Professor Louis Cantori has givn me permission to post the following comment on the site for the purpose of extending the discussion that has followed the appearance of my recent piece in "Foreign Policy" (on line). Professor Cantori’s remarks clarify much in the discussion to date. pl
"The argument of Lang, Habakuk , Chesterfield and others about the American creed is an important one. It is important because it provides an intellectual explanation for the zealous, unreasoning quality of American foreign policy. It is an argument that can be extended to include academic analysis as well and it is also an argument that can be expanded to include countries that possess a liberal political culture. America is not alone in this. It is perhaps simply more zealous." Louis Cantori.
Campbell discusses the symbloic meaning of the Great Seal of the United States in his book, “The Power of Myth”.
It is a fascinating presentation at the end of which he states that US left the path of Reason, which was her founding principle, by joining Britain in dominating the world starting with WWI.
Thank you, these comments go a long way to explaining the apparent odd dichotomy between domestic American culture and our foreign policy, at least since the Spanish American War.
I am reminded of the long standing tradition of not dipping our flag at Olympic Game ceremonies, i.e. countries may bow, but ideas may not. That illustrates the point well, I think.
Col. An historical question out of curiosity on this issue. Since most ‘liberal democracies’ emerge from the history of Western Europe over the last several centuries doesn’t that situate them as adifferent culture? If so hasn’t the drive for liberty in the political, economic, religious, and social spheres been the dominant motif? Since it can be at least,in part, claimed that these forces have assisted in the development of Western power.Shouldn’t one then anticipate that other cultures will have to both resist and take on elements of the West as they recapitulate in some form the parallels to the earlier and to some extent on going struglles in the West? I think the analysis neglects some of the parallels between the tensions in all societies on the globe inckluding the US. We are after all at present under trmendous conservative Christian and Jewish religious pressure in our politics and that provides some of the pressure for our policies. Combine that with a president who is part of and depends on that conservative religious pressure for both emotional and political sustenance and the eschatological elements of the Abrhamic Faiths comes into play. This mirrors some of the same characteristics of the Islamic radicals orientation. Most of our ‘tech-know’ types, which includes military managers, simply look for “..the most efficient way to gain an end ” to phraphrase Jaques Ellul, the French thinker. When the religious aspects of ‘exceptionalism’ as well as those of the en- lightenment combine it is a very heady brew for all sides. Scienfic technology simply amphlifies the harm which can be sone while reducion focus on the human, cultural, and historical issues involved. There is a certain degree of mirroring going on, with the consequent misreads on all sides. A minor point in this dilaogue, perhaps, but an important one. As one who is religiously trained I have tended to be a foreign policy realist ju st because of my knowledg e of the power of religion.
Prof. Cantori’s remarks reminded me of E.H. Carr’s idea of the Harmony of Interests, which Carr critiques as:
“…the natural assumption of a prosperous and privileged class, whose members have a dominant voice in the community and are therefore naturally prone to identify its interest with their own. In virtue of this identification, any assailant of the interests of the dominant group is made to incur the odium of assailing the alleged common interest of the whole community, and is told that in making this assault he is attacking his own higher interests. The doctrine of the harmony of interests thus serves as an ingenious moral device invoked, in perfect sincerity, by privileged groups in order to justify and maintain their dominant position.”
The United States often conflates its own interests with those of the world and, as Carr points out, there is a certain underlying truth to this conflation. The problem, as Prof. Cantori suggests, is what happens to groups or countries that do not believe their own interests are harmonious with those of the U.S. Furthermore, as Prof. Cantori notes, it is often the social sciences that confirm the rightness of superior power. Carr continues (with my parenthetical comments):
“When Mr. Churchill declared that “the fortunes of the British Empire and its glory are inseparably interwoven with the fortunes of the world,” this statement had precisely the same foundation in fact as the statement that the prosperity of British manufacturers in the nineteenth century was inseparably interwoven with British prosperity as a whole.” (Recall Macauley’s comments on India; Carr also quotes Henry Ford’s maxim that “There can be no conflict between good economics and good morals”)
“Moreover, the purpose of the statements was precisely the same, namely to establish the principle that the defense of the British Empire, or the prosperity of the British manufacturer, was a matter of common interest to the whole community, and that anyone who attacked it was therefore either immoral or muddleheaded.” (The now combined tactic of accusing one’s opponents of stupid immorality remains the principal rhetorical weapon of the Bush Administration, as exemplified in the condescending smarminess of Tony Snow: You people just don’t get it)
“It is a familiar tactic of the privileged to throw moral discredit on the underprivileged by depicting them as disturbers of the peace; and this tactic is as readily applied internationally as within the national community. “International law and order,” writes Professor Toynbee of a recent crisis, “were in the true interests of the whole of mankind… whereas the desire to perpetuate the region of violence in international affairs was an anti-social desire which was not even in the ultimate interests of the citizens of the handful of states that officially professed this benighted and anachronistic creed.”
Toynbee, as later Carr points out, means that the security of the British Empire was in the interests of the entire world. The ‘drum beating liberal ideological crusade’ that Prof. Cantori attributes to the U.S. uses the same armor that Toynbee used: it’s for the good of all mankind.
To paraphrase Carr: ‘We have become the monopolists of international morality because it is we who have created the current canons of international virtue’. It has been our failure to think critically that got us into this mess in the first place. Thanks to Col. Lang and Prof. Cantori for offering a forum to think our way out.
“Unfortunately, the American approach to international conflict is the ideological one sketched in the preceding.
What is clear is that the discourse of the war on terror is largely that of an American ideological monologue.”
Exactly, American people have nothing to do with the war beyond trusting their leadership. The ideological monologue is in the heads of academics at top US universities, paid ideologs at think tanks and their pupils and followers in the government (note that most neocons have PhDs in something like philosophy or history). 99.99% of Americans would not care for Isaiah Berlin’s ideas and who he was (who was TBW not some home grown thinker but a Russian-born Jewish philosopher who taught in Britain; America is known for only one school of philosophy and that is PRAGMATISM! Peirce, William James, John Dewey – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism).
As I pointed out in a previous post, the war is to give the Middle East a push so that it would tern into a liberal democracy, the final and most complete form of political organization.
But what is ideology and idealism? Aren’t they just idol worship of ideas, which are in many cases nothing more than dreams and imaginations? Like pagans, men erect idols in their heads and then bring on the altar of their barbaric “gods” real human lives. In any event, all these ideological talk is a European import (a foreign culture), and it will wrack havoc in the US, just like it destroyed Europe.
“No man is justified in the eye of the Lord.”
This is the best discussion yet on the contradiction that is Iraq. How in a million years did the American Establishment believe that it could bring secular democracy to the Middle East at the point of a gun? They believed their own propaganda. Besides, there are billions in dollars to be made in war profits. Exxon-Mobile pumping Iraqi oil outside of OPEC is the best of all possible worlds.
For a description about how Western cultures have impacted Third World cultures, read Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.
A novel with doubtless implicatins regarding the current Nigerian uprisings, it, by portraying the destruction of one Ibo’s life, encapsules how British colonialism destroyed Nigerian culture.
The Amazon.com blurb is as follows:
One of Chinua Achebe’s many achievements in his acclaimed first novel, Things Fall Apart, is his relentlessly unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria declared independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence. His Ibo protagonist, Okonkwo, is a self-made man. The son of a charming ne’er-do-well, he has worked all his life to overcome his father’s weakness and has arrived, finally, at great prosperity and even greater reputation among his fellows in the village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is a champion wrestler, a prosperous farmer, husband to three wives and father to several children. He is also a man who exhibits flaws well-known in Greek tragedy:
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.
And yet Achebe manages to make this cruel man deeply sympathetic. He is fond of his eldest daughter, and also of Ikemefuna, a young boy sent from another village as compensation for the wrongful death of a young woman from Umuofia. He even begins to feel pride in his eldest son, in whom he has too often seen his own father. Unfortunately, a series of tragic events tests the mettle of this strong man, and it is his fear of weakness that ultimately undoes him.
Achebe does not introduce the theme of colonialism until the last 50 pages or so. By then, Okonkwo has lost everything and been driven into exile. And yet, within the traditions of his culture, he still has hope of redemption. The arrival of missionaries in Umuofia, however, followed by representatives of the colonial government, completely disrupts Ibo culture, and in the chasm between old ways and new, Okonkwo is lost forever. Deceptively simple in its prose, Things Fall Apart packs a powerful punch as Achebe holds up the ruin of one proud man to stand for the destruction of an entire culture. –Alix Wilber
Babak it takes a wilful ignorance of US history to conclude that WWI was some sort of great turning away from the light of reason to the dark ways of British style Imperialism.
We have the Spanish-American war in 1902. largely cooked up in the Hearst press with flimsy evidence that the sinking of the USS Maine was Spains work.
America was a far more frankly Imperial nation in the 19th century than in the blushing 20th. Ask any Mexican about la intervención norteamericana in 1847 or how Texas got filched from them.
