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Good Riddance (Neocon Pundits)

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    Good Riddance (Neocon Pundits) By Tom Engelhardt www.motherjones.com January 2, 2004 I haven t checked my Chinese calendar but if 2003 wasn t the Year of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2004
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      Good Riddance (Neocon Pundits)
      By Tom Engelhardt

      January 2, 2004

      I haven't checked my Chinese calendar but if 2003 wasn't the Year of
      the Rat, I don't know what it was. We would normally heave a
      collective sigh of relief to have left it even a day or two behind
      us -- if 2004 didn't lie ahead. Still, if the year was bad for the
      rest of us, it wasn't exactly dazzling for the Bush administration
      either and perhaps we should count a few modest post-New Year's
      blessings for that at least.

      2002 should certainly have been dubbed the Year of the New Rome, the
      year neocon pundits (and a few liberal commentators as well) proudly
      urged us to shoulder our new imperial burden and emulate the Romans,
      or at least the 19th century Brits, forever and a day. If so, then
      2003 was the year in which our homegrown imperialists fell silent on
      the subject of empire, while our legions, setting out to remake the
      Middle East and then the world (cap that W), fell into the nearest
      nation-building ditch.

      In the spring of 2003, after a series of global skirmishes with
      enemies of some significance -- France, Germany, Russia, and
      that "other superpower," the protesting peoples of the world -- the
      Bush administration launched its long-desired, long prepared for war
      against an enemy of no consequence. "Mission accomplished."

      But when we sent our first proconsul out to rule the newest part of
      our Middle Eastern Imperium of Freedom, he came back quicker than you
      can say "Jay Garner." The second team was off the bench in no time
      and Coach Bush (having fronted for a second-rate baseball team
      earlier in his remarkably empty career) promptly rushed them onto the
      field, led by the well-appointed, well-booted L. Paul Bremer. Having
      left a cushy "risk management" company stateside to risk manage what
      was tagged as the future capital of Middle Eastern oil, he arrived in
      Baghdad speaking, like George himself, in the imperative. (Have we
      ever, by the way, had a president who told so many people in so many
      places so publicly what they "must" do?). Bursting with energy,
      Bremer dismissed the Iraqi army and the Baathist bureaucracy only to
      find -- no Lawrence of Arabia he -- that he couldn't even get a phone
      line to Sadr City, no less a government into Baghdad or an army of
      useful natives into the field.

      The latest Baghdad joke, according to Herbert Docena, reporting from
      that city for the Asia Times on-line, is: How many American troops
      does it take to screw in a light bulb? "About 130,000 so far, but
      don't hold your breath." And sadly, that's not really a joke. Feeling
      his oats, Bremer promptly announced the dismemberment of the last
      thing at hand -- what was left of the devastated Iraqi economy. Every
      strip-mining plan ever imagined by some right-wing Washington think-
      tank was promptly hauled out and dumped on a prostrate and largely
      unemployed Iraqi populace. And so Iraq was "opened" for business --
      without a government and with a foreign army in place -- the way you
      might slit open a still breathing animal.

      As it turned out, however, there were other "risk managers" around
      ready to play quite a different, if no less chancy game -- and they
      turned out to be brutally good at it. After all, eight months and a
      right turn past victory later, and Baghdad International Airport is
      still not open to commercial traffic, thanks to those pesky shoulder-
      fired missiles that seem to litter Iraq and the shoulders to hoist
      them on. So while, from London to Maine, corporate privatizers can
      hold conferences galore on the country's new economy, about all that
      will get them into deepest, (and part of the time quite literally)
      darkest imperial Baghdad is a dangerous drive overland, some body
      armor, and private guards.

      Recently, even our proconsul narrowly escaped a roadside ambush near
      the capital. (Hint: the new police force, the new military, and the
      new Iraqi intelligence service we seem to be reconstituting from
      retread Saddamites are obviously riddled with people feeding
      information to the armed opposition.) So L. Paul now finds himself
      ensconced behind concertina wire, inside Baghdad's ecologically
      unfriendly Green Zone, backing down on various proposals and swatting
      off obdurate Shiite clerics calling for democratic elections, while
      wondering what hit him and where in the world he'll ever find
      a "sovereign" government to which to turn over some shred of power
      next June. So it goes in our unexpected world.

