“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, March 08, 2003


Party Pooper Saddam

We do not live in the best of times -- Dicken's dichotomy should definitely be pitched into the can with yesterday's spaghetti. It is a worst of times moment. I know this by a simple glance at my checking account -- althought the truth is I never engage in that pointless exercise in scare-mongering, since I don't appreciate being trailed about during the day by the various ghosts of penury, ill-health, and homelessness.

Let's see. To add up other reasons that I'm jumping on Dicken's right-hand choice, there is the shocking state of one of my back teeth -- which incessantly radios S.O.S-es to me; the headlines; and the moody weather, which was trying out various shades of gray last week, and then suddenly got all giggly and put on an 80 degree bikini yesterday. Adjustment, you know.

So the war has inched so close to us that, according to the NY Observer, it has intruded upon fashionable Manhattan parties. The quote from Christopher Buckley about sums it up: "You really know it�s going to be bad if they do the dinging-the-side-of-the-wineglass with their spoon," said Christopher Buckley, the editor of Forbes FYI. "People react the way Quasimodo reacted to the ringing of the bells: �Oh shit, here it comes.�"

The shock and awe bombing strategy pales by comparison. Baghdad may crumble, Basra may fall, but the dinging-on-the-side-of-the-wineglass -- well, Mr. Magoo would put something like that right down, by George! And, as Chris B. points out later in one of the quotes in the article, those wineglass ringers are just doing it to get attention:

"I find that people who bring it up, they tend to be people who are not in the business of opinion-giving," he said. "If you�ve got 10 people who are all chatting happily over what are you doing this summer, or what are your kids doing in school, or the new Degas exhibit, or what is your new S.U.V., or what about the new Byron edition, and someone says, �What about Iraq?,� I think it�s a desire to be an attention-getter. That�s code for, �Now I�m gonna tell you what I think of Iraq.� It�s a counterfeit invitation."

Like the mercury in a thermometer rising to unaccustomed heights in a heat wave, a thought, a sincerely crafted, real thought can, in a moment of national crisis, even rise up, up, up into the brains of the blue blooded and overflow into their parties, leaving everybody a little sticky. Really, as a Mr. Hoge is quoted as saying, ""I think there�s a body that�s building of, �Let�s get it over with."

Surely this is as good an argument for war as any made in D.C., n'est-ce pas?"

Friday, March 07, 2003


Intelligence and its discontents

LI comes from a long line of cop Pyrrhonists. In our family, the announcement on tv or in the newspapers that the police have come to the conclusion that X is guilty is usually provoked the comment that X was probably being railroaded. This attitude was re-enforced by my brothers' experience of the policeman's art. Both of my brothers worked, at one time, in the apartment game, as maintenance supervisors. Now apartment complexes sometimes acquire security on the cheap by letting a cop have an apartment free. In return, the moonlighting gendarme was supposed to keep an eye on things. In this way, my brothers got an anthropologists eyeful of cops. For instance, they learned the phrase, "patroling the residence." This meant going home and watching tv of a lazy week day afternoon. Another thing they learned was detection. Robberies and the occasional suicide liven up apartment life. In the case of robberies, the policeman's first suspicion usually fall on the robbed. Insurance, surely. This saves shoe leather. Also, since nobody in an urban area is going to get their stuff back, the cops feel they haven't done their duty if they don't finger some suspect. And hey, they are serving the powers that be -- i.e. insurance companies. Cops have instinctive status quo-o-philia.

One of the reasons LI is big on gun rights is that we think it is simply naive to allow an armed police force to confront a disarmed populace. Gun control advocates, who never tackle this issue, are exuding that typical American exceptionalism thing -- it can't happen here because we have such nice white suburbs.

However, that's the milder form of our skepticism. Even my bros accept the need for the local cops. But we'd like to politely suggest that the world would be a better place if the FBI, the DEA, the AFT, and the CIA were disbanded. These are minions of the worst kind of state power. Their injuries to the nation they supposedly serve have been massive, their countering benefits few. Collectively, they have roots in the kind of militaristic, bureaucratic empire-building that has always done the worst things in America and around the world.