Note the Thornton affair; another very fishy pretext for war on territory the Texans had just unilaterally declared theirs and Abe’s testy “show me the spot”.
It goes right back further than that. A large motivation in The Revolutionary War was the desire to drop all treaty obligations with the Indians; the British insisted they be maintained and this got in the way of Manifest Destiny.
Great idea Manifest Destiny another God given mission just like The White Mans Burden but shorn of the whig hypocrisy of having a duty of care to the natives.
The drive West is as much a piece of Imperialism as the near contemporaneous drive east into Siberia by the Czars or the East India Companies stealthy theft of India.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the “surge” (as The Economist points out, rather more of a squirt) fails. What, I wonder, is this Plan B’s Plan B?
If it is somehow related to the SoS’s “work” on resolving the Palestinian question, God help us. Since the US appears to be maintaining its position that that the only acceptable Palestinian is a Zionist, there is no hope and these proceedings are now some sort of grisly, amateurish low farce.
Pace Professor Cantori, I suspect that POTUS is flailing (not “flaying”, but I can understand the slip) inside a psychological (rather than ideological) paper bag and when it bursts there will be quite a bang.
Not entirely incidentally, “Ich bin ein Berliner” has a different meaning for most people who met Isaiah Berlin – “I only hope you don’t over-estimate me too far – that you do so is clear to me; but then my life has been entirely founded on a systematic over-estimate of my capacities – I do not quarrel with this, long may it last, nevertheless I am aware that it is true” – http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/writings_on_ib/johnson.htm
Thanks to Professor Cantori for his succinct and readable essay. [I note his reference to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia after 9/11. I wonder: Who won the “Battle of Nine Eleven”?]
Intellectuals refine ideas which then trickle into public discourse which in turn influence the policy debate and ultimately the decisions taken. Mass media operates at every step to shape and amplify discussion.
The realities of mass media have a critical role in elevating the more strident and ideological voices — Clash of Civilizations! Film at 11!
Television magnifies some voices and ignores others. Many factors influence the editorial process: ideological blinders acquired at university, intimidation by White House appointed regulators, financial interests of network owners, and so on.
It’s also the case that when two programs are run head to head, say, Prof Cantori and Col Lang discussing the complexities of blah, blah, blah and two partisan ideologues bashing each other, the latter will win the ratings battle every time. This factor, and it’s a powerful one, results from the nature of the television medium and how we relate to it (and not from any hidden conspiracies.)
Television is a neutral technology that can educate or distort.
I thumbed through this one at the store:
Silence of the Rational Center: Why American Foreign Policy Is Failing by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke.
Has anyone read it?
George Bush’s current ME policy is the last hurrah of the western domination of the world economy, which has lasted for the past 200 years. Much of this leadership was based on ideas from the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, then later the information revolution.
Before the 19th century, China had the world’s largest economy for the past 18 centuries. Along with western ideas, Europe, then America, dominated through their control of the oil-based economy. Naturally, this required domination of the ME region.
Now though, the world has evolved into an economically and ideologically multilateral world, where no single country and economy has complete domination in ideas. In this new multilateral world, China and India are most likely to be the largest economies, even though they will not dominate (have more than 50%) of the world economy.
The “war on terror” is a poorly disguised naked war of aggression against the peoples of the Middle East, who want to take control of their futures and their natural resources. Bush, never an ideologist, has reduced it largely to “might makes right”, based on American force of arms. This is the very last hurrah, before the American dream sinks under the waves.
However, the American dream did not fail; it was just that the rest of the world copied it. Everyone understands and uses the same technology and the same economic principles. The perfect example is Vietnam. While most Americans think that America lost the war, today’s Vietnam, with its opening economy and gradually opening politics, is becoming a more open, more prosperous society, like American was before the “war on terror”. Asia is growing and prosperous because people just want to live better, and have a better future for themselves and their childrens’ future.
When a country becomes too ideological and narrow in its approach, that is a sure sign of failure. That is why America is failing now.
There is another less ideological and less intellectual interpretation too. This story talks about someone who behaves badly in a restaurant; exchange the person who behaves badly for the US under the current administration, and the other guests in the restaurant as the world community, and you have something which applies very well to our current situation.
huh. plp seems to be the very manifestation of the Lang/Cantori thesis. If America’s only philosophy is pragmatism, why don’t they nuke Israel now?
And for heaven’s sake, when was the last time humans or states could be taken at their words when the issues are competition and consumption? The post WWII interregnum produced economic conditions that facilitate luxuries like some limited rule of law, the welfare state, an SUV in every pot, 99 flavours of toothpaste and an accretion of educated chattering classes – IN SOME PLACES. And in some of those, a thin veneer of ‘liberal democracy”. It induces predictable, calculable behaviour – for now. Obviously, conditions have changed.
We are simutaneously being told we are in an exsistential struggle for our very survival on several fronts – religo-political, energy/technology and environmental- and that at such a time our only hope is to forcibly export our political order whilst the political economy that supports our comfy liberal life has irrevocably and inexorably changed. We exported the “liberal” part – the forced free markets of globalization- while our governments feverishly fiddle with the domestic economy to insulate powerful stakeholders from the effects of our export of “freedom”.
Whatever the merits of expanding liberal democracy, the global spread its present formulation would be its end. As is occurring now. The liberal ideals are thrown out to sustain the economic juggernaut that some have learned to milk and others survive. There are just not enough of the nuts and bolts of “liberal democracy” – economic security sustaining libweral democratic social order and political legitimation of the use of force – to go around the planet today. Perforce, something else will develop.
There is no more virgin, mostly unpopulated frontier to monopolistically exploit. Obviously our fantastic technology is not up to solving that problem on a global scale. Even with that basic foundation, a legitmated, accepted monopoly on the use of force is required to sustain a state and economy to the point where a liberal democratic social order can emerge. That monopoly used to be the province of the nation state. Those days are gone, except insofar as the relation holds within the current western nations. Power is busily reinforcing that relationship wherever it can – by whatever means necessary.
Anyone could imagine that the same inexorable, unpredictable forces are not acting to complicate and irredeemably change “liberal democracy”. They could dream up anything that circumstances allow, including the chimera that this is the way it is, and that’s it. But dreams of liberty and justice for all don’t fill hungry bellies and gas tanks – or think tanks, for that matter.
I assure you, an armchair intellectual dilettante, champion of the poor and oppressed in my community and the world, that B.A. and law degree in hand, I will be jumping up and down on my M.P.’s desk demanding whatever it takes, and threatening whatever else, if there is not enough gas to run my stereo and get to the cottage.
Wait til the west starts exporting THAT.
So . . . do we attack the elites’ defenses of their global economic position — defenses by and large selected by them on pragmatic grounds — or the people’s blinkered, ideologically determined patriotism?
That was thoroughly interesting to read.
The Enlightenment paradigm dominates because it is intrinsically generative and critical. It isn’t simply a culture but a dynamic epistemological framework, which is where, I suppose, the “aggressive” quality comes from. It is never at rest. Nor can it long entertain the idea of final answers to questions.
We seem, with Professor Cantori’s contribution and much of the subsequent discussion, to have travelled quite a long way from the starting point of Col Lang’s article. For my part, I’m not at all sure the journey has been particularly profitable.
Professor Cantori uses Berlin to make the argument that liberalism can so easily become the “perpetrator in the present assumed ‘clash of civilisations'”. While I don’t think there’s any doubt the west, and America in particular, have been doing exactly that for quite some time, I do think it’s a grave error to attribute that to liberalism. I haven’t read the essay of Berlin’s that Prof. Cantori leans on, but from my understanding of Berlin’s work and thought, I suspect he would have been referring not to liberalism generally but to the very negative consequences that can flow from particular conceptions of “positive liberty”. The concept of self mastery, of being in control of one’s destiny which are central to positive liberty as Berlin defines it, lend themselves all too easily to abuse by those who wish to bring about a particular kind of society. I’d imagine it was this perversion of one of the two broad conceptions of liberty to which Berlin would have been referring when he laid at liberalism’s feet some of the blame for communism and fascism.
There’s little doubt that liberalism will often tend to view some alternate, “obdurate, uncompromising point[s] of view” as barbarous. Although I struggle to see where and how Taoism could fit into this definition, or even Buddhism for that matter, Islam can obviously only too easily do so. There are, however, two considerations that ought to inform any attempts to draw conclusions from this. Firstly, I think a reasonable argument can be made that the genuine liberal, pluralist philosophy is in fact the most evolved to date. Its great virtue is that more than any other system it allows all varieties of belief and lifestyle to flourish, save the coercive. Here it has the right, indeed in my view the need, to be pretty uncompromising. Uncompromising, though,and here we come to the second consideration, only in defense of its own freedoms, not in any presumed right to spread those notions by force. The perfect summary of what I would call the true liberal position on this matter came from John Quincy Adams (as Secretary of State) in July 1821:
“Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all; she is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force … . She might become the dictatress of the world; she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”
Unfortunately, the hijacking of bits and pieces of classical liberalism and the unashamed rhetorical use of some of its language and concepts by those who more correctly belong on the other side of the philosophical divide has done incalculable harm. As, to a lesser degree, has its takeover and misuse by the American strain of liberalism. It’s hard to say whether the rather lovely original creation can ever be extracted from the resulting linguistic and conceptual wreckage. We should not, however, in my view, allow these failures and perversions to undermine our understanding of the great value of the underlying principles.