      The Empire strikes out

      2002 was the year of the Nuclear Posture Review, the National
      Security Strategy, the Axis of Evil, and the Bush Doctrine. It was
      the year when, as the Greta Garbo of hyperpowers, we declared our
      desire to be alone at the top; practically shouted out our plans to
      dominate the planet militarily to the end of time; publicized our
      desire to conquer the heavens with previously forbidden weaponry
      straight out of Flash Gordon; swore our fealty to the nuclear option
      till the (mad) cows come home (as they just have); insisted in the
      name of national security on the rejection, ripping up, or even
      unsigning of every protective, multilateral treaty or measure devised
      by the human mind in recent decades to keep our proliferating, global
      warming world somewhere on this side of the law; and insisted
      that "regime change" was in order -- and that we would carry it out
      everywhere but in the United States. 2003 then might be considered
      the year when the planet proved its bedrock, cranky, anti-imperial

      So, with a nod to the neocons, here, retooled from the 1960s, is my
      adage for the New Year and beyond (and I'm willing to loan it out to
      anyone in Washington who finds it useful): Beware of domino theories.
      They tend to rear up and bite you in the butt.

      In the 1960s, if we didn't defend any small piece of global turf
      against nationalist and communist insurgencies, our leaders swore
      that its loss would be but the first toppling domino -- as with South
      Vietnam -- starting a cascade that would sweep the nations of the
      world into the communist camp. It's perhaps symbolic of our unipolar
      world that our new imperialists imagined a far more "proactive" set
      of dominoes -- not ones they would have to defend from toppling, but
      ones they would shove over themselves. Their war in Iraq was to be
      just the first push in a domino cascade that would reorder the planet
      into a Pax Americana. Hostile Syrian and Iranian regimes, sideswiped
      by a collapsing Iraqi domino, would go down; so would the supposedly
      friendly Saudi one; the Palestinians, helpless and alone, would be
      the next to follow, making a peace of the defeated with neocon
      darling Ariel Sharon; even Kim Jong-il, the "dear leader" of North
      Korea, halfway across the planet would be crushed beneath a pile of
      American dominoes, and while we were at it, the French, Germans, and
      Russians would go down too, though peaceably, leaving the superpower
      contender of the future, China, in a thoroughly exposed and
      indefensible position.

      Of course, none of this happened. It seems years ago, though it was
      only months back that Syria, Iran, and North Korea were in our gun
      sights (with Cuba, Libya, and the Sudan not far behind). Only last
      June, the United States was threatening to become the national
      equivalent of a serial killer. And yet, by year's end, the road to
      Damascus was closed; the President was welcoming Libyan strongman
      Qaddafi (the Saddam Hussein of the Age of Reagan) back into the
      comity of nations; U.S. aid was being readied for and sanctions
      temporarily lifted on an Iran suffering unparalleled devastation from
      a natural catastrophe (and American officials were even muttering
      about a new era in relations); something approaching actual
      negotiations with North Korea was being carried out through the
      Chinese government; and administration officials along with Bremer
      were searching madly for "withdrawal" formulas in Iraq (even if they
      were meant to leave our troops, Halliburton, and Bechtel there for an
      eternity). Meanwhile, in Washington, the neocons, jobs at risk, were
      threatening war and crying foul (or is it fowl?) as their global war-
      fighting plans were sent back to the think-tanks -- at least for now -
      - and the multilateralists of Father Bush's administration were
      slipping back into positions of authority.

      In 2002, thanks largely to Osama bin Laden, the Bush administration
      was flying higher than a cruise missile. By year's end 2003, the only
      hawk still openly talking the talk of empire was the Vice-President,
      who included the following quotation from Benjamin Franklin in his
      Christmas card: "And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without
      His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"
      In short, by the end of 2003, despite a brief Alka-Seltzer moment of
      relief with the capture of Saddam Hussein (but not, of course, Osama
      bin Laden), something was wobbling in the House of Bush.

      In instant retrospect, 2003 already looks like a Gong Show year for
      the American Empire. Put another way, when early in the year the
      administration reached into its mighty imperial arsenal, all it
      pulled out was brute force applied brutally in a three-week shock-and-
      awe campaign against Saddam Hussein's pathetic military (and then
      reapplied with counterproductive ineffectiveness ever since). No one
      can deny that empires work on a principle of brute force. It's a
      necessity if you plan to conquer others and rule them against their
      wishes, but it can't be the only arrow in your quiver. A little
      finesse is usually necessary, if you plan to stick around for a
      while. Some plums need to be offered, at least to some of the
      conquered and those from elsewhere who fight in your legions. There
      has to be some way to join the empire as a junior partner and benefit
      somehow. None of this was available in the Bush version of
      shouldering the imperial burden.