Which is why we were interested in this column by Paul Foot about the Lockerbie explosion. We lazily assumed that the Lockerbie case was, at least, all sewn up. The Libyans did it, and Qaddafi, after being squeezed, has basically shrunk into a petty, absurd despot. Paul Foot disagrees. His column leaps from the recent embarrassment about Mr. Bond -- a retired businessman in South Africa who was slung into jail after the FBI mis-identified him as an absconding felon -- and attaches to the mysteries of Lockerbie:

"The reliability of the FBI was tested in a case I knew something about: the biggest mass murder in British history - the bombing of a plane over Lockerbie in 1988. For a long time the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic believed the Lockerbie bombing was in retaliation for the reckless destruction by a US warship of an Iranian plane six months earlier. Suspicion fell on a group of terrorists based in Syria.

But then Syria joined the US and their allies in the first war against Saddam Hussein and suddenly vanished from the Lockerbie frame. In its place as chief suspect was Libya. The forensic link to Libya was allegedly established by a tiny piece of circuit board from a timer, mysteriously found in remote countryside after the bombing, and traced by the FBI to a Swiss manufacturer who sold timers to Libya.

The genius behind this detective work was FBI agent Tom Thurman. For reasons that were never clear Mr Thurman was not called to give evidence to the hugely expensive trial of two Libyans three years ago. The US authorities and their media, however, were full of praise for Thurman and his work. In November 1991, for instance, he was named "Person of the Week" on the TV Network ABC. The rivers of praise dried up rather suddenly when The Person of the Week's work at the FBI Explosives Unit was investigated by the Department of Justice. Their inquiry found that Thurman "had been routinely altering the reports of scientists working in the unit". Fifty-two such reports were investigated. Only 20 had not been altered."

As Foot then points out, America, which is the brave New World of second chances, has accorded one to Mr. Thurman, who is teaching his unique method of detective work as a professor of criminology at some fine American university.

American Radio Works has done a good job in exposing the flaws in the Libyan investigation.-- not that anyone is paying attention.

What, we wonder, would Mr. Pilbeam make of it all?

Mr. Pilbeam P. Frobisher Pilbeam was the appalling detective who refused the case of the purloined pig in Wodehouse's Summer Lightning. You will remember that Ronnie Fish stole Lord Emsworth's prize pig in order to restore it, at the critical moment, in order to receive the benefit of Lord Emsworth's undying gratitude, plus a little of the ready, which would make it possible for him to marry Sue Brown, whom he suspected was dancing behind his back with his best friend Hugo. But even Pilbeam, odious as he was (it turned out that he was madly in love with Sue himself) knew better than to frame Libyans for the caper.

So -- here's the plan. Let's find some modern day Pilbeam, and turn the detecting -- all of it, the whole lot, everything the FBI does -- over to his capable hands. First thing he'll do is disgard the profiling crap --from racial profiling to the pseudo-science of psychologically profiling serial killers. Second thing he'll do is buckle down on the anthrax case -- after all, we know that the killer was mailing things off from a little post office in New Jersey in the hyper-aware autumn of 2001 -- Pilbeam would be on the spot, asking questions and looking at maps. And thirdly, he'd get rid of the colors for the security alerts -- surely the government can make money, a la David Foster Wallace, by selling the alerts to various corporations? We are going to need that money for the tax cuts and our Middle Eastern arabesque. Surely.

Thursday, March 06, 2003


The enemy that I see
wears a cloak of decency
-- Bob Dylan

Is Bob Dylan the Very Jones of our time or what? LI has just finished to the funeste tones of our President. The poor man is being forced, dragged, pulled into a war that he wishes and prays he could avoid.

Yeah, right. That and a nickel won't get you a pack of bubble gum.

