty of unfairly conflating your piece with this post, but I remain convinced that the same meme (a sort of culturalism) runs through both — implicit in yours, explicit in his.
    It seems unreasonable to me to name “ideological blinkers” or the American political psyche for failures in Iraq and elsewhere, when there is a rich history of concrete US policy decisions that can do the job better. To be sure, what you describe in FP helps sustain some of those policies in the domestic political context, but I am not convinced that it explains US decisions regarding Iraq.
    In many respects, US policy-makers are keenly aware of Iraqi “traditions” and make much use of them to secure certain objectives (i.e., fanning sectarian flames when required or bolstering tribal authority in particular areas).
    I guess what I am trying to say is that the political rhetoric should not be confused with the political economy, anywhere or at anytime.

  20. brenda says:

    Maybe it is another symptom of the great tragedy that has befallen this nation, that we have forgotten, or simply find quaint, the idea that America was, indeed, for common, hard-working folk throughout the world “the last best hope”.

  21. anna missed says:

    David, I think what Chesterton was getting at was the difference of a nation founded on creed as opposed to ethnic nationalism, as a matter of trust — that the U.S. lacking the ethnic (homogenious) nationalism and the implicit trust that goes with it, is reliant for its nationalism on ideology aka the constitution. And what worrie(d)s him is that ideology as opposed to historical etho-centricism is more vulnerable to the forces of “reality”. That an anarchist English gentleman is only a benign threat, because he is first an “English gentleman” and only secondly an “anarchist”. But in America, because of its lack of ethno-centracism being an “anarchist” trumps being a “gentleman”. Which in following, facilitates an attitude of seeing the “other” first in terms ideology. And during the cold war, a war of ideologies, that worked reasonably well, because there were not significant undercurrents of either ethnicity or religion involved, either in the host countries or here in the U.S. for that matter. In Iraq however, religion becomes an especially important issue because political ideology is inseperable within the Islamic religion. And probably no place in American history has the foriegn policy of this country found itself allied to anything like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to which itself is allied to a reputed enemy of the U.S. Obviously, there is a blind spot at work here, so as they say “only in America”.

  22. VietnamVet says:

    The USA was founded on English enlightenment, a dab of democracy, the separation of church and state and capitalism. All together it gave the American Establishment a sense of practicality. After all, the gathering wealth is hard necessary work.
    Somewhere in the middle of the Cold War, the radical right wing copied the Communist Party and developed their own propaganda organ; the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The outsourcing of American Manufacturing meant wealth could only obtained from money manipulation, scamming consumers, government corruption or never ending wars. Divorced from capitalism and founded on propaganda, AEI gave us Iraq; corruption and an endless Holy War unbounded from truth or reality.

  23. Arun says:

    “”It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages.”
    — it is very funny to quote that as a sign of civilization after decades of impoverishment of India by the East India Company.
    Just one simple question – why did not Macaulay ask for abolishment of the salt tax?
    The colonial project is rotten to its core. You can dress it up in high sounding words like Macaulay did or like Bush did. It doesn’t change its nature.

  24. Arun says:

    “The original and most enduring source of Western power in Asia has been the capacity of Western states to disrupt the complex organization that linked Asian societies to one another within and across jurisdictional and civilizational divides. This capacity has been rooted in Western advances in military technology on the one side, and in the vulnerability of Asian societies to the military disruption of their mutual trade on the other side. ”
    But read the whole thing:

  25. COLORADO BOB says:

    This is on Informed Comment, but just in case …. The Iraqi Oil Law leaked and translated :

  26. Chris Marlowe says:

    There is one point worth pointing out.
    All the discussion of the American creed, both pro and con was done by Americans of Caucasian European extraction. Colonialism and the justification for it as an institution was led by the same group of people in Europe, just as slavery was being rejected in the 19th century. To a large extent, it provided a new ideological justification for cultural superiority, rule and economic exploitation over brown, black and yellow people sho had not yet benefited from the industrial, and later, information revolution.
    There is a problem with this approach in the US; Hispanics and Asian Americans do not share the same interest in this European-based American creed. According to this projection from the US Census Bureau, caucasians will become the minority in the US by 2050. Then what will happen?
    Will the US become like Lebanon, with vastly differents groups with very different worldviews, fighting it out with each other? Will caucasians in America become like the Maronites and Sunni Muslims, fighting to retain some degree of economic and political domination even as their percentage of the population falls? Will this result in the fracturing of the US as a single political entity?
    That is a very interesting question.
    I believe, based on discussions with them, that Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics will eventually rise up in their rejection of this creed.
    It was never part of their narrative.

  27. SPRINGER says:

    The colonel’s cogent analysis of the root problem beneath current governmental hubris is on target… and our fellow citizen’s mindsets are in the bullseye.
    Proud of your courage Brother Lang….
    Former 7th and 10th Gp B Team S2

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