American exceptionalism, together with the wider presumption that it is the west’s right – or duty – to forceably spread these beliefs is a terrible mutation, not something which naturally grows from liberalism itself. As one comes to understand that many of the dilemmas the west now faces are in fact the result of our relentless interference, it’s easy to overcompensate and begin to doubt and criticise the whole basis of our society rather than just focussing on where it has gone wrong, on the degree, in short, to which it has betrayed its foundation beliefs.
Apropos to my comments on liberal democracy, power and that “a legitmated, accepted monopoly on the use of force is required to sustain a state and economy to the point where a liberal democratic social order can emerge.” comes this editorial today from the New York times:
“Making Martial Law Easier”
In 1972, while in London on a foreign study program, the group of American students I was with met with a Tory MP to discuss politics. He said something to us that I think I rejected out of hand at the time (he being a Conservative and me being, well, something else, mostly wet behind the ears) that has resonated through the years and which I now find compelling. He said that foreign policy should be based upon respect for the reasonable self-interest of others. This simple formulation leaves plenty of room for argument over what constitutes “reasonable”, but it does acknowledge the legitimacy of the ways and aspirations of others while never denying one’s own. It implies a dynamic world of contesting ideas and cultures and a kind of practical limit to how far one may go in pursuit of one’s interests. We need not apologize for the limitations of our own cultural and anthropological vision. They are no worse than most. It is the arrogance of our belief in an American exceptionalism that is neither reasonable nor respectable.
How poor, or at least austere, could we become, and still keep for ourselves
a liberal-philosophy-based civilization in America and some other countries where it emerged, and whose peoples still want it? If we could shrink our economy to the point of not needing resources from non-Western countries to survive, then we would not need to impose liberalism upon them in order to extract economic support from them. Could we
shrink our economies that much and still retain our own liberalism?
How do we “make America safe for the world”? How do
we replace American Exceptionalism with American
Ordinaryism? How do we set aside our “middle kingdom complex”? How do we go from
“We’re Number One!” to “We’re good enough”? How
do we turn National Greatness Conservatives into
National Okayness Moderates?
Let’s not get carried away here.
A very large percentage of Americans never wanted this war in the first place and a fluid majority were convinced it was maybe a good idea only after being repeatedly lied to about the purpose: removing Saddam’s “mushroom cloud”. This also came about on the heels of the emotionally charged post-9/11 period.
With either a change of 600 votes in Florida in 2000, or a glitch in the plan of the 9/11 conspirators, the Iraq war would NEVER HAVE HAPPENED. 9/11 created what I would describe as our collective “Flitcraft moment” (Hammett’s Maltese Falcon character), and GWB was just exactly the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong job.
The moment is over now and we are returning to the neocon-loathed “pre-9/11” mindset. Americans are returning to their innate concerns which are primarily “I want a nicer car, bigger tv, and posher house”.
Americans who back this war (dead-enders to use Cheney’s term) don’t really think everyone in the world is created as equal as we are and never have. Americans have just always been a sucker for con jobs from up top. This has little to do with our thinking everyone is like us. In fact, the “Bush Americans”, and maybe even the larger majority of Americans are scared to death of foreigners and convinced they ARE NOT LIKE US AND NEVER WILL BE! Sadly, Europeans are starting to share that sentiment as well. The problem for the Bush American is not that he loves the US for being a melting pot, in fact he fears it: anything that gets added to a melting pot changes the flaver and may turn it into a dish he doesn’t want to eat. He wants a nice, familiar chicken noodle soup, not lentil stew, andoulle gumbo or pho tai.
For the dead-enders, the new/old Iraq battle cry is “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” and every combination of that. I tried an interesting thought experiment last week during the congressional hearings: every time I heard a war supporter use the phrase “jihadist” I mentally transformed it into the phrase “really angry brown people”. If you strip the code-speak off, that is the mindset with which we are dealing and it is very enlightening.
And here’s the source of the current tragedy: The historical counterweight to this crusader ideology has been a political conservatism that seeks to avoid reckless foreign adventures.
Grover Cleveland refused to ask the Senate to annex Hawaii, for example, because he was appalled by the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by American business interests. We could also talk about the American refusal to accept a German invitation to the conference in Berlin where European powers divided Africa between themselves. And so on — there are plenty of examples of an America that sought to keep its fingers out of everybody else’s pie. (Of course, there’s also William Walker and Sam Houston and Richard Henry Pratt.)
Today an administration full of people who call themselves “conservative” model their foreign policy on Woodrow Wilson, minus the multilateralism, and they talk about reengineering the world with American power.
The tragedy is the death of a principled American conservatism that valued prudence and restraint in foreign affairs. We see the result.
While no doubt true that “monism” is an integral part the of “liberal enlightment” of western democracies — was’nt it French colonialism that touted the policy of “assimilation” as its raison d’etre in its African colonies. Seems there’s plenty of exceptionalist blame to go around, except that historically, American exceptionalism is, well, exceptional. In that much political science would proclaim it a significant differential as a matter of political diversification, when compaired to the European political history — in that the socialist models have never taken root. Which has led to a particularly large blind spot, as the professor points out, in engaging indegenious societies culturally grounded in communilism, like Iraq. The French lost in Algeria, with perhaps a more enlightened cultural understanding and The U.S. lost in Vietnam where the ideological difference was on top, but in Iraq, the U.S. is loosing with the full monty — on both the cultural and the ideological levels. And to underline this point we only have to look for the proponents of the sectarian Iraq resistance in the west — there are none. Neither the liberals, the leftists, sectarian Christians, and certainly not the full spread of political parties could give a whit about what the Iraqis themselves might envision for their own future. Because its become all about us, and (as Cantori says) the particularly opaque bag, we have been thrashing around in for the past 6 years. And one has to wonder what is to happen in the aftermath, when the blind spot is turned upon ourselves — do they know who we are either?
To Joseph Campbell, the US participation in WWI was the crucial turning point from the Path of Reason.
I do not know why he discounted the annexation of 1/3 of Mexico and other similar events.
For Robinson Jeffers, it was WWII; “shine: perishing republic …”
A very deep discussion here, thanks to all for posting such well though out comments. IMHO the “ideological blinkers” were simply another tool in the propaganda tool box used to support the drive for war, a flaw in the national psyche recognised and exploited quite adroitly by the neo-cons. Probably one of the very few things they have ever done competently, aside from enriching their friends in the military-industrial complex.
Yet, after all the talking, the USA remains mired in Iraq and seems highly likely to compound the problem by doubling-down in Iran. This relates directly to the real motive for the 2003 invasion and all its tragic aftermath. That cause is OIL – does anyone really believe the US would have ever invaded Iraq if there was NO oil there? Hardly.
The truth is plain to see: Afghanistan has no oil, is a low priority. Iraq, lots of oil, high priority. Iran, lots of oil/gas and the ability to control the Straits of Hormuz (even more oil), high priority. Can you connect the dots?
From “The Colonial Stag
in Rutting Season”
by Ann Berg
“The beastly nature of U.S. foreign policy becomes more apparent daily. As William Pfaff recently wrote, the current and future preemptive wars in the greater Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa are late tremors of colonialism, driven by America’s deep-rooted delusion over its own exceptionalism. Given its ascendant position after World War II (comprising 40 percent of the world’s GDP), the rapid dollarization of the global economy, and the embrace of military Keynesianism (deftly described by Chalmers Johnson), it is no wonder that the U.S. finds itself stuck in overreach and blustery denial……
Because of colonialism’s horrific legacy, the U.S. wove elaborate tales to pitch its noble enterprise for subjugating the Islamic region and using Iraq as its central command post to oversee regional energy development. Prior to all its “liberation” talk, the administration extolled the invasion as a bona fide investment – yielding instant dividends and a continuous stream of good will. The fact that investment was impossible because of U.S. prohibitions against American/Iraqi capital ventures went unmentioned. Once the weapons threat and the Saddam- 9/11 connection fizzled, the U.S. ramped up the struggle as a clash of worldviews, one it couldn’t afford to lose. Details supporting this axiom appear closely guarded – hushed circles must be envisioning Muslim hordes overrunning American soil – turning symbols of culture, capital, and religion into rubble.”
To which I would add:
“If we don’t stop behaving like the British Empire, we will end up like the British Empire.