Press conferences have become embarrassing exercises in kissing the imperial behind anyway. After Nixon, the wolfish aspect of the press corps was pretty much brought to heel. We can take only so much lese majeste, as they say in the newsrooms.

Bush rambled on about intelligence reports that trumped anything mere arms inspectors from the U.N. could hope to accomplish. His enunciation, which seemed set, by some advisor, on the very slow and the very repetitive, reminded me of nothing so much as a Sunday School teacher denying a dangerous liason with some likely student. It radiated the ersatz dignity of the provincial. No questions, of course, were asked about the intelligence reports that were quoted by Colin Powell in his speech in the U.N., some of which turned out to be plagiarized by Tony Blair's PR team from a Ph.D student's dissertation. Nobody asked, even, if the scope of our omniscience, which can apparently pluck the thoughts from the missile shifting part of Saddam Hussein's cerebellum before they reach his tongue, shouldn't be trained on, oh, finding out who ground up anthrax spores and sent them through the mail for a week back in November 2001. And nobody asked whether the U.S. shouldn't share its intelligence with the arms inspectors. Questions about anthrax, by the way, have simply fallen through the cracks. Even the evening's obvious question -- if Iraq disarmed, but Saddam Hussein remained at the head of the nation, would Bush be satisfied? -- was not put.

When LI dislikes a person as much as we have grown to dislike Bush, we have learned to distrust our first hearing. We need second hearing -- listening outside of our own densities and voids, dreads and bents. And for second hearing we've increasingly turned to the past -- to dead writers from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and to the writers of the middle part of the twentieth. Alas, living writers have let us down. Second hearing is what they want to rob you of -- that conglomerate of D.C. media folk. Their reaction will be predictable -- sober when the president's words cry out for parody, frivolous when the president's questioners cry out to be more pressing.

At the moment, I get my second hearing from Burke. Odd, that.

Oh, and Very Jones -- if you don't know the American poet Very Jones, here's a link . And here's his poem The Canary Bird, which I've been memorizing:

I cannot hear thy voice with other�s ears,
Who make of thy lost liberty a gain;
And in thy tale of blighted hopes and fears
Feel not that every note is born with pain.
Alas! That with thy music�s gentle swell
Past days of joy should through thy memory throng,
And each to thee their words of sorrow tell
While ravished sense forgets thee in thy song.
The heart that on thy past and future feeds,
And pours in human words its thoughts divine,
Though at each birth the spirit inly bleeds,
Its song may charm the listening ear like thine,
And men with gilded cage and praise will try
To make the bard like thee forget his native sky.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003


Fifty years ago, Stalin died.

LI woke up to an NPR piece about a museum exhibit dedicated to Stalin's reign in Moscow. The exhibit has attracted elderly, nostalgic Russians who say things like he beat my grandma systematically with iron rods for ten years -- he was a truly great man! He shot my dog, ate my baby, and made Russia strong! Then a reasonable elderly man was interviewed who said that he was neither for nor against Stalin. Sure, he killed 10 million people -- but just think of the alternative! Finally the announcer gives the results of a poll also referred to by this NYT story about Stalin being poisoned:

"Yet modern Russians are torn about his memory. The latest poll of 1,600 adults by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center, released today on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his death, shows that more than half of all respondents believe Stalin's role in Russian history was positive, while only a third disagreed."

This matches an American poll quoted by Nicolas Kristof the other day, which shows that twice as many Americans believe in the devil's existence (65%) than believe in evolution (30%). Kristof uses this poll result to berate American journalists for not being more sensitive to God -- in fact, a few, unpardonably, have made fun of religion. No doubt if Kristoff were a Russian, he would quote the Stalin poll to berate journalists for not being more sensitive to Stalin -- he beat my grandma for twelve years, sodomized my cat, and was a great Russian leader!

