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Saturday, September 20, 2003


When Chalabi and Chirac are singing the same song, you know something has gone seriously haywire.

This administration, packed with Straussians who are so proud of their lack of a sense of irony -- that horrid thing, irony, which many a conservative commentator in the post-9/11 dysphoria proclaimed to be DOA -- has now produced a situation that generates a world historical irony every newscycle. That Chirac has reverted to the timetable that Donald Rumsfeld was using back in May -- back in the cheery days when the plan was that the US footprint would dwindle to 30,000 in Iraq by September, with the rest, one supposes, liberating Damascus or Teheran - does not seem to be admired as much as it should be.

In a more just world, Chirac would be languishing in prison, convicted on various corruption charges. We don't live in a more just world, which is of course why we have irony in the first place. In the Spring, when France was opposing Bush's war, the internationale of anti-war forces overlooked Chirac's history and embraced him. It was an odd moment, paralleled by the oddity of the pro-war forces embracing Chalabi, who also, in a more just world, would be languishing in a cell next to various Enron execs. Perhaps even then it was inevitable that the two old crooks would converge. This NYT op-ed about the Chalabi delusion that suffused the Pentagon doesn't tell us anything we don't already know -- and is, besides, another round in the endless war between State and Defense -- but it does give us the backstory on Bremer's most outrageous mistake, the dissolution of the Iraqi army. At the time, LI pointed out that this was a nearly insane move. Now we know that it was a homage to Chalabi.

It's obvious, in broad terms, that the French are right. The idea that Iraq is going to be the stage for the simulacra of the American Revolution makes a weird kind of aesthetic sense for an administration that contains the likes of Ashcroft -- the kind of guy whose spiritual consanguinity with those Confederate re-enactors who spend quality time stressing their butternut uniforms in front of the mirror in the garage has been well documented. However, it makes no kind of sense otherwise. It is a measure of the rootlessness of American conservativism, at this time, that Bremer's constitution-ophilia is being allowed to pass without comment -- surely it is a just target for the loftiest kind of Burkean scorn. As the Council said this week, only Iraqis can secure Iraq -- similarly, only Iraqis can govern Iraq. Constitutions are for the burning. If Bremer really believes that a constitution is going to be a bulwark of American interest when Americans leave Iraq, he surely needs to de-tox.

That said, the tactic of obstructing the U.S. at the U.N. is not going to lead to Iraqis governing Iraq. It is often said, with militant indignation by rightwingers, that Chirac doesn't care about Iraq (and then it is said that the left doesn't care about Iraq). This is true. Although the professional vice of the French, the vice of their Frenchness, is to think of themselves as bringing enlightenment to the world, the French foreign office disregards morality in favor of short term self interest almost every time. It is the Normalian reflex. These people were literally swaddled in the collected papers of Raymond Aron. That is what they are about. The whole culture of diplomacy in France is about realism. Unfortunately, the Chiracian approach isn't realism -- it is nihilism.

However, it should be said that there is a counter-truth: Bush and the nationalist constituency he has assiduously nurtured could also care less about Iraq. Or, rather, their concern is evangelical. They care only about an Iraq that is reborn, in the Christian sense. Renouncing its past -- its sinful Iraqness -- and being baptized in the holy water of free enterprise, democracy (the election of an American friendly government), and oil flow. This care is worse than non-care, since dunking a whole (Moslem) country into the fount and baptising it in the name of Jesus Christ is, well, not a good idea. For one thing, the country will kick and scream. For another thing, there's something unctuous and creepy about this care -- something that smells like a cult. Or like that Mormon project of baptizing dead Jews through some spooky ritual, thus reclaiming Israel. It is very much the same mentality. Only by renouncing family and friends can Iraq truly enjoy our care. And in the cheerful way of evangelicals, once the rituals are out of the way, the question is: what's to eat? Or, in the case of Iraq: how can we make as much money as possible out of this sucker?

That is not going to work. That is not working. That will not work.

What Chirac could do that would be helpful (although not decisive -- the UN really is secondary in re Iraq) is to press for a speeded up schedule that isn't wholly indigestible to the Americans. One that would simply bypass the absurd constitution now, and if you are very good, aftewards we'll play "election"-- which is the mentality of the Bremer Palace. This is just the kind of thing the Iraqi Mussolini, Chalabi, would go for too. At the moment, his greed is a factor for good. That moment will pass. But it should be recognized, right now, for what it is, right now.

Not that LI thinks that any of this is going to happen; that any misplay is not going to be fumbled through, and exaggerated, by the krewe of clowns that run this country, and reported on seriously by the embedded krewe of clowns that bring us the news.

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