– Pat Buchanan”
Arts and Letters Daily at
http://www.aldaly,com/ has an article by Michael Valhos: “The Fall Of Modernity: Has the American Narrative Authored Its Own Undoing?”. The article adds to the comments on this Blog and adds some dimensions. One does not have to agree with all of it to find it insightful.
While it is a nice thesis, and undoubtedly drives some part of the Amercian machine, quaint concepts such as ‘enlightenment’ are thought of as sops for the masses (if at all), by the industrialist plutocrats who have historically driven this country’s military/industrial agenda.
If this is in the ‘American DNA,’ it was inserted there by years and years of mass media propaganda, which, more than anything, has been the instrument of attributing these superlatives to what is really a base grab for natural resources–at the expense of whatever people that happen to be sitting on top of ‘our’ gold, oil, etc.
Got A Watch,
well, Britain would be just fine.
It could be much worse — imagine Russian style turmoil. I have the impression the US would not be much less violent. Considering phenomena like working poor, soldiers on food stamps and a large ‘service economy’ the US IMO is, like a 3rd Gen fighter jet, stably unstable. Look at New Orleans’ governing structure dissolving under the pressure of crisis – cops deserting their posts, looting, failure and dysfunction on the federal level. Internal stability is different.
Economic collapse as a result of overreach could be quite painful for the US, with internal unrest along the lines of Watts Riots on a regular basis. The US would IMO turn autoritarian in response.
I vividly remember how New Orleans’ mayor said: ‘We have called in the troops to restore order. They’ve been in Iraq and they shoot to kill!’ Huh, and that to ‘citizens’ that ought to be helped and protected by the state and in my understanding not be held at bay, at gunpoint if neccessary.
Getting off topic somewhat, the people who tipped the scales by overreaching will of course take none of the blame for their contribution. Just listen to Frank Gaffney’s orgy in ‘blaming the backstabing traitors’ who embolden the enemies and lose the war. Sais Gaffney:
“Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.
— President Abraham Lincoln
It is, of course, unimaginable that the penalties (…) for the crime of dividing America in the face of the enemy would be contemplated — let alone applied — today.
Still (…) it is time to reflect on what constitutes inappropriate behavior in time of war (…) the talk is not about whether such behavior is appropriate in time of war — or consistent with the national interest. ”
Below the link with mp3’s of Gaffney on radio explaining what he meant.
The Lincoln quote is fake. The discussion is not so good, but Gaffney pretty much demolishes himself, taking none of the critique, and insisting on his point while refusing to speak it out directly.
You folks are, of course, entitled to your opinions but you ought to think about how empty the economic determinist and marxist oil theory of the origins of the Iraq War really are.
There are so many things in human behavior that are not economically driven… The Cheney oily crowd are really so much more sophisticated than you are crediting them with being. pl
IMO the reasons for Iraq are a stew, in which oil is but one ingredience.
The case made for war — and what struck me throughout all the drumbeat for war on Iraq was that it was basically an advocacy position, nothing else, just like Alberto Gonzales’ statements are pro-Bush advocacy decisions — offered something for everyone. Access to cheap oil for the cynics and economists, freedom for the idealists, the looming mushroom cloud for the fearful, expanding the US footprint and proving military might for the hard power believers and re-shaping the Greater Middle East for the neo-cons and so forth.
I agree that slogans like ‘no blood for oil’ are stupid because they are simplicistic and easily refuted. They have emotional appeal, sure. But they weaken an important case that has to be made.
And as for human behaviour not being economically driven, I also agree. Robert A. Pape makes an important case in his important book ‘Dying to win’, where he argues that most suicide terrorists, much like a soldier sacrificing himself, are in fact acting out of an altruistic impulse, and not, say, out of frustration over viable economic perspectives or a pathological death wish.
Without wanting to stretch the analogy, IMO the neo-cons are also in the belief to act altruistic in the sense that they think the whole stew is good for America, maybe even without liking in every single ingredience. The neo-con ‘idealism’ is IMO pretty much real. They ought to be taken serious in what they say about it.
One important point that has been missed in the discussion, is one that would confirm Dr. Cantori’s position — at least in the puplic forum. And that argument would be the very liberal argument the administration has used ad infinitum to disarm liberal opinion and critique against the “bringing democracy to the Middle East” policy. That goes to the heart of the question and remains the fundamental presupposition supporting it. Being of course, the abhorrent inherently anti-liberal notion that the Middle East is not capable of democracy, does not desire democracy, and consequently would prefer some form of tyranny instead. This argument, with its implied racism has served to silence criticism (from especially the left) from the get go. And to this day remains largely unchallenged in the public forum. The failure to win another war of choice predicated upon this folly, is license to do it again, but more competently next time, or so they would hpoe.
You are right; the Cheney crowd are sophisticated. They have to balance off a lot of interests, and create a general trend which is in their favor. Unfortunately for them, they have failed.
The American political system is determined by individual votes; what I call retail politics. The interests combined by oil, the Israel lobby, Wall Street and Christian fundamentalist organizations, the mainstream corporate media, major donors and other business interests are what I call wholesale politics.
Cheney and Bush have made clear that they are not going to let voters’ votes affect their decisions, even after the Nov. 2006 elections became a referendum on the Iraq war. If the Bush/Cheney presidency has stood for anything; domestically, it is for the unchallenged power of the executive. Internationally, it is for unilateral American power, unfettered by international institutions.
Sure, oil is just one factor. But if it is not that important, why did Cheney choose to go to court rather than to reveal the minutes of his meetings with energy executives in 2001, including Kenneth Lay, in the formulation of US energy policy?
And if the rationale for invading Iraq was not so flimsy, why did Cheney and his office spend so much of his valuable time going after Joe Wilson, revealing the identity of his wife as a CIA operative, and even sacrificing his assistant Scooter Libby?
And why has this administration spent so much of its legal efforts on passing the Patriot Act, which codifies the changes in the “war on terror” in direct violation of the constitution?
Sure they are much more sophisticated. But you can tell a lot about people by the battles they choose; it reveals their priorities.
Lately, the Great Decider has grown fond of comparing himself to Truman, another unpopular president. I think that it is much more appropriate to compare him to Nixon. This is not surprising when you think that Karl Rove was a strong supporter of Nixon, who was once known as “Tricky Dick”. And Rove has inherited the love of dirty tricks to get the retail vote at any cost, while showing contempt for public opinion after getting elected.
This domestic politics has been the politics of polarization, forcing the left and right against the middle, and making rational dialogue, something Americans were proud of, all but impossible. This breakdown of the middle is what has made the rise of the Bush/Cheney administration possible. This politics has made American weaker, just at a time when the global international situation has become more challenging for the country and general trends are no longer in favor of the US. At a time when the US needs clear leadership, direction and vision, this administration has failed. They have nothing to sell except fear itself.
It’s time to bring this second Nixon administration to an end, and to create a new American narrative which is more honest, realistic and humble than American exceptionalism. This is something even the Republicans in congress understand.
“…the natural assumption of a prosperous and privileged class, whose members have a dominant voice in the community and are therefore naturally prone to identify its interest with their own. In virtue of this identification, any assailant of the interests of the dominant group is made to incur the odium of assailing the alleged common interest of the whole community, and is told that in making this assault he is attacking his own higher interests. The doctrine of the harmony of interests thus serves as an ingenious moral device invoked, in perfect sincerity, by privileged groups in order to justify and maintain their dominant position.”
Isn’t it interesting to note that the question of whether American world hegemony is in the interest of Americans, and not just the top layer of American society, is never asked? It’s not difficult to argue the fruits of empire do not necessarily trickle down to most people, but may perversely actually weaken their negotiating position with the topmost folk. But that reasoning is taboo across the board — not even the most radical leftists will advance such a concept.
A simple current example is Washington DC. As the center of American administration, it has a huge inflow of wealth from the nation as a whole, resulting in nice museums, monuments, etc; but a majority of the population live in execrable conditions, compared to the nation as a whole. If true for the relatively egalitarian conditions internally, could not the same hold true internationally?
The article by Michael Vlahos is in the American Conservative and can be seen at http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_02_12/feature.html. I tried your link and it didn’t work–at least for me. And the article is quite good, you’re right.
The discussion has been very interesting and informative to this “lurker.” thanks for giving me plenty to think about.
I’m the kind of academic geek who likes this kind of analysis. But I wonder, wrt to the Iraq war, whether simpler explanations are better for why it could happen in political terms. I was always against the Iraq invasion. I was surpirised that many liberals in my family and circle of friends, in a very liberal area of the country, were for it. As far as I can tell, it was a kind of panic from 9/11, and the feeling that something “had to be done” My opinion was that something had already been done (invasion of Afghanistan) and we had better get that one right before worrying about more remote threats. But people were in a sort of panic. I don’t think the average US voter was thinking about sophisticated versions of Wilsonian doctrine of spreading Democracy, or that Iraqis were just like us. The leadership had said that there was lotta bad stuff there and something had to be done, and people trusted the leadership. So, here I was, the moderate, suddenly become the knee jerk pacifist liberal among my formerly quite liberal circle. I think ear and trust in the US administration explains it, at least for the average American voter.