The dispute over the number of Stalin's victims still goes on. The NPR report skated over the problem with the comment that Stalin killed "millions and millions" of people. Robert Conquest is the most famous advocate of a very high number -- for instance, that there were eight million people in the labor camps in the thirties, as opposed to four million, the number arrived at by Stephen Wheatcroft, one of the key advocates of lower numbers. This is a quarrel that is regularly interrupted by great gushes of dragon fire from the side of Conquest's friends -- they regularly accuse the other side of being crypto-Stalinists. Wheatcroft published an interesting article about the whole business in Europe-Asia studies a few years ago. The tone of the article is laced with pre-emptive attempts to douse the dragon's breath. Here's the way Wheatcroft edges into his much lower estimate of Stalin's victims:

"From his [Conquest's] recent comments it is difficult to unpick what he now thinks is my `conceptual error'. He is clearly annoyed that I continue to challenge his figures, and in desperation has moved on to attack me for things that I have not said. Conquest's statement that I `claim to present the true, "archival" totals for the victims of Stalinism' is ridiculous, as will be shown below. From his comment and the whole thrust of his recent writings, it appears that Conquest is still claiming that although his Kolyma figures are wrong, the rest of his earlier estimates as restated in The Great Terror: A Reassessment (1990) are correct. If this were all, it would not matter so much, and we could leave Conquest to his dreams, but unfortunately other influential scholars appear to be accepting Conquest's claims that the new data confirm his `high figures'.(n4) And so I feel obliged to put the record straight (again).

My response to Conquest is long, because most readers of this academic journal will find it difficult to make sense of his brief comment. They will come away from it with the sense that `the biggest name in the profession' thinks that the work of Wheatcroft and others who attempt to analyse the archival data is `fundamentally flawed' and suffers from `conceptual errors'. It will not matter to them that the technical arguments seem so complex that they cannot follow them. The harm will have been done--Conquest will have shown that he can still answer his critics, and that his earlier assessments or `reassessments' are correct. I hope that the more thoughtful of the readers will go beyond this and will attempt to understand the arguments about the value of these new sources."

The numbers argument most recently surfaced when Stephane Courtois edited The Black Book of Communism, which was published in France, and then translated, to a lot of smoke and dragon breath. J. Arch Getty, who is considered "soft" on Stalinism by the hardcore supporters of Conquest, reviewed the book in the Atlantic. Getty gently counters the idea that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were morally equivalent -- a position recently taken by Martin Amis. He also takes Courtois down a notch:

"Courtois writes that he is not trying to present a "macabre comparative system for crunching numbers, some kind of grand total that doubles the horror." Yet there is a lot of arithmetic in his presentation, and one gets the impression that he is including every possible death just to run up the score. That impression troubled his distinguished co-authors; Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin sparked a scandal in Paris when they publicly disassociated themselves from Courtois's opinions about the scale of Communist terror, asserting that his introduction was more a diatribe than a balanced scholarly treatment. They felt that he was obsessed with attributing a body count of 100 million to communism, and like several other scholars, they rejected his equation of Soviet repression with Nazi genocide. Werth, a well-regarded French specialist on the Soviet Union whose sections in the Black Book on the Soviet Communists are sober and damning, told Le Monde, "Death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union."

It is the next paragraph that displays Getty's unforgiveable slackness, according to Conquest's standards:

"Stalin's camps were different from Hitler's. Tens of thousands of prisoners were released every year upon completion of their sentences. We now know that before World War II more inmates escaped annually from the Soviet camps than died there. Research shows that Stalin's camps and deportations, unlike their Nazi extermination counterparts, were planned components of the Soviet economy, designed to provide a stable slave-labor supply and to populate forbidding territories forcibly with involuntary settlers. Rations and medical care were substandard, but were often not dramatically better elsewhere in Stalin's Soviet Union and were not designed to hasten the inmates' deaths, although they certainly did so. Similarly, the overwhelming weight of opinion among scholars working in the new archives (including Courtois's co-editor Werth) is that the terrible famine of the 1930s was the result of Stalinist bungling and rigidity rather than some genocidal plan."

