Failure is Not an Option
As a postscript to Wendy's discussion of Al-Sadr, I would like to point out a NY Times report that"Generals in Iraq" are considering"options for more troops." Since many current U.S. troops are National Guard or reservist in origin, I'm still counting the days before the administration decides that a military draft is going to be required because"failure in Iraq is not an option."
This same NY Timesreport also points out that while John Kerry, presumptive Democratic nominee for President, won't make"analogies to past conflicts," his chief supporter, Senator Edward Kennedy, has boldly declared:"Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new president."
It may be, Teddy, it may be. But, really, what will John Kerry do differently from George Bush? Will Kerry really want to go down as the President who"lost Iraq"? How many more (conscripted?) troops will he commit to the conflict because"failure is not an option"? Indeed: Remember Vietnam? The Vietnam war was institutionalized by the U.S. government, regardless of which party was in power. What difference was there between Republican President Richard Nixon and Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson? Yes, Nixon was committed to"Vietnamization" and gradual troop reductions, but not before he widened the war. Despite the Mantra that the U.S. needed"Peace with Honor," tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen came home in body bags ("transfer tubes" hadn't been invented yet).
We are now witnessing the institutionalization of the war in Iraq, where"failure is not an option." The institutionalization of that goal, regardless of the means by which the U.S. hopes to achieve it, is a sure prescription for catastrophe.
A year ago, I voiced my concerns about the consequences of a U.S. occupation of Iraq, being told by a number of pro-war advocates (many of them"libertarians") that such concerns were irrelevant because an invasion was"necessary" to topple a hostile Hussein regime in possession of WMDs and with ties to Al Qaeda. I never really doubted that the invasion itself would be a" cakewalk" because I believed that the regime was a paper tiger. But my understanding of integrated, long-term thinking went beyond the month or so that it took for"Top Gun" Bush to fly onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, which sported a now-notorious banner:"Mission Accomplished."
The mission could have been"accomplished" without an invasion and without the commitment of an occupying force and billions and billions and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. The WMDs didn't exist. The ties to Al Qaeda didn't exist. And the concerns I expressed last year are the same concerns that I have expressed this year. Merely screaming"I told you so" won't suffice, so let me revisit my own words, written in March 2003:
Iraq is a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, constructed at Versailles in 1920 out of three former Ottoman provinces; its notorious internal political divisions are mirrored by tribal warfare among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and others. ... For those of us bred on Ayn Rand's insight that politics is only a consequence of a larger philosophical and cultural cause—that culture, in effect, trumps politics—the idea that it is possible to construct a political solution in a culture that does not value procedural democracy, free institutions, or the notion of individual responsibility is a delusion. Witness contemporary Russia, where the death of communism has given birth to a society of warring post-Soviet mafiosi, leading some to yearn for the good ol' days of Stalin. Clearly,"regime change" is not enough. But even if procedural democracy were to come to Iraq, it may be no less despotic than the brutal dictatorship it usurps, for majority rule without protection of individual rights is no check on the political growth of Islamic fundamentalism.
That growth proceeds. With the Sunnis killing Americans and calling for the return of Baathist butchers in central Iraq, with the Kurds wanting an independent voice in the North, and with the majority Shi'ites pressing for a more fundamentalist resistance to the U.S. in the South, the situation is deteriorating.
I do not wish to see the mass murder of American citizens to score debating points; I am second to none in my own wishes that not a single American life should be snuffed out on foreign soil. I am second to none in my own hopes that Iraq will somehow embrace a free society. But that is not what the United States is bringing to Iraq, unless one considers" crony capitalism," grafted onto cultural tribalism, to be the embodiment of a free society. As I suggest here, the attempt to impose"democracy" as a means to pacify a region is misplaced. Ludwig von Mises cautioned the Wilsonian generation of World War I that the embrace of"democracy" without a similar embrace of"a system of private ownership of the means of production, free enterprise, and unhampered market economy," only serves to extend the system of statism. For"[w]here there is no economic freedom, things are entirely different."
The U.S. stands at the apex of a far more complex system of statist intervention than existed when Mises made those comments. Success will be possible only if there is a fundamental alteration in the current system of domestic and foreign intervention, a system that has bred anti-American hostility abroad. If failure is not an option in Iraq, then it is no more an option in the United States of America.
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Charles Johnson - 4/8/2004
It's all too likely that the defeat of George Bush will give us, in foreign policy, a Nixonization of the war: escalation in the name of "winning the peace," the institutionalization of the war, etc. Especially now that Kerry and crew have begun to put themselves to the *Right* of Bush on how quickly we should get the hell out of the country.