I can’t believe that these high falutin’ theories were behind the original idea, because, historically, Bush/Cheney trotted it out rather late in the game (correct me if I’m wrong). Alarms about terrorist connections and nukes were what I do remember.
Col Lang: As for the oil theory of the invasion, I think many people wonder exactly what Bush/Cheney were really trying to accomplish with the invasion. I, as I think manhy others do, periocically entertainn possible theories of why, even if any theory, or any combination of theories, seem inadequate. I don’t like the Cheney crowd at all, and a stupid and crude geopolitical oil grab theory makes me feel good because it verifies my contempt for them. Only problem is that I cannot really believe it is true, because I can’t believe even they would act on such a crude rationale, where any kind of cost-benefit analysis made it a very bad bet. So I reluctantly drop it until Bush/Cheney really makes me angry again. Then I pick it up and play with awhile until it again loses its attraction.
If you can explain anyting about the ‘sophisticated’ thinking of Cheney and his bunch that would explain their actions, I would really appreciate it. I am not being snarky. Those people are truly a mystery to me, I thik they are either stupid or crazy or both. I can’t see anything sophisticated about Cheney, or PNAC or any of that bunch. I would appreciate any light you can shine on hidden their sophistication. Again, that is a sincere request, not snark.
Sorry for typos of last post, trying to get out of office quick. You can make fun or scold me if you want.
I’ve read all of the posts and some do make a reductionist argument of oil as the only cause of the Iraq war. However, others view oil (or the strategic importance of gulf) as one cause among many, and I think that view is correct.
The intensity for and inevitable certainty of the 2003 war is still puzzling to me. The war fever reflected, I think, an amalgam of righteousness, idealism, exceptionalism, provincial indignation, irritation and genuine anger over 9/11 coupled with confidence in the military, political opportunism and a fantastical optimism for small costs and large success.
In short, I believe this war didn’t have a single cause or root, but that still leaves unanswered why it occurred at all. What was the larger plan or was there a larger plan? Did the war have a reason?
Like many Americans, I was appalled by 9/11. Unlike some, I didn’t feel the invasion of Iraq rectified this assault. So, I opposed this war from the beginning. I wrote letters, contacted my representatives, argued with friends and strangers, but I never once thought the war wouldn’t occur. Such was the lust, at the time, for action.
Perhaps it is a reflection of my age, but I do believe the opportunity missed is the moment now passed for charting a new course in resolving international conflict, or better put, the opportunity to push away from the easy barbarism of the preceding millennia. Not so much a yen for pacifism as a hunger for civilization.
So, mark me as pragmatically naive, but I don’t see the gain here, either economically, politically or, if we can agree on the term, morally.
The war opposition now (again puzzling) can be viewed as a growing sensitivity to losing. Which is strange, because the perception of losing is more an impatience of not winning fast enough, winning in this case being an instantly peaceful, compliant and westernized Iraq, ala, the Ahmed Chalabi solution, then any real discomfort with the human and economic cost.
At base, regardless of motive, I do believe our great adventure in Iraq is both a wealthy indulgence and a refusal to confront the costs. Not strictly economically determinant, but a strange fellow traveler where minimizing cost greased the action.
So, I understand the scolding about Marxism, but the struggle (not necessary class based) to understand the current politics continues and I encourage more debate.
Specifically, please discuss the point you made regarding Cheney’s “best and brightest” crowd.
“From the publicly available information it’s either oil and empire or the world liberal democratic revolution.”
It’s both at the same time, and more. Oil and empire are simultaneously the goal and the deserved spoils of war. Democratic revolution is a blessing that also generates payback for the US in securing a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. In a war-proponents’ view the entire stew, to repeat my previous analogy, is an exercise in synergy.
– War is good for the economy (Johnson’s military Keynesianism).
– the attrition of existing equipment not only will contribute to the previous point but push forward modernisation and transformation.
– Secured access to cheap oil is good for the global economy, not only the US economy — it’s seen as a shame Iraqs resources were underutilised due to Saddam’s rule and the embargo.
– the war would be cheap as Iraq would pay for the reconstruction with the oil revenues.
– US control of fossile fuels from the Middle East will help contain China and control Europe in long term.
– Considering the volatility of the region a footprint there is seen as inevitable, and an improvement there away from Saudi Arabia which was increasingly seen as a nuisance good — especially as Bin Laden esplicitly took issue with the ‘occupatio of the holy sites’. Wolfowitz explained the why Iraq once with Iraq has no holy sites.
– Global benevolent hegemony (aka empire) is America’s destination and brithright.
– Global democratic revolution is mankinds inevitable destiny. History has ended.
– A massive demonstration of military might would deter rogue states and terrorists and force them to fall into line.
– the imperial role would invigorate America, away from the hedonistic frollicking of the Clinton years.
That incomplete and arbitrary list should demonstrate two things:
(a) Why current and ex-administration folks are angry about singling out reasons. They have indeed looked at the whole picture, and blaming them for wanting the oil or empire or global democratic revolution alone simply falls short.
(b) It explains why the war on Iraq was so attractive and was so broadly supported. It offered the presumably easiest way out of a dilemma the US caught themselves in: The US fell prey to their own demonisations. After Saddam attacked Israel, probably no US politico would have politically survived normalisation of relations with Saddam. After casting Saddam as the second Hitler, and isolating him, the US were unable to break their self-imposed ideological corset. Worse still, containing bore a heavy cost to the US in terms of the regular airstrikes and the appaling price the Iraqi civilians had to pay, not to mention the neccessity of the US presence in Saudi Arabia.
To simply change the regime by force of arms, quickly and cleanly, must have been an irresistible impulse considering the listed and unmentioned, real and presumed benefits and payoffs.
The two options you offer also fail to explain the US outrage about those ingrates in Europe who dared resisting and the utter fury over those who dared question US motives. The obvious pro-Bush hatchet job men aside, the war proponents were IMO mostly honest and genuinely outraged.
And I have to change my comment on Gaffney a bit. Gaffney above makes the correct observation that dissent at home indeed weakens ‘national resolve’, and increases the zeal of an enemy. Enemy propaganda of course tells US troops just that: “Your cause is lost! At home politicos don’t care!”
The interviewers were hostile and wanted to nail Gaffney, with yes or no questions. There is no simple answer to the question asked. Gaffney’s annoyance is actually understandable, and he indeed is right in that the answer is more complex than yes or no.
It’s at the very least a ‘yes, but …’ Where Gaffney stumbles is the causation between enemy successes and the discussion at home, and its impact. While having a technically correct point, he uses the argument as a means to deflect criticism from Administration policies.
I gather that you are not particularly fond of Robert Fisk, and this piece is completely off topic, I think it is gentle and well worth the time spent reading it.
If you disagree please feel free not to post it.
Anyway, it is from the Independent.
This is the link:
This is the article:
Robert Fisk: A legacy that will haunt us for years
Arthur walked into our garden and hurled the farthings on to the flower beds
Published: 17 February 2007
This is the story of Arthur’s farthings. Arthur was my maternal grandfather, a small baker who married above his station – the family of my grandmother Phyllis strongly objected to the match – but who, with his new wife, bought up and ran a very profitable string of cafés across Kent in the 1920s. Arthur Rose was passionate about bowls – he was a member of the English bowls team (chief qualification: lots of money) – and was playing his favourite game in Australia when what our local Maidstone doctor had claimed was arthritis forced him to fly back to England. Wrong diagnosis. Arthur had cancer of the bone.
The farthing – about the same size of a euro cent – was a quarter of an old penny. There were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. Today, I reckon the farthing would be worth about 1,000th of a pound. Old British coins seemed very warlike to me; they appeared to be obsessed with crowns and portcullises and warships. I always preferred the Irish equivalent; the currency of “Eire” was embossed with birds and pigs and horses and harps. The Empire of Power versus the Empire of the Farmyard. But the friendly old British farthing – perhaps because it had so little value – carried the image of a diminutive wren.
Back to Arthur. Phyllis was “Nana” to me but Arthur – through a two-year-old Robert’s misunderstanding of “Grandpa” – became “Gabba”. He was a canny man, devoted to Phyllis but reputedly stingy. After family lunch on Boxing Day, Phyllis would always secretly press a £20 note into my hand, an enormous amount of money for which I had to promise her that I would never tell “Gabba”. Then Arthur would appear, flourish a £5 note in front of the entire family and with great publicity hand it to me. “Gosh, thank you Gabba,” crafty little Robert would say loudly, ensuring a total of £25 next Christmas. Phyllis died of cancer when I was about 10 but when Arthur died some four years later, my mother Peggy and her sister found dozens of cheques in Arthur’s drawer, all signed by Phyllis as gifts to her husband, all uncashed. They thought this was a sign of his refusal to spend money. I suspected it was a gesture of love.