      To the extent that we proved imperial in 2003, it was largely in the
      Pentagon's long-term planning for weapons systems, large and small,
      slated to dominate the planet for the next half-century or more. Can
      there be any doubt that we already have the weaponry of forty Roman
      empires and twenty British ones with more to come? After all, we even
      have futuristic weapons on the drawing boards for 2050.

      But here's a lesson for the year (also retooled from the 1960s): You
      can't rule this bedeviling planet with weapons systems based in the
      United States, or on offshore aircraft carriers, or even on military
      bases dotted across the globe, no less via a series of delivery
      vehicles from outer space. The resistance in Iraq has made this point
      staggeringly clear: We smote -- and given our fundamentalist
      administration that word is surely on target -- Saddam Hussein's
      regime with our techno-best and from its ruins arose an armed
      opposition centered in but not limited to Sunni Iraq. 5,000 armed
      men, if you believe the Pentagon, up to 50,000 if you believe a
      recent CIA report; all Baathist "bitter-enders" and al Qaeda warriors
      from elsewhere, if you believe Don Rumsfeld or the President, up to
      23 different mostly home-grown resistance groups if you believe
      various foreign journalists. But the most curious thing is that no
      one in Washington or among our military and civil administrators in
      Baghdad quite knows who the armed opposition actually is and they
      tend to identify themselves mainly through roadside bombs and suicide

      This is either some kind of bleak miracle, or an illusionist's trick.
      After all, it took years in Vietnam against a powerful southern
      insurgency backed by the militarily strong and determined North
      Vietnamese regime backed in turn by the Earth's other superpower, the
      USSR, and for good measure by Mao's China with which it shared a
      border, with copious supplies flowing in from abroad and sanctuary
      areas in bordering Cambodia and Laos, before a desperate American
      president even began considering calling up the reserves. In Iraq,
      against relatively lightly armed, no-name insurgent forces of a few
      thousand or tens of thousands, without a significant power behind
      them, without sanctuaries, or major supply channels (other than the
      copious arms already cached in the country), with largely homemade
      bombs and small numbers of fanatical individuals willing to turn
      themselves into suicide weapons, the mightiest military power on
      earth has already been stretched to the breaking point. Its leaders,
      scouring the planet for new recruits, are having trouble finding
      enough troops to garrison an easily conquered, weak, and devastated

      The foreign legions they've managed to dig up -- a few thousand
      Spaniards and Poles, hundreds of Bulgarians and Thais, handfuls of
      Mongolians, Hondurans, and the like -- add up modestly indeed, when
      you consider who's asking for a hand. And even our own version of the
      Gurkhas, the British who, thanks to Tony Blair, have shipped out
      sizeable numbers of troops to garrison the - at present - more
      peaceable Shiite southern regions of the country, turn out to be
      doing their much needed work for sixpence and a song. Their cut of
      the Iraqi pie looks beyond modest. Like a child with a roomful of
      toys, all the Bush administration knows how to say is: "Mine."

      A global Enron moment

      In a sense, our new Rome already lies in ruins without even an enemy
      fit to name to oppose us. And the true face of our home-grown regime
      in Washington is ever more visible. The visages on display aren't
      those of an emperor and his administrators, proconsuls and generals,
      but of so many dismantlers, strip-miners, and plunderers; less
      Augustus, more Jesse James (the real one, not the movie hero).

      They may be building weapons for 2050, but they're plundering in Iraq
      and at home as if January 1 2004 were the beginning of the end of
      time. Having ushered into office the Halliburton (vice-)presidency,
      we now have a fitting "empire" to go with it. While empires must to
      some extent spread the wealth around, our proto-imperialists turn out
      to have the greed level and satiation point of so many malign
      children. Other than "must" and "mine," the words they -- and their
      corporate companions -- know best, it seems, are "now," "all,"
      and "alone." It's a vocabulary that doesn't contain a future in it,
      not the sort of vocabulary with which to rule the world.

