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Our Bloody Valentine

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So - mounting evidence to the contrary - we're being told that the American adventure in Iraq is coming to an end now.

All I can say is, "Damn fine war, damn fine war."

Yup. We sure showed 'em, didn't we? Showed 'em how to really fight a war. Showed 'em how to kick some Ay-rab ass. Showed 'em who's boss. You know, "shock and awe" and such.

Yeah, baby.

I'll tell you what. The only awe left around here is the awesome degree to which an entire nation is left stumbling through history in total shock. And it ain't Iraq I'm talking about, either.

It's in the nature of things that the more vociferously people assert a given point, the more likely they are to be doing so in order to counter their own fears of just the opposite. This week, Ken Mehlman, former head of the Republican Party and 2004 chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign, revealed what just about everyone in Washington had known for a long time - that he is gay. Recall that one of the central strategies of that 2004 GOP campaign was to mobilize religious right voters via a series of state initiatives on banning gay marriage. Nice work, Kenny. Can you say "self-loathing"?

Similarly, when an empire has to label its military gang-rape of 25 million other people by the title "shock and awe", it's a safe bet that the folks who need convincing are the ones doing the giving, not the receiving.

Given this recurring motif, we probably ought to crank out some new Madison Avenue slogan to memorialize the occasion, as we (ostensibly) hit the Mesopotamian exit ramp. Prolly "Mission Accomplished" would not be a good choice, and not just because it wasn't. "Never Again" pops to mind, but then that one is already taken. Plus, it's a downer. And, given the general wisdom of the American electorate, it's hopelessly Pollyannaish. How likely does it seem that this country has now given up its penchant for invading third world countries with fourth-rate militaries and wasting a whole boat load of inconvenient brown people who don't even speak 'Murican? Not very, brother. Not very.

No, something else is needed. Something to divert our attention from the reality of this war. Something with a nice fall theme, perhaps. How about, "Are you ready for some football?!?!"
All wars are tragic. Most, by definition, entail the height of human stupidity. Many are rooted in the rudest lies of the grossest proportions. Iraq was among the worst of all wars for all these reasons. It was the most unnecessary conflagration imaginable, based on the biggest stack of lies - many overtly told, but just as many silently formed around the unspoken assumptions of conventional "wisdom" - ever told to a population, and one which absolutely should have known better.

Everything about this sick war was wrong from the start, which is precisely why it had to be sold as a wholesale marketing package of complete deceit. Indeed, it is why it had to be sold at all. If the war had really had anything whatsoever to do with national security, that never would have been necessary. It's not like FDR had to recruit a bunch of advertising suits to swing public opinion behind American entry into World War II. The Bush scum (I choose my words carefully - I can think of few other terms appropriate for those who could cause such carnage, on the basis of lies, for their own self-interested political purposes) understood this thoroughly, which is why they also understood that lies, intimidation, insulation of the public from the costs of the war, and false urgency were critical to their malevolent enterprise. They employed all of these and more, in spades. If the product of their campaign hadn't been so utterly lethal, we might even admire them for their amazing capacity to pull off a scam this stunning in its proportions.

They had a lot of help, of course, from a public that was stupid, lazy, and willfully stupid in order to facilitate their laziness. It was one thing for the Bush people to lie about WMD and get away with it. Americans rightly recognize that they are not in possession of reliable intelligence data about national security questions (not, as history has repeatedly shown, that the CIA is either - but that's another story). The public doesn't know WMD from BFD (hell, no one had even heard the acronym prior to 2002), and they understand that they have to, within certain bounds, rely on their government for that information. (This, by the way, is one of the great unspoken tragedies of the war, and a gift that is likely to keep giving for a long time. By lying so egregiously to the American public, the freaks on the right who are always telling us how the government is our enemy gave hundreds of millions of Americans every reason to spend the rest of their lives believing them.)

But people should still have known better, even if the government was boldly and baldly lying to them about the rationale given for the war. None of that remotely held up to scrutiny if one simply asked the most basic of logical questions. Why Iraq, if it had nothing to do with 9/11? Why Iraq if several dozen other countries in the world also had WMD? Why Iraq if it was neither attacking the US nor threatening to do so, nor molesting its neighbors? Why the unrelenting urgency to invade, especially since the weapons inspectors were asking for only another month or two to determine whether the country had WMD? Why, since they were assuring us beyond all doubt that Saddam did possess such weapons, didn't the Bush administration tell the inspectors where to find the WMD? Why wouldn't the deterrence doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which had worked for four decades against the Soviet Union, not also prevent puny Iraq from committing suicide by attacking the US? And, if Iraq surely had WMD and was anxious to use them against America, what was sure to be the outcome if the US attacked the regime, with the stated purpose of liquidating it entirely? What could be the only possible outcome of backing a WMD-possessing "madman" against the wall, with nothing left for him to lose?

Any one of these questions of basic logic alone individually called the premise of the invasion deeply into question, without the necessity of Joe Sixpack possessing classified national security estimates on the WMD threat. Together, all of them made the case for going to war against Iraq an obvious and massively overdetermined lie.

But the governing class has gotten really good at how to get the public out of the decision-making loop, overcoming the infuriating inconvenience of the few shreds of democracy remaining in the system, in order to continue feeding the military-industrial complex all the blood and bodies it requires for its sustenance. The Masters of War (as Bob Dylan aptly called them - before he went electric, before he went country, before he got religion, before he got a different religion, before he started selling women's underwear, and before he became just plain weird) got twenty years of good mileage out of Vietnam, and then only had to wait less than a decade for Reagan to come in and re-open the floodgates of spending. Nevertheless, I'm sure they were quite spooked that the public finally found a way to shut down the war and deny them their booty. So they figured out that - by killing the draft and saddling an all-volunteer military with outrageous burdens, by completely coopting the media, by giving the public tax cuts instead of traditional wartime tax increases, by banning Dover Air Force Base photos of the war dead, and by scaring the living sh*t out of the Democrats in Congress - they could still have their wars and more or less no one would notice. Which is pretty much how it has gone down. The vast majority of Americans are as insulated from America's wars as they are from the ones in Central Africa. Iraq might as well be Upper Volta for all it impacts the daily lives of most Americans.

As big as the lies were going into the war, so too are the ones coming out the back end. We are going to be told, for the third time now, that the war has been won - and this time it will be a new president spinning that tale. The first time came via the comic-tragic scene of George Bush, rich kid Vietnam War avoider, in full flight gear on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, informing us that the mission had been accomplished - a sight that virtually defined the meaning of imperial hubris. This was actually less a lie than a miscalculation. The war was, for the Bush team, not even remotely about WMD, US national security, bringing democracy to the Middle East, freeing Iraqis from the jackboot of Saddam's tyranny, bringing stability to the region, fighting terrorism, or any of the other stated purposes for going in. So, in actuality, for them it really was a case of mission accomplished. They had gotten what they actually came for, and were absolutely too infatuated with their own fantasy power to see the boomerang bearing down hard on their Cro Magnon-shaped little regressive heads, like it was one of their beloved heat-seeking missiles. Call this one a hubris-seeking missile.

The second declaration of victory came in 2007 and 2008, when desperate regressives labeled the reduced violence of that time as a victory in the war, based on Bush's surge strategy. To make this leap, they of course neglected to account for every other causal factor that might have had influence on the outcome they noted, including the buying off of local combatants with profligate amounts of American dollars, courtesy of US taxpayers, the unfortunate success by that time of the neighborhood ethnic cleansing projects that had been the source of so much of the fighting, and the exhaustion of Iraqis from the relentless turmoil, which led them to turn against foreign fighters in country.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
 

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