“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

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

stupification or prevarication?

LI is an easily bored fella. So, looking for angles to freshen up the perpetual debate about whether Bush lied and people died or whether Bush was merely stupefied and people died, it has occurred to us that the roots of the debate might not lie solely in the low character of Executive Branch personages, who act, admittedly, like the substandard issue of some horrible merger between Animal House and the Cosa Nostra. Perhaps the root of the crisis that has crept upon this fine little war lies in the very notion of preemptive war.

That doctrine had its fifteen minutes post 9/11, but it isn’t much discussed any more. Yet it still seems to be the undead heart of the Bush doctrine, pulsing the dark blood through creatures of the night, such as Cheney. Like most such foreign policy doctrines, the one thing that is not discussed when it is discussed is how it is embedded in American domestic politics. That’s because D.C. has the ignorant idea that it conducts wars on its own. War, however, is a matter of domestic politics. Wars are dependent on the spirit of legitimacy – the political aspect of morale. When the legitimacy of a war falls apart, the war itself will fall apart. Given American military power, the military machine can keep running long after the legitimacy of its mission has been called into question. That of course has happened.

The chance for a war losing its legitimacy is significantly raised by the doctrine of preemption. Why? Because it gives the President two partly contradictory roles. On the one hand, the President traditionally has the role of an honest broker in relation to foreign policy. Foreign policy, unlike domestic policy, has a much smaller constituency. How many people really know about France, or Canada, or Sri Lanka? And how many people care? The President is theoretically the best informed person in the U.S. with regard to the military and political status of foreign countries vis-à-vis U.S. interests. Or, to put this less risibly, he represents the ideal point of maximum information. Of course, this is a modern role that has become more significant as America has become more imperial.

On the other hand, with preemptive war, the President is really playing the role of advocate. Because the ability to make war is not an instantaneous power vested with the President, because making war is a highly distributed function of the state, war is usually taken to be an extreme measure that requires the impetus attack. The instant of attack collapses the potential contradiction between presidential roles. It makes it much easier for the honest broker to be an advocate. But in a case in which the U.S. is the aggressor, the stimulus is of a different nature. It being a convention that a nation’s aggressive actions have to be disguised in a certain way – even Nazi Germany staged an attack from Poland before Hitler attacked Poland -- it is hard for the President to come right out say, look, I want the U.S. to act like an international mugger, and to simply take down nation x because we have the power and we want nation x’s wealth. While Cheney often talks like the hoodlums in an action movie, taking sadistic pleasure in the power to maim itself, he is a rare character. Cheney’s are usually found in maximum security cells. This one just happens to be the Vice President.

This sets up the kind of situation that preceded the invasion of Iraq. Bush attempted to act like both the honest broker, who did not want to go to war, and the advocate, who did. In retrospect, it should have been easy to predict that such a war would relatively quickly fall apart, as the gap between the two positions operated like some traumatic incident that the body politic could not get over. Actually, not just in retrospect – LI likes to think that we predicted this in the run up to the war. But our prediction was wholly based on the character of the warmongers. In this, we were intellectually timid.

It is hard enough to manage a war in which the U.S. is attacked – the supposedly attack in the Gulf of Tonkin being a good example of a cause of war that simply did not have the magnitude to justify the U.