Well, LI is a little more sympathetic to the notion of a terror famine. We believe that the famines that befell India from the 1870s to about 1910, and certainly the Bengal famine of the 40s, were terror famines -- famines that were exaccerbated to achieve pre-determined economic and/or political ends. The famine of the 30s, in Stalin's Russia, and that of the late 50s, in Mao's China, are also terror famines by that rather broad definition. We think that the common denominator, here, is a certain kind of central planning. We'd make that argument more exact if we hadn't already wearied our poor readers with it over and over in past posts. ... Probably we'll succumb to the temptation to weary you again, but not now.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


Democracy, American amnesia

The great moral claim of the belligerent propagandists has been that the War will be fought to bring democracy to Iraq. It is, in fact, their only moral claim - otherwise, the war looks like an attack by an imperial power on a much smaller, and greatly weakened power that invaded a country on which it had a longstanding claim twelve years ago; was duly repulsed; and has since confined its attacks to the kind of factional squabbles that had consumed its separated, northern provinces for eight years. Furthermore, in the eighties, the imperial power in question actively encouraged the weaker power to invade a country on which it had no claim, Iran, and fight it with such weapons as were supplied by a network generously overseen by that imperial power.

So a moral claim, here, is evidently needed in order to counter the history of moral bankruptcy and sheer venality displayed by the imperial power.

Nick Cohen, who is the most coherent of the belligerent apologists, ticks off, and promptly disposes of, the reasons for opposing the war in his column in the Observer this week Cohen, of course, is advocating a war that he made up in his head - he never stoops to defend the war as actually planned by Blair and Bush. This makes defending the War so much more easy. But even for him, the cordon sanitaire between reality and delusion must have been a little shaken by the past week's bullying of Turkey. It gives us a nice preview of what the U.S. means by democracy in the Middle East.

Peter Beinart, in The New Republic, reviews some of the ancient history. Gulf I placed Turkey in the unenviable position of having to provide for a wave of refugees such as are regularly turned back - when they come from such subaltern hellholes as Haiti - by the United States. Turkey doesn't have the moral latitude that comes with 24,000 ballistic missiles, so they had to find someplace for them. In the heat of the moment in 1990, when the U.S. was going about like a horny schoolboy, promising anything in order to get to third base, Turkey was assured economic aid out the wazoo for the period after the war. Third base was achieved; in the detumescent afterwards, the promises we made to Turkey were conveniently forgotten.

But now, once again, the U.S. has a hard on. This time the Turkish government decided to play hard to get, and tried to bargain for some billions to compensate for the inevitable loss of further billions when Iraq is invaded. However, the Turkish government has to deal with the inconvenient fact that 90% of the population is opposed to the war. Well, the government made its deal, under intense U.S. pressure, but the Turkish parliament doesn't go along. Well, what happens next? Democracy be damned, if this is how Turkey is going to act, the U.S. will withdraw that aid - which is mostly in the form of loans, anyway, further indebting the place whose economy was basically a collateral casualty of the last war - while our warships ride outside the Turkish coast, apparently waiting for the Turkish military to squeeze the duly elected government. Even if the Turks cave and the U.S. gets to use Turkey as a vector into Iraq, don't bet on the U.S. keeping its word about that aid.

So, lets play with a scenario, shall we? The U.S. installs some exile Iraqi government into the niche once heated up by Saddam Hussein's bottom. The oil is still pumping, in this scenario. Here's the question: on the one hand, reconstruction costs in Iraq will probably engulf all the money created through the oil trade for the next five years - at least according to a Business Week article we've previously cited, and certainly according to those, like Nick Cohen, who justify the war in terms of Saddam Hussein's crimes and misrule. On the other hand, American taxpayers are now seeing that the war has cost around 80 billion dollars, and that occupying Iraq is going to cost another eighty billion dollars. Question: who gets that money?

Nick Cohen asks us to believe that the U.S., with one hundred thousand troops in the place, will not squeeze the Iraqi regime those troops put into office in order to take the political heat off of Bush.