Only when he was dying did I really come to like Arthur. He encouraged me to be a journalist – my father was against it – and loved listening to my classical records as he lay in bed. He would sing the Volga Boatmen and, before he became too ill, he taught me to chop down trees. He treated me as a grown-up, which is what all small boys want. He loved his daughters and he admired my dad, Bill, and heard me many times telling Peggy that I was bored or saw me interrupting Bill’s television viewing of the Test match. “Robert needs something to do,” he said. So he ordered 3,000 farthings from the bank; they arrived at our home in Rectory Lane in currency sacks. Arthur walked into our large garden on his crutches and hurled them by the hundred on to the flower beds, behind bushes, around trees, over the long grass in the apple orchard. “Now, if you find them all,” he announced to his acquisitive grandson, “I’ll give you three pound notes.”
In heavy rain or blistering sun, I spent weeks during Arthur’s dying years searching through the long grass and the flower beds for his farthings. At first, I collected them daily, by the cupful; then weekly, by the handful. A moment of boredom and Bill and Peggy would send me back into the garden to search again. I might find three or four a week.
But of course, as the years went by and the rains swept across Kent, some of the coins slipped deeper into the soil to poison the roots of my mother’s flowers. Others were washed into the flower borders and then moved gently across the flooded lawns. Years after Arthur’s death, my father would be pushing the hand-mower over the lawn and there would be a metallic crack and Peggy and I would arrive to find Bill standing beside the machine with its broken blade. “It must have been another of Arthur’s damned farthings,” he’d say. Peggy even found one, around 1996, buried in the thick branch of a tree, six feet above the ground. After her death, I sold Rectory Lane and when I passed by recently, I noticed that the new owners have built an extension over the lawn; I have no doubt that somewhere beneath its concrete foundations, those little brass wrens are rotting quietly away.
But I wonder now whether those farthings don’t symbolise the legacy of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, the man who allowed New Labour to give Britain new dreams to occupy itself with. It all seemed quite harmless. Originally, many believed in him. Parliament even sanctioned the illegal war in Iraq because it trusted him, a decision that has cost more than half a million lives. No, unlike Blair, Arthur never lied. He once announced that he would refuse to pay his local taxes on the grounds that he would rather keep the money for himself (a decision he changed after discovering that Maidstone’s borough treasurer – who happened to be my father Bill – would have to take him to court). But Arthur happily sowed his money around our garden, little realising that for years after his demise, his legacy would rise up to break our mower blades and blight my mother’s flowers and embed itself in the bark of trees.
Lord Blair’s legacy, I fear, will be the same. Long after he has written his self-serving memoirs – indeed, long after he has himself gone to the great White House in the sky – we will find that his political legacy continues to haunt and poison the Middle East and the governance of the United Kingdom.
I never did get to cash in Arthur’s coins, of course. He died, in terrible agony, in Maidstone’s West Kent Hospital – “I wish I could drink something that would send me to sleep for ever,” he told a weeping Peggy – long before I had even collected 500 of his “damned” farthings. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on Lord Blair. But I wonder what our fate has to be.
Isn’t it interesting to note that the question of whether American world hegemony is in the interest of Americans, and not just the top layer of American society, is never asked?
This is something that I’ve often wondered about; it’s not as if the Bush Administration is setting aside land in Iraq for veterans to colonize, or raising an Iraqi Civil Service from the middle class to administer the Empire, in fact nothing seems to trickle down. I think part of the answer resides in the very power of normalization that Carr refers to, where he argues what is in effect Gramsci’e concept of cultural hegemony, which in terms of the current discussion would include American Exceptionalism. I doubt that many Americans are keen on having an Empire, especially if they won’t get much more than relatively cheap gasoline out of the deal. But couched in simple concepts that depend on repeating ‘words of power’ like Freedom, Fascism, Terror and Democracy, the process of cultural hegemony kicks in and we end up believing not just that all these things are clear, obvious and elementary ideas but that their successful implementation depends on our support.
The best presentation of this, in my opinion, comes from Chapter 13 of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, in which Dick Diver explains why the Europeans will never fight again as they did in the Great War:
This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.
Alistair Horne used this quote as a prelude to his book on Verdun – somehow it was the only way to understand the inexplicable. It could easily be re-written, updated to include our own cherished memories, figures and concepts that make the current nightmare understandable. Diver’s friend Abe says: “General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.” Diver answers:
No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.
You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,” said Abe.
All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” Dick mourned persistently. “Isn’t that true, Rosemary?”
“I don’t know,” she answered with a grave face. “You know everything.”
I’m tempted to write a parody of this with George Bush as Dick Diver, Dick Cheney as Rosemary and Colin Powell as Abe.
I believe that a lot hangs on the Bush/Cheney administration’s definition of “sophisticated”.
Col. Lang’s article “What Iraq Tells Us About Ourselves” mentions how Americans’ general lack of understanding hurts how well America can perform in a much more complicated and multilateral world.
It is worth noting that in the preparation for the war, the State Dept. (then under Colin Powell) had many experienced diplomatic and civil affairs personnel, fluent in Arabic, prepared to help in the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq. However, Rumsfeld wanted to take over the whole Iraq project, along with his advisers led by Feith and Wolfowitz, throwing out all the State people. The Great Decider (Bush/Cheney) supported Rumsfeld’s power grab, which largely accounts for the current mess we are in in Iraq.As a result, to this day, there is a severe shortage of Arabic-language personnel in the Army in Iraq. The whole affair has been well-documented in several books and also by Seymour Hersh. The failure in Iraq, and the war on terror, can be traced directly to decisions made by the VP’s office. Rumsfeld was a loud-mouthed proxy, and later, after the November 2006 elections, a fall guy for Cheney’s decisions.
Most reasonably well-educated Americans know that it is increasingly important to have some understanding of other countries and other languages. However, if you look at the staff and assistants who surround Bush/Cheney, not much value is attached to people who have an international background. Most are promoted on the basis of their connections to Republican party donors, i.e. loyalty. This accounts for the government’s general inefficiency in handling emergencies, such as the aftermath of Katrina. Bush, in particular, is more interested in being able to communicate (sic) with the people of Texas, than the rest of the country and the rest of the world. His worldview has never evolved outside the borders of Texas. On repeated occasions he has said that he wants somebody in Lubbock to understand his decisions.
He does not appreciate that most of us are a little more sophisticated than someone who has lived in Lubbock, Texas their whole lives.
This very blinkered view of the power and influence of the rest of the world on the US has a hugely negative impact on the quality of their decisions, which affect all of us. Their view is one of unilateral American power, just as overall (economic, diplomatic and cultural, as well as military) influence are on the decline. Their view of American power is very narrow, and is based solely on military power. Now in Iraq, we are seeing the limits of American military power. The weaknesses of American military power have been exposed for all, especially al-Qaeda, to see, study and learn from.
The decisions and actions of this administration have accelerated the decline of American influence globally.
Re: the Tory MP who recommended a ‘respect for the reasonable self-interest of others’ as basic to foreign policy. A characteristic one used to find not uncommonly among old Tories was a certain cynicism – a cynicism applied not only to others, but also to themselves. Also, though they could cut many corners, there were commonly some depths to which they would not sink. Confronted by Blair’s combination of unshakeable confidence in his own rectitude with acute deviousness I feel a certain nostalgia for that largely vanished style of conservatism.
A larger point is that, although there are situations when one is entitled to think that one is on the side of the angels and one’s enemies are wicked, there are many more when what are involved are differences of interest, and belief, which are not profitably treated in Manichean terms, as simple clashes of good and evil. Where conflicts of interest are at issue, ‘respect for the reasonable self-interest of others’ is often only common prudence. In diplomacy, as in business deals, people have a sense of what is fair – and a corollary of driving too hard a bargain can be that one creates resentment, which can come back to haunt you. This does not mean that it is not important to bring to bargaining the strongest hand one can – which very often includes military power. But velvet gloves are often helpful, as well as iron hands.
Another advantage of ‘respect for the reasonable self-interest of others’ is that it is possible actually to try and understand what those others are doing. A corollary of a belief in one’s virtue is liable to be an indiscriminate demonisation which makes understanding difficult, and sometimes most difficult when one is dealing with people who are very unpleasant. It can easily lead to a kind of narcissism, where one assumes that the adversary’s sole concern is to do one harm. The Iraqi WMD is a case in point – it was simply assumed that Saddam’s principal concern was scheming against the U.S., rather than trying to avoid showing weakness before the Iranians and the Iraqi Shia.
Without getting too theological, Babak Makkinejad’s quotation – “No man is justified in the eye of the Lord” – is I think also very much to the point. It is always wise to be aware of the dangers of antinomianism: the slippery slope leading from confidence that one represents the will of God (or ‘history’ or ‘the people’) to the assumption that one’s will should be treated as though it were the will of God.
