Saturday, March 22, 2003
... and after that ...

WB's Baboon's latest has sent Yours Dismally to the works of some of our day's big-picture thinkers in the hope of mapping where we are - with a view to getting ourselves somewhere else before it's just plain too late.

Fellow dismarrhoeaic Christopher Layne once wrote a little something for the Cato Institute to the effect that the US was in structural decline, and that this decline was occasioning all the wrong responses in Washington: "The Cold War's end ought to have been a paradigm- shifting event that triggered a fundamental reappraisal of U.S. foreign policy. The outbreak of the Gulf War aborted the new debate about U.S. foreign policy. The danger now is that... the costs and consequences of America's world policeman role will be insulated from scrutiny."

I think he was dead right. The prevailing Neocon Chickenhawk 'strategy' was neatly summarised at an April 1997 Carnegie Conference by Edward Luttwak (That's two conservatives I've quoted in two paragragraphs. Dead eclectic, me!) thusly: "The challenge lies in making others believe that the United States will actually use force when its interests are involved ... the perception of American military superiority would prevent military buildups by other states and thus promote the cause of democracy."

I think that's already been proved dead wrong. Iran and North Korea took one look and fired up their nuclear sectors for all they were worth. China is modernising its killer-plant at an unprecedented rate and the bulk of Pakistan's population, but one coup away from an arsenal of nukes, has never been more anti-American. Add to that the vision the Beeb's been beaming into the blogoshed for the last 24 hours - of Egyptians going berserk in Cairo, Jordanians making poor Abdullah quail in Amman, and Yemenese coppers blowing away protesters in Sanaa. Consider also an anti-war sentiment of some 94% in Turkey, whose government has been forced to consign its economy to perdition, its military to potentially coup-inducing wrath, and, quite possibly, the Kurds of Northern Iraq to invasion. And then there's the little matter of a suspicious and antagonised Western Europe.

As Immanuel Wallerstein wrote the other day ("Bush Bets All He Has" 15 March 15, 2003): "The President of the United States has taken an enormous gamble, and done it from a fundamentally weak position. He decided a year ago or so that the U.S. would make war on Iraq. He did this in order to demonstrate the overwhelming military superiority of the United States and to accomplish two primary objectives: 1) intimidate all potential nuclear proliferators into abandoning their projects; 2) squash all European ideas of an autonomous political role in the world-system.

Thus far, Bush has been magnificently unsuccessful."

And those of us comforted by ad nauseam repeats of vision of rampaging M1 tanks and shrieking Tomahawks should be reminded that this whole adventure is not merely to be evaluated in terms of military success (certainly not on reports there-of - else Saddam would be long dead, whole divisions long surrendered and the Gulf coast long secured) but in terms of the goals and pretexts articulated by the invaders. 'Regime change' doesn't just mean offing the Hussein boys; it means replacing them, too. And 'democracy', 'reconstruction', 'peace' and 'freedom' mean what people take them to mean. Keep Franks in the chair and it gets to look like a military dictatorship (he's certainly showing few signs of frank democratic disclosure at the moment); put Chalabi in and Iraq has a leader sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years gaol for fraud; put a Sunni in and the Shi-ites get wary; be nice to the Kurds in general and Turkey gets antsy; be nice to a particular Kurdish organisation, and a rival outfit reaches for its AKs ...

Opines a chap who knows the ground, Fawaz Turki, "The US will not succeed there in effecting, or imposing, regime changes on a region with an overwhelmingly hostile tradition of opposition to outside colonial interference, a region already smarting under the humiliation of American blatant support of Israeli designs on it. America, in short, will not find it easy to create by fiat a “free, democratic Iraq,” and to regroup the cultural, political and social values of a part of the world vehemently opposed to coercion and military force by outsiders aimed at reshaping its destiny at this late date in the postcolonial era. This is not the early 1950s, when the US, through its great wealth and military prowess, towered over the world like a colossus."