LI thinks Cohen is fantasizing. The choice will come down to withdrawing the troops, or taking the money. Taking the money will, essentially, mean stealing from the starving. Would Bush do this to shore up his presidential chances? In a heartbeat. And that can only be accomplished by brute force. It is just the kind of spark that will start a guerilla war of the kind we see in Israel. Just as in Turkey, the US interest will trump democracy. But unlike in Turkey, or rather - like the Turkey that is periodically taken over by the military -- the factional struggle will have just begun. To pretend that one can squeeze past this scenario by sneering at the protesters as mere defenders of their insular prosperity is simply dishonest. The people on the streets of London February 15th, from whose pocketbooks Cohen basically expects to pay for an occupation that has every chance of devolving into another American supported despotism, are either to be considered by Cohen as a fact in his case for the war - in which case he will have to explain how the money is going to be extracted from them, or how the war's goals are going to be accomplished if the money isn't extracted from them. It is that simple.

No wonder the Ultra secret, in this war, is how much the Pentagon projects it will cost.

Monday, March 03, 2003

The Exile's Temptation

C'est une chose infiniment plus dangereuse de r�volutionner pour la vertu que de r�volutionner pour le crime. Lorsque des sc�l�rats violent les formes contre les hommes honn�tes, on sait que c'est un d�lit de plus. On s'attache aux formes, par leur violation m�me ; on apprend en silence, et par le malheur, � les regarder comme des choses sacr�es, protectrices et conservatrices de l'ordre social. Mais lorsque des hommes honn�tes violent les formes contre des sc�l�rats, le peuple ne sait plus o� il en est ; les formes et les lois se pr�sentent � lui comme des obstacles � la justice" -- Benjamin Constant, quoted in Lucien Jaume, Droit, Etat et obligation selon Benjamin Constant

What would I see the War like if I were an Iraqi exile?

LI has been reading Benjamin Constant's essay on the "Spirit of Conquest" thinking of that question this weekend. Constant wrote the essay in 1813, in Germany. He'd been in exile from Napoleon's France for five years, following in the wake of his lover, Mme. de Stael. He'd had to flee Napoleon's troops in Germany more than once. From this viewpoint, he could see just what was wrong with revolutionary expansionist wars. Which, oddly enough, is how our War is being advertised.

With less mandarin reference, the NYT Magazine article about, mostly, Kanan Makiya, the intellectual architect of the Defense department favored blueprint for Post-Saddam Iraq, thrusts the question under our noses. George Packer, who wrote the article, has been on the edge about these issues. If, like me, you feel the War will be a disaster, you still have to stop and consider the position of the politically active Iraqi exile. LI's politics, before it fits into an ideology, requires "fantasia" -- a term O'brien uses to describe Burke's politics. It means the ability to imaginative project oneself. For Burke, and I think, although O'Brien would disagree, for Marx, fantasia is the horizon that conditions politics -- not justice.

So, what would I think?

Here, after all, is a bloody tyrant. Here are millions of people demonstrating against the War, against, secondarily, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and leaving absolutely unmentioned the Kurds, the Shiites, the massacres of the last twenty years. And the thing is -- he isn't just bloody -- he's incompetent on a scale unparalleled by even the region's notably incompetent rulers. He has, in his quest for military supremecy in the region, spent untold amounts of the country's wealth on futile projects that are now coming down on his head.

And then here's the strongest country in the world, offering its full military might. What would you do?

Packer's article begs that question, but it should definitely be read in conjunction with this article in Business Week that surveyed the Iraqi shambles, since no questions were asked about how Makiya's 'democratic government" was going to, well, support itself. Here are some central grafs from the BW article:

"Two decades of war plus 12 years of U.N. sanctions have slashed gross domestic product per capita by over 70%. The U.N. Development Programme calculates that on a purchasing-power-parity basis, Iraq's per-capita income is only $700, making it one of the poorest nations on earth outside Africa.

