Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Political Fiction and Post-Modernism

In my last post I offered a psychological interpretation of how the United States ended up in its present bizarre situation of fighting to the death on behalf of our worst enemy. My conclusion was in effect that the Iraq war is the outcome of a fantasy, a projection of wishes, fears, and resentments onto a distant enemy. This is why at no point have the neo-cons made any kind of substantial contact with reality, and in fact all of the most intense and dramatic political conflicts of the past four years can be analyzed as failed communications between themselves and reality. This raises a rather interesting point about our current epistemological crisis. What we find in the present ascendancy of global bureaucratic capitalism is a curious merging of fact and fiction. It appears that as accounts of reality become more and more empirical, more devoid of the mediating role of symbol and metaphor, they also become more fictional, and even more fantastic. As Garrison Keillor wrote recently on Salon, what is really needed is not better journalism but "a good novelist." It's been a hunch of mine for a long time that fantasy is a medium for which the modern world is uniquely suited. Not only does fantasy drive the entertainment industry but it is really the engine of capitalism. A market must be imagined before it becomes a reality. In a strange way, a market becomes a reality as soon as it is imagined. So why should it come as a surprise that the major war of our time should come into being in the same way as, for instance, a new theme park? From the perspective of its creators, there really is no difference. A new war, a new product, a new religion. They all begin life as fantasies. That's their appeal, their unique defiance of reality. It brings something out in people, allows them to express something about themselves they otherwise wouldn't be able to. The neo-conservatives who brought us the Iraq war would have made marvelous novelists. It is our misfortune that they write public policy for a living instead.

Putting the Neo-Cons on the Couch

The war in Iraq has long been compared to the Vietnam war and it certainly bears some similarities to that ideologically-motivated conflict. I would like to argue, however, that the Iraq war is something ultimately quite different, which I will call a psychologically-motivated conflict. In Vietnam, although the main arguments for U.S. involvement turned out to be wrong (the domino theory, etc.) it was at least true that we entered the war to fight communist forces and that is who we ended up fighting. The Iraq war is different first of all because it has come as a complete surprise to everyone who was directly involved in its planning. Bush's neo-con brain trust thought that the war would end with the capitulation of the Saddamist state and its rapid conversion into a fully complicit U.S. ally in the region. Thus, it has only very recently become clear to these people that the war we are now engaged in is different than the war they initially envisioned. With this comes the dawning realization that our present alignment in the war is nearly arbitrary and that we may be fighting for the wrong side. In other words, very recently Dick Cheney might have woken up in the middle of the night and asked himself why after all the United States is waging a massive military effort to establish an Iranian-dominated Shiite state in the middle of Iraq. And indeed this is a question that all Americans should be asking ourselves as well. Presumably this is the rationale behind Thomas Friedman's recent call to "re-invade" Iraq, the more easily to switch sides in the conflict and attack the very Iraqi army we have labored so mightily to build. Before we all get a little too giddy at that prospect, however, it is worth taking a step back to look at how we ended up here. How did it come about that the Bush administration, alleged master manipulators of the world, made the Duck Soup-like blunder of invading the wrong country and doggedly fighting a war on behalf of its sworn enemy? To answer that question we have to get into the head of our neo-conservative overlords, which is not a pretty place to be. Moving gingerly past their Ted Haggard-like repressed fantasies and resentments, we at least reach the place where they conceptualize power. It was in 1991 that the neo-cons first became fixated on Saddam Hussein. By remaining in power after the Gulf War, Saddam became a mocking symbol to the neo-cons of the failure of the first Bush administration, whose epitaph would be its realist legacy. George H.W. Bush failed as a president because he ultimately could not reconcile himself to the projection of American power, and the neo-cons would forever remember the conclusion of his Gulf War as a cowardly truce, a moment of humiliation rather than triumph. Cue Bill Clinton. During the Clinton administration, the neo-conservative fixation with Saddam grew into an obsession with each year that the wily Saddam successfully evaded U.N. sanctions and weapons inspectors. As their hatred for Saddam increased, so did their hatred for Clinton until the two obsessions fused into one. To get rid of Saddam, the neo-cons first had to get rid of Clinton, and so they focused their rancor on the great project of crippling the Clinton administration and removing it from power. Which takes us to the neo-con anointing of George W. Bush as the heir who would right the wrongs done by his father, banish the usurping Clinton administration into exile, and dethrone the tyrant whose very existence was a blight on the noble kingdom of America. And so off to war the United States went, with the blessing of Iraqi exiles whispering sweet nothings about democracy and WMD, and with the expectation that the fall of Saddam would bring the immediate fulfillment of every neo-con fantasy that had been so lovingly nourished over twelve years of frustration and impotence. Which brings us to today. The Bush administration has only with great reluctance gradually given up its hold on this mythology and acknowledged, three years too late, that there is something more afoot in Iraq than its glorious triumph over Saddam. But when you live in your own private castle, unpleasant, unexpected events aren't supposed to happen, and convincing the Bush administration just to pay attention has taken the collective work of nearly the entire civilized world over the course of three years. So it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise that one of the rumors coming out of the White House is that Cheney is leaning towards backing the Shiites. The fact that the United States would then be fighting a proxy war on behalf of Iran is apparently not a problem for Cheney. The Iraq problem is and always will be for Cheney a Saddamist problem, a Sunni problem. Crush the Saddamist remnants, and Iraq will finally be ours. And Bush will truly be king.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Those Pesky Christian Reconstructionists

I wish Salon would stop publishing articles like this one . It's not that they're not informative, well-written, and fascinating. It's that they scare the hell out of me. For someone who's trying to go straight when it comes to doomsday politics (fingers uncrossed,) these articles are like candy. I just can't resist 'em. But really what's a day without a thought and a prayer for our right-wing friends, aka the Christian Taliban? Who could forget the great R.J. Rushdoony founder of the Christian Reconstructionist movement? It's good to know there's a theocratic movement out there founded by a guy who would have liked to have most of us stoned (no, not that kind of stoned,) and that it has powerful sympathizers in our elected government. But these lunatics are nothing to be afraid of, right? I mean, it's not like there's any historical precedent for a major economic, military, and cultural power collapsing into armed chaos? Ok, no recent precedent ? Look I'm not saying much, I'm just saying let's all say a little prayer tonight that we don't have a major terrorist attack or economic collapse anytime in the next ten years. Because I sure don't want to be answering to this guy for the rest of my time on this planet. Really.