As far as one of those ‘ingrates in Europe’ can judge, your argument that all kinds of considerations are inextricably mixed up seems persuasive.
As to the suggestion that somehow economic motivations must be the ‘real’ underlying motivations: if one looks at the historiography of the major catastrophes of European history in the twentieth century, German National Socialism and Soviet Communism, a major strand in recent work has involved arguments about ‘political religions’ – that is, the transference onto a putatively secular politics of patterns of thought, feeling and expectation rooted in Christian eschatology.
Certainly, when I come across ‘rational choice theories’ – the extreme example of this imperialism of economics – I do feel that if they are to be cogent they should be able to provide an explanation of why, with the Red Army coming into Europe, the Nazi regime was diverting invaluable resources to killing Jews.
Confronted by the problems of interpreting the role of actual religion in political action, meanwhile, such overly rationalistic patterns of interpretation are liable to lead both to incomprehension and to panic.
Thank you for the elaboration, confusedponderer,
You reminded me, I forgot. One more critical thing: it can be looked at as an outcome or as a reason in its own right. And that is the domestic situation. This brings us to the criticism of the masses. There are two related strands of this criticism: one revolves around idol worship of Socrates, remember the ancient Greek who, according to some, practiced sedition and decided to die as, although very very elderly, nonetheless a martyr. Here’s an interview with IF Stone about what Socrates was up to: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/socrates/ifstoneinterview.html.
“So what do you make of these omissions?
The accuser had charged that Socrates used certain passages from Homer to teach his young aristocratic followers to be violent and tyrannical. In dealing with this mutinous episode, Xenophon omitted what the Athenian democrats would have regarded as the most subversive part of it: the four lines on the divine right of kings, and Odysseus’s use of violence to suppress free speech in the assembly.
Homer was saying that the common people had no right to be heard. There could be no more sensitive point with the Athenian democrats. The right to speak freely in the assembly was the foundation stone of Athenian democracy. Until the reforms of Solon, two centuries before the trial of Socrates, the common people of Athens could neither speak nor vote in the assembly. And again, just five years before the trial of Socrates, they had been forcibly deprived of this precious right by the dictatorship of Critias. In their eyes, this episode in Homer would seem to justify the violent tyranny they had so recently overthrown. I think that is why Xenophon omitted it from his defense of Socrates. They were too damaging a part of the prosecution’s case.”
Stone was a journalist, not a historian or a philosopher. You can go to amazon.com to read comments of some pissed-off intellectuals indoctrinated into bowing to the authority of Socrates (BTW, Greeks made a distinction between what we would call now intellectuals and true philosophers: the former were led (taught) to light with various degree of success, the former appeared out of nowhere in any social or territorial strata; while the former owed everything to their educator, the latter were spontaneous bursts of light).
The second related strand is that of fickleness and impressionability of the masses. In Plato’s monologs Socrates says somewhere that the multitude (masses) is incapable of neither great evil nor great good because all its decisions were random. This point is then further reinforced through meditations on the decision by the ancient Greeks to launch the Peloponnesian War. The Greek citizenry under direct democracy voted to start a war; why? The promoted answer here is that they gave in to silver tough charlatans. Thus the conclusion becomes: a democratic society is susceptible to charismatic demagogues and prone to erratic moods swings.
Read then “The plot against America” by P Roth:
“What if” scenarios are often suspect. They are sometimes thinly veiled tales of the gospel according to the author, taking on the claustrophobic air of a personal fantasia that can’t be shared. Such is not the case with Philip Roth’s tour de force, The Plot Against America. It is a credible, fully-realized picture of what could happen anywhere, at any time, if the right people and circumstances come together.
The Plot Against America explores a wholly imagined thesis and sees it through to the end: Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR for the Presidency in 1940. Lindbergh, the “Lone Eagle,” captured the country’s imagination by his solo Atlantic crossing in 1927 in the monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, then had the country’s sympathy upon the kidnapping and murder of his young son. He was a true American hero: brave, modest, handsome, a patriot. According to some reliable sources, he was also a rabid isolationist, Nazi sympathizer, and a crypto-fascist. It is these latter attributes of Lindbergh that inform the novel.”
“Sophisticated” in their ability to understand that there was more than one justification for their war and “sophisticated” in their very successful campaign of propaganda against the American People.
This campaign was successful because the American People are rendered vulnerable to such campaigns by their cultural predelictions and the gullibility that flows from it.
I never said that the neocon/Vader/Bush crowd were “the best and the brightest.” One of you did that. pl
Here is a link to an article by James Fallows, who writes for the Atlantic Monthly. He talks about the possibility of war with Iran, something which he finds disturbingly real.
FYI, Fallows lives and writes from Shanghai. I haven’t figured if he is posted there by Atlantic Monthly, or if he is a refugee from Bush/Cheney’s America.
In case any of you are considering becoming refugees, I can vouch from personal experience that Fallows has made a good choice.
There is no greater fantasy than American exceptionalism. It’s a central part of the American creed and part of what makes America great but its utterly implausible to those that don’t live between the shining seas. Most of the time America is very obviously concerned with its own advancement. In this it differs little from other sensibly selfish states whose main duty of care is after all to their corporations/populations.
Say if DC invaded a strategically placed middleweight Arab country on the basis that it was about to give nuclear weapons to terrorists. It then secured all the oil infrastructure and left the supposedly WMD crammed arms dumps to the looters. Then these self anointed Olympians Import a bumbling kleptocracy of carpetbaggers who set de-constructing the place as it slipped into a Hobbesian state. After two years of chaos they change stories and claim the real reason for the invasion was an insane quest to install in 40 months a free market economy by bombing.
Now what are the natives to think? This does not appear to be benign hegemony at work. DC can’t even trouble itself to present a plausible motivation. Being empathetic rational men they will look on bewildered. Surely a DC that can effortlessly put men on the moon cannot be in the hands of unchecked fools like their former ruler? Clearly DC is a grasping energy security crazed Imperialist in the British mold and/or a nest of fiendishly complex Zionist conspiracies. Iraqis tend to favor the latter slightly over the former.
America in truth does occasionally behave in an exceptional way. The Marshall plan is an example were it worked and that was rooted in realpolitik, realism, genuine vision and political courage.
In contrast the plainly reckless Iraq war was a very popular confused strategic move that achieved bipartisan support and maintained it until very recently in part because of a messianic belief in America’s Wilsonian mission to the world.
Ideology is often just the ever changing background music to consistent grand strategy that can stretch over centuries. The British found many reasons to be obsessed with Suez and the Dardenelles.
As a policy I think the stated reasons for the war were ephemeral. Myths that move men to action. Not entirely irrelevant but US ends in the Persian Gulf didn’t really change after 9-11 just the choice of means after 50 years of offshore balancing.
Those goals won’t be altered by the bloody aftermath of going to Baghdad either. Just like the British once did DC will play The Great Game hard and long if only to ensure that no other nation wins it.
I have just seen a new spectacle of stupidity in action: the hearing over the custody of Anna Nicole Smith’s body.
The judge is beyond belief; he’s doing everything to stretch things out as long as possible so that he can hog the coverage. This is his moment to show his “wisdom”. (Apparently he wants his own TV show.)
The thought that this man made judge is absolutely terrifying. Says a lot about Florida.
This confirms my belief that if the US can survive having Texas and Florida, states which have given us the Bushes, Cheney, Karl Rove, Katherine Harris, butterfly ballots and chads, as well as the marvelous Judge Seidlin of Broward County, we can survive anything.
Compared to Texas and Florida, al-Qaeda is nothing.
Re, Pat: “I never said that the neocon/Vader/Bush crowd were “the best and the brightest.”
By god they sure seem to be the most fiendishly cleverest of the Money Party. What’s really scary now, is that one wonders if their successors will be clever enough to contain, if not repair this mess.
Now I, reactively anti-war, anti-neocon, GWOT = gigantic scam, etc., have been stopped dead in my tracks by this column in the Daily Herald:
Editor’s note: Jabria Jassim, an Elgin Community College chemistry professor, recently visited Baghdad to see relatives. She left Iraq years ago. Here is an edited essay on her observations.
Baghdad in 2007
Please read Proffessor Jassim’s observations and reported pleas for succor.
Then consider Riverbend’s complete despair:
“Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government”
In for a penny, in for a pound. These ordinary decent people musn’t be abandoned, though it seems they will be in due course. I now must support one of the purposes of the war I oppose, whilst despairing of the burgeoning dilemma’s the prosecution of their rescue has bred.
I’m in a pickle. They’re in an inferno. We’re all in “interesting times” that demand a lot more practicality and a lotless political philosophy from all of us for the foreseeable future (which the little Mayan in my head regularly reminds me ends in 2112)
I used to be a lawyer, my “Indian name” is Paid-By-The-Word, but now I am at a complete loss. Not about how to withdraw, or “end” the war, or “win”, but how to proceed, given all the actors, vectors and variables, the human complexity of which Pat reminds us.