Saddam's economic policies have made matters worse. Since 1991, the regime has been churning out local currency, which it uses to soak up whatever dollars are available in the local market. This practice has created hyperinflation and destroyed the value of the dinar. On the black market, the currency has plunged from about 8 per dollar in 1990 to 2,000 per dollar now. Members of the once thriving middle class can feed themselves only by selling their jewelry and household goods and by receiving transfers, typically $100 per month, from relatives abroad. Crime is soaring, and girls and women from respectable families are increasingly turning to prostitution--a deeply humiliating trend in a conservative Arab society.

Even Iraq's oil reserves are unlikely to be a panacea. The fields are in a decrepit condition, with equipment broken and missing. Oil production--currently about 2.5 million barrels per day--may have to be cut in the short term while contractors replace antiquated hardware and stabilize pressure in the reservoirs. That could cost $3 billion to $4 billion--assuming Saddam doesn't sabotage the fields.

Unless oil prices stay at current high levels, Iraq's oil income of around $15 to $20 billion per year isn't likely to be enough to pay for food and other needed imports as well as rebuilding and development costs. That tab is estimated at $20 billion a year over several years."

As we've pointed out, with ever greater tediousness, the war as envisioned by the War Intellectuals -- Hitchen's war -- and the war as planned by the U.S. and British governments are two different things. Packer's article gives a sort of synthesis of the Makiya scheme for a democratic Iraq and the Wolfowitz scheme for an expansionist Israel -- an Israel that gets to keep the occupied territories, or "so called occupied territories," as Donald Rumsfeld calls them:

"The story being told goes like this:
The Arab world is hopelessly sunk in corruption and popular discontent. Misrule and a culture of victimhood have left Arabs economically stagnant and prone to seeing their problems in delusional terms. The United States has contributed to the pathology by cynically shoring up dictatorships; Sept. 11 was one result. Both the Arab world and official American attitudes toward it need to be jolted out of their rut. An invasion of Iraq would provide the necessary shock, and a democratic Iraq would become an example of change for the rest of the region. Political Islam would lose its hold on the imagination of young Arabs as they watched a more successful model rise up in their midst. The Middle East's center of political, economic and cultural gravity would shift from the region's theocracies and autocracies to its new, oil-rich democracy. And finally, the deadlock in which Israel and Palestine are trapped would end as Palestinians, realizing that their Arab backers were now tending their own democratic gardens, would accept compromise. By this way of thinking, the road to Damascus, Tehran, Riyadh and Jerusalem goes through Baghdad. "

Parts of this scheme seem reasonable to LI. The part about Palestine is simply nonsense. But the central idea, that a democratic Iraq would act as an attractor to other countries, is in a sense our idea too. We believe in the power of creating a democratic, or more democratic attractor. We simply disagree on the facts on the ground and the means to achieve this goal. This is happening in Northern Iraq. We think that for Iraq to become a democracy this attractor has to be allowed to work -- that is, the exile's temptation to strike, in one blow, against the dictator using, as a sort of forgettable instrument, a foreign power's might, should be avoided. The reason is simple -- the means resonate in the result. Constant's words make terrible sense: "when honest men violate the forms against the criminals, the people no longer know where they are: the forms and the laws are presented to them as obstacles to justice." Constant said this in 1798, before Napoleon destroyed the remnant of the Revolutionary Republic. The destruction of the future Iraqi Republic is written in its very genes if it is parented by Pentagon hawks on a coalition of Iraqi exiles. After distorting international law, bribing or threatening allies, and endorsing the fuhrer prinzip in regard to popular discontent with the War (see the utterances of Bush's poodle, or the American press about the latest vote in Turkey), to think that the hawks' ends are democratic is a delusion -- they have simply re-defined democracy. It now means "friendly to the administration of George Bush.". The new governors of Babylon will be American puppets, and they won't last long without Americans. The mentality of the coup can dress itself up as a splendid dream, but enacting an armed dream upon the waking life of a distant population is my definition of a nightmare.