      No matter how many times we insist that all we carry in our baggage
      train is "freedom" and "democracy" for the oppressed nations of the
      Earth, those elsewhere can see perfectly well that our saddlebags are
      full of grappling hooks and meat cleavers. Bad as 2003 was for us, it
      may not be long before it's looked upon as their global Enron Moment.

      2003 was the year our emperor's men decided to use up as much as they
      could as fast as they could, though, thanks to our underachieving
      media, this can hardly be grasped here. The sad thing is that they
      are dismantling us, and what matters most to us in our country
      including our liberties -- and all under the deceptive name
      of "national security." They have an unerring eye for the weak and
      vulnerable and, on spotting them, set upon them like so many

      Unfortunately, as representatives of insecurity rather than security,
      they have let loose forces for which they feel no responsibility. We
      are a nation of adults, living largely in denial, led by overgrown,
      malign children excited by the thought of sending other people's
      actual children, a whole well-led army of them, including the
      older "weekend warriors" of the reserves and the National Guard, off
      to do the impossible as well as the unjust. And this is happening in
      part because -- I believe -- they don't imagine war as carnage, but
      are energized by an especially shallow idea of war's "glory," just as
      the President has been thoroughly energized by the ludicrous idea
      that his is a "war presidency."

      The term "chickenhawks," often used by critics, hardly catches this.
      It's true that Bush's first moments after the September 11th attacks -
      - now buried by media and memory -- were ones of flight, and so,
      undoubtedly, of shame and humiliation (which helps account for at
      least some of the exaggerated macho posturing -- "bring 'em on" --
      that followed). Instead of stepping forward to lead a shocked nation
      in crisis by heading for Washington, he was shunted from a children's
      classroom in Florida westward to safety.

      What "chickenhawks" doesn't catch, however, is both the immature mock
      solemnity and the fun of war play for them, something they first
      absorbed in their childhoods on screen and carry with them still. War
      for them -- as they avoided anything having to do with either the
      Vietnam War or opposition to it -- remains, I believe, a matter of
      toy soldiers, cowboys-and-Indians games, and glorious John Wayne-
      style movies in which the Marines advance, while the ambushing enemy
      falls before them and the Marine hymn wells up as The End flashes on

      In a similar way, the neocon utopians who dreamed up our distinctly
      unpeaceful Pax Americana in deepest, darkest Washington and out of
      whole cloth seem to have imagined global military domination as
      something akin to the board game Risk. They too were, after a
      fashion, Risk managers, seeing themselves rolling the dice for little
      weapons icons (most of which they controlled), oil-well icons (which
      they wanted) and strategic-country icons (which they needed). They
      were consummate game players. It just so happens our planet isn't a
      two-dimensional gameboard, but a confusing, bloody, resistant,
      complex place that exists in at least three dimensions, all

      I mean if you think I'm kidding -- about children playing games --
      just remember that we have a President who, according to the
      Washington Post's Bob Woodward, keeps a "scorecard" in his desk
      drawer with the names/faces and personality sketches of al Qaeda
      adversaries (and assumedly Saddam) and then X's them out as they're
      brought in "dead or alive." Think tic-tac-toe here.

      The president and his men, in short, have been living in a fantasy
      world that makes The Lord of the Rings look like an exercise in
      reality. Even before the Iraq war, this was worrisome to the adults
      who had to deal with them. This is why there was so much opposition
      within the top ranks of the military before the war; this was why
      there was no Pentagon planning whatsoever for the post-war moment
      (hey, you've just won the Iraq card in your game, now you fortify and
      move on); this was why, for instance, General Anthony Zinni, Vietnam
      veteran and former CentCom commander, who endorsed young George in
      the 2000 race, went into opposition to the administration; this is
      why a seething "intelligence community" has been in near revolt after
      watching our fantasists rejigger "intelligence" to make their "turn"
      come out right; this is why our great "adventure" in the Middle East
      pitched over into the nearest ditch.

      2004 should be a fierce holding action for them. The question is --
      as with Richard Nixon in 1972 -- can they make it through to November
      before the seams start to tear. They might be able to. But here's the
      thing: Sooner or later, the children will leave the stage and some
      set of adults will have to start picking up the pieces. If the 2004
      election is theirs, however… well, sometimes there are just things,
      our planet included, too broken to fix.

      Additional commentary from Tom Engelhardt can be read throughout the
      week at TomDispatch.com, a web-log of the Nation Institute.



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