My only comfort: twas ever thus for the human race, yet we soldier on.
Never mind political theory, but I repeat another calamitously failed theorist, Lenin’s question: What Is To Be done?
I have read, reacted, chattered and protested enough, now what to DO? BESIDES a little soul searching?
I’m, too, one of these ‘ingrates in Europe’. My first reaction about the rabid op-eds against France and Germany in 2002 and 2003 was anger and then disgust. And then the babble about Europe being a near term competitor. Axis of soon-to-be-evil? When Iraq went sour, I found the tune ‘Bush lied us into war’ unconvincing. I had by then seen enough readily evailable evidence refuting administration claims to discount that. My instinct was that there must be more to it.
The ‘stew theory’ makes best sense for me, and is about the simplest explanation I found that reconciles the varying justifications for war.
The folks who say Bush first said WMD, then this and then that are wrong. It’s funny, but simply wrong. Those who wanted the war, across the parties, were yelling the various reasons all at once, in a cacophonic canon. Now that it’s a mere echo it’s easier to hear. If you wanted a reason to be pro-war you could easily find one that fit your political inclination. Make your pick. One could call it a market-driven casus belli.
That I’ve never been to the US made it harder to get there, and this point is a shortcoming I am determined to correct in due time. The only Americans I know are the folks who own a passport and dare venture out into the big wide world. Nice folks, but I doubt they’re representative to the population, if Walter Russel Mead’s essay about the Jacksonian Tradition is any indication.
It is really not hard to understand why people go like sheep to war. Whether they live in a dictatorship, democracy, or whatever. Whether muslim, xtian, pagan, jew, or atheist.
Goering, said it best.
” We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”
“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”
“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” ”
There was an exception in Nazi Germany, one Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris, who with General von Kliest was willing to kill or lock up Hitler and attempt to arrest the Nazis but first Neville Chamberlain and then later Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to deal with him.
“I never said that the neocon/Vader/Bush crowd were “the best and the brightest.” One of you did that. pl”
I did it, my fault, I thought the flip referance to “The Best and the Brightest”, David Halberstem, 1993 would be clear. Differant war, differant time, same hubris. Regardless, great discussion and lots of reading.
Where is the Canaris (and Oster and Bonhoeffer and the rest) in the current pack of careerist senior MI drones in the UK or US? The most senior Australian intelligence “advisor” pre- and early Iraq debacle is is now Australian ambassador in Washington DC. Go figure.
Wasn’t it Canaris who surprised his Spanish hosts by saluting assorted idlers and derelicts sitting in the sun? The Admiral explained that one could never be sure that they were not senior members of his government — far from the best and brightest (though Goering seems to have known his onions about war incitement and jingoism generally). The Vietnam hubris was not quite as abysmal as that of the current crowd. They have been suckered but since they don’t do humility or apology, it will never be admitted. It may ne a bit pedantic but I have generally associated sophistication with wisdom of some sort — not crude rat cunning, rancid hypocrisy, vilification of opponents and being very economical with the truth.
The panoply of horrors now in http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/ almost defies belief. The Maliki “government” is not worth preserving.
Jim, I think your post (10:12 PM 20th Feb)beautifully sums up the complex yet ultimately threadbare motives that drove America to war as well as some of the longer term costs that are less often considered.
I too was puzzled at the ferocious enthusiasm that seemed to grip so many during those fevered days. To anyone not swept up in the emotion, each of the reasons put forward was hollow, absurd even. It is only in considering an amalgam of these many rationales with the extraordinary intensity of emotion that any of it makes sense. And then mainly in terms of how badly we can mislead ourselves at times.
I don’t know whether you read Norman Mailer’s essay in NYRB in June 2003 on this very topic but if not, I highly commend it. In essence, he argues that America went to war in Iraq “because we very much needed a successful war as a species of psychic rejuvenation.” In both the quality of his prose and his desire to reach in and find the beating heart, he’s at his extravagant best. His response to Ronald Tiersky’s critique (also available on the NYRB web site)is in some ways even better.
Ingolf and Jim,
What you wrote would have been true if the war planning started AFTER 9/11. However, there is plenty of evidence that the war was in planning way BEFORE that time. The neoconservatives outlined their ideas also very early on, PNAC was established in 1997.
Thus, while 9/11 was a significant factor in rallying the PUBLIC in support of the invasion, it was not a reason, not a major one at least, for the RULING group to go to war.
Mark Rich of New York Times advanced the idea that the president needed a war in order to get reelected. It is a very plausible explanation. Indeed, a war would presumably unite the nation after a very divisive elections, in which the loser in the actual vote became president by, some would argue, a Supreme Court appointment. Had we not had the war, maybe we would still be chatting about the shortcomings of the electoral system and maybe even calling for direct elections.
The economy was shaky. The Republican base demanded smaller government. How could the president explain to them increased governmental spending, which was necessary in order to provide a Keynesian stimulus, if such was required.
Who said this: the war is the health of the state. The war might have been a pragmatic decision. It’s the way it was pushed onto the public and its dark ideological undemocratic undertones that rub some of us the wrong way.
“Who said this: the war is the health of the state.”
And I think you mean Frank Rich of the NYTimes. Mark Rich was one of Clinton’s more controversial pardons.
In his multi-linguistic skills, HUMINT connections, nonjingoistic-patriotism, refusal to drink the Kool-Aid, I see some Canaris in our patron.
Plp, the desire on the part of some to go to war had certainly been present for quite some time.
My suggestion, and I think Jim’s, was that this wish could only be fulfilled because of the emotional intensity unleashed by 9/11.
Canaris did not have the free speech that we enjoy and had to dissemble. His only resort was a coup d’etat- regime change. We have other remedies. Chief-of-which is education. Hopefully, as with the last election, enough voters will quit drinking the Kool-Aid.
Fitzgerald struck a great blow during the Libby closing arguments when he attacked Cheney and some think Bush
Reading these essays and comments makes me think about the conversations I had with a coworker from March 2003 until April 2004 that were much less cerebral. And they definitely weren’t as sophisticated. But damned if we weren’t right, so far.
We are both vets who served as peons during the 1980s in Europe. He served as an Army grunt and I was an Air Force radio tech. We aren’t political scientists, or historians, or highly educated. Both of us had spent our time overseas thinking mostly about beer and women, with a little down time spent growing up and learning to see our country from the outside (when the bars were closed!). Almost 20 years later, though, it wasn’t rocket science for us to see what a mistake our country was making with this invasion. And we both had exactly the same question – how would YOU feel if a foreign army occupied YOUR country?
Our analysis of Middle East culture isn’t any more sophisticated. We simply viewed it as a massive collection of extended families where it’s OK for me to beat up my brother, or cousin, but there will be hell to pay if some knucklehead outsider picks a fight with any of my dearest family members! No, it’s not the deepest or the most sophisticated analysis of the culture we’ve found ourselves up to our necks in, but so far it has proved much more accurate than the Think Tank Weenies and TV Pundits and Thomas Friedmans of the world.
Yeah, we Americans got suckered into this partly because we were gullible enough to believe our leaders. Don’t underestimate the power of us peons to cut through the BS over time, though, and see this mess for what it is. From what I can tell, most of us already have.
At this point I’m wondering what the guys and gals on the ground over there are starting to think about this mess. (Don’t forget, these are the folks who can distill human endeavors that have gone awry into the most succinct analysis possible – FUBAR, SNAFU and BOHICA!) Personally, I can’t imagine they are going to keep the faith much longer and once they see it as a Class-A Cluster F*#k, it will be over. What do you think, Col. Lang, since you’ve got actual experience leading combat troops – will the grunts hang in there for another 2-3 years?
“Emulating the enemy” by Glenn Greenwald is an article today at:
Compares the psychology of the neo-cons vs. the muslim extremists. The whole article is well worth reading, but the key section is:
“None of this, of course, is new. Historian Richard Hofstadter, in his influential 1964 Harper’s essay entitled The Paranoid Style in American Politics, described this dynamic perfectly:
Emulating the Enemy
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said [John Birch Society founder Robert] Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack”).
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.
Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman — sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced.
The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional).
It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.”
This guy nailed it 1964, the Bushies are really just paranoid schizophrenics who should never been allowed near any levers of power.
Cold War Zoomie:
I was struck by your statement: “…viewed it as a massive collection of extended families”.
Vert true and very well put.
All: For a serious academic analysis of Neoconservative ideology as it applies to foreign policy/national strategy, see:
Stefan Halper & Jonathan Clarke, “America Alone. The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
There is a growing body of academic/scholarly work on the Neocons. There are also files on a number of them resident at the FBI and other elements of the US Federal government. Does anyone recall the Iran-Contra investigations and the personalities involved? I worked on the professional staff of the US Senate at that time and well recall that investigation (to which I contributed).
Dr. Clifford Kiracofe
Department of History
Virginia Military Institute