We'd do well to remember how much of the sympathy, trust and gravitas the US enjoyed but two years ago has been needlessly pissed away by George II's neocon-infested administration. As Immanuel Wallerstein wrote after S11, "Over the last 200 years, the United States acquired a considerable amount of ideological credit. But these days, the United States is running through this credit even faster than it ran through its gold surplus in the 1960s ... And if the United States still invades Iraq and is then forced to withdraw, it will look even more ineffectual. President Bush's options appear extremely limited, and there is little doubt that the United States will continue to decline as a decisive force in world affairs over the next decade. The real question is not whether U.S. hegemony is waning but whether the United States can devise a way to descend gracefully, with minimum damage to the world, and to itself."

Fawaz Turki agrees with that assessment: "Thus for leaders in Washington today to continue acting as if the world has not changed, and the trust in them by the international community has not dried up, is to invite catastrophe — and to accelerate that process of descent that the declinists have predicted for it. It is folly for the US, in other words, not to recognize the finite nature of the power it can wield, and the limitations it should place on its ambitions to spur on a worldwide “democratic revolution.” It was imperial overstretch, the declinists continue to assert, that was behind the long saga of the rise and fall of empires, from ancient Egypt to colonial Britain."

I think I'm with the 'declinists' on the theory. Which is a pity, as I don't like the sound of it one bit. Hegemony, especially naively arrogant hegemony, might suck, but there are plenty of scenarios worse than a stable, even gradually declining, hegemony. At least the current hegemon has a political culture formally committed to liberal democracy (as Chomsky says, Americans would never let their governments get away with the stuff they get up to if they ever got wind of the detail - and, in the Age Of The Web, ever more of 'em do get the odd whiff). And it's not as if the world looks likely to produce a more comely scenario any time soon. Nope, for mine, Team Shrubya is bent on the PNAC's unfeasible (and unconscionable) plan for world domination - and it will make enemies it need not make, kill people it need not kill, help the neo-Wahhabists create a world-historic 'clash of civilisations' that need never be, go into debt it need never incur, exacerbate a global recession only it could have alleviated, and hasten an undignified decline that could have been so gentle our generation might never have come to see it for what it was.

Now that we're all in the poo, all I dare hope for is the quick successful invasion we'd been taught to expect (at least before it actually started), a very short transition to (possibly federal?) Iraqi elections, the prompt withdrawal of all coalition forces thereafter, the immediate abandonment of the PNAC pipedream, and a brand-spanking-new administration in Washington in '04.

That's a lot for an habitual dismarrhoeaic to hope for - it depends on the peace movement maintaining its impetus and public presence through some pretty demoralising months for a start ...
Peter Teeley, press secretary to Shrubya's daddy: "You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it." If it happens to be untrue, "so what. Maybe 200 people read the correction, or 2,000, or 20,000."

Yep, and they read it months or years later, too - when the issue in question is long gone, the bodies buried, power has had its way again, and a whole new tissue of professionally wrought lies is making way for a whole new orgy of perfidious plunder.

Nasty bout of dismarrhoea this evening ...
Thursday, March 20, 2003

Some thoughts and questions that currently assail the blogorrhoeaic mind ...

1. All the confusion the best of us feel about what's happening, and all the webs of professionally wrought words in which we flounder, must not blind us to the simple fact that Australia is one of three countries to take part in an invasion of a poor little country on the other side of the world that has not expressed, nor could realistically represent, any threat to us in particular or the world in general. This is a war of aggression, and that aggression is being committed in our name. Can noble ends derive from ignoble means?

2. To impose coercive power is definitively to produce resistance. Is this conscious attempt to impose 'globalisation' - as orchestrated standardisation, integration and a peace congenial to the powerful not as likely to produce conflicting interests, fragmentation and geostrategic fault lines that might otherwise never have taken decisive form?