On the other hand, there are advantages to a Kerry Presidency. The most that we can do to tar Bush is mock his, um, "service" during Vietnam; but with Kerry we can play back his own speeches with VVAW. Imagine anti-occupation demonstrations capped with recordings or re-readings of the now-President, demanding, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Also, with a J.F.K. in the White House, we'll once again be able to use the tried and true chant template, "Hey, hey, ______, how many _______ did you ______ today?" There aren't nearly so many punchy chants that rhyme with "B."
Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/8/2004
Hey, gents, thanks for the comments---all very interesting. I'm actually currently working on an article that surveys the impact of Ayn Rand on popular culture---especially such media as comics (or "sequential art"). She has had an impact on people as diverse as Steve Ditko, Frank Miller, and even among her detractors, such as Alan Moore. More to follow. :)
Jonathan Dresner - 4/7/2004
You've forced me to reveal my trekkie side, but one of the most interesting historical and ethical innovations of the Star Trek series was the creation and invocation (mostly in violation in the case of Kirk, but less so later) of the "Prime Directive" of non-interference in cultural development. It's very much a repudiation of the "White Man's Burden" theory of disparate development.
But the superhero question is interesting. Because the traditional superhero trope, very much present in cartoons, movies, X-files, etc., is the idea of the perpetual struggle against an "evil genius" or shadow organization. We're certainly being set up for that....
Joe Maurone - 4/7/2004
Two other things:
1. Sorry about the name spelling, Jonathan.
2. You write:
"We'd need some kind of justification for continued occupation, kind of an updated 'White Man's Burden' And there's been very little of that, that I've seen"
Maybe we're not looking at the same things. I think of George Bush as a kind of JOhn Wayne or Captain Kirk, who think they are taming the wild west or civilizing the universe in the name of democracy or civilization. Check out these link to se what I mean:
Joe Maurone - 4/7/2004
Hi, Johnathan. Not sure if you are asking me or Chris, but if me...
Well, I don't think you need to get too much into detail in a kid's snack commercial, and wouldn't be able to go into too much detail in a 60 second spot. If I believe that these commercials have a dual nature, I belive that they are more general in nature, on a subliminal level. Obviously we can't have full treatise on our occupation of Iraq...and we can't learn about the war from a commercial. But the commercials may be fulfilling the purpose of getting the American people used to the idea of an increased military presence in our lives, or even used to the idea of war as a solution...think about it: of all teh ways they could advertise a fruit snack or computer, why a boot camp setting?
As for the justifications for continued occupation...I think the idea of reviving G.I. Joe fits well with Bush's propaganda: Dubya is fond of stressing the "good vs. evil" mentality that is characteristic of comic books aimed at children, with the clear-cut heroes in white and villians in black ( though many comics are sophisticated now in adressing teh gray areas), such as G.I. Joe.
Jonathan Dresner - 4/7/2004
OK, but what else would be necessary besides a generally militaristic attitude?
We'd need some kind of justification for continued occupation, kind of an updated "White Man's Burden." And there's been very little of that, that I've seen.
Or else we'd need a strategic justification: scenarios pointing to the total collapse of the region in the event of Iraqi failure. There's definitely been some of that, including, as Halderman pointed out a few posts ago, the US government building up its "strategic" oil reserves.
Joe Maurone - 4/6/2004
In light of Chris's comment on the possibility of a draft: I was watching TV, as I read his post, when I saw a commercial for computers that was set in a boot camp, where Americans were being trained how to buy computers. Immediately after this commercial, was another commercial in a boot camp setting, this time it was a children's snack commercial. The station then showed the first commercial after the snack commercial.
It's also interesting to note that G.I. Joe has been resurrected, after a long hiatus, with a new comic book line, action figure line, and talk of a movie. Now, it could be said that the revival is merely part of the 80's nostaglia geared towards that generation's children, (who now have the money to pay top dollar for vintage 80's toys and memorabilia...)but considering that the 80's was the height of the Reagen administration, with it's emphasis on "STAR WARS" programs, and jokes about nuking Russia (and the climax of "us versus them", good vs. evil" Cold War propaganda), and the beginning of the senior Bush's invasion fo Iraq...
Chris Sciabarra has long pointed out that the way to influence a culture is through popular culture...I think the recruitment for a LONG military stay in the Middle East, if popular culture is any indication, is very possibly underway.
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