3. If the murderers of 911, who likely sought to move this administration to a belligerence of sufficient scale and undiscerning breadth to antagonise and mobilise people from Manila to Marrakesh, may be seen as zealots committed to the notion of a Great Day Of Reckoning, might not a frighteningly similar ideological propensity characterise the neoconservatives in charge of the White House? Might the neowahhabist warriors who aspire to wrest Islam from its current leaders and the neoconservative warriers who aspire to unite the west against them not be in unconscious alliance to make of this Day Of Reckoning nonsense a self-fulfilling prophecy?

4. Might the world economy become a casualty of this war? In their bid to impose and maintain significant military presence in Korea (whence they have been unable to leave for half a century), Eastern Europe (whither the dependent economy and insignificant clout of Kosovo if the US left?), and the Middle East (how long before the US may leave the mess it has wrought there?), might the US administration not pay more for empire than ever it can extract from it? Can it afford the military undertaking to transform the Middle East, reconstruct the region, and occupy it until the new model 'takes'? Does the regressive tax cut Bush intends at home not further undermine the budget? Do we see in consequent debt projections an American consumer able to continue buying the world economy out of trouble? Do the weakened and fragmented UN and NATO retain the capacity and desire to support an economically stretched USA in the pursuit of its policy over the years to come? Will poor Afghanistan ever see the aid necessary to rebuild what America destroyed (never mind what the Soviet Union and the Taliban destroyed)?

5. Does this public pursuit of Saddam Hussein risk making a martyr of a murderer?

6. Will 'he hit me back first' constitute a defence in the international courts of the future? Whither an international order based on the 'doctrine' of 'pre-emptive defence'?

7. Will the historians of the distant future point to M20 as The Point Of No Return rather than a long-forgotten S11?

8. Is 'shock and awe' not just another way of saying 'terrorism', as Nathan Newman suggests?

The very littlest reason I have to detest what's happening to the citizens of benighted Iraq right now is that I never get to blog in the way, and about the things, I'd hoped to when first I entered the blogosphere. The crucial fluctuations of every day can reduce the blogorrhoeaic condition to a joyless series of urgent reactions to tendentiously gutted data and hateful propaganda.

That's why I'm so grateful for Tim Dunlop's blog. Tim has the brawn to do the required digging, the brain to make meaningful shapes of the amorphous facts and deceptions he excavates, and the style to dish out the ensuing truths in a forms most digestible. I think his 'Squeaking Truth To Power' a shining moment in the annals of bloggery, for instance.

Onya, Tim!

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Well, the Anglo-Saxon troika has had its way, dragging an unwilling world into a perdition of decades. The only cheery thought I can muster as I try to become accustomed to being at war is that the bastards in charge of all this have been forced to show too much of themselves in their quest for domination; that the naive arrogance they've been displaying ever since they stole the White House has so depleted their 'soft power' that they'll be obliged to abandon their simplistic and opportunistic plans; that their 'shock and awe' obscenity will be mitigated by their awareness of our unwelcome awareness; that their post-slaughter behaviour might be moderated by same; and that they hit the 'regime targets' early enough to bring this ghastly episode to an early close.

Keep your eyes open, and when the slaughter does abate, look out for advance softening up for the next chapter. This isn't meant to stop at Baghdad - neither the neoconservative nor the neoWahhabist wants it to - but stop it at Baghdad the rest of us must.
Monday, March 17, 2003

More quotes from the (recent) past - these gratefully lifted from a post by Jim Devine to the Progressive Economists' List (pen-l):

"We should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. Assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinable urban guerilla war, it could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability."

Daddy Bush called the book in which he wrote those words, *A World Transformed*. It'd want to be.

And Marc Cooper's column in the *L.A. Weekly* (March 7 - 13, 2003) features this nugget:

"Back last decade, when he penned his memoirs, *It Doesn't Take a Hero*, former General Norman Schwarzkopf explained why the Daddy Bush administration didn't take Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War. 'I am certain, that had we taken all of Iraq," he wrote, "we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit. We would still be there, we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation. This is a burden I am sure the beleaguered American taxpayer would not have been happy to take on.'"

'Course, stuff's different now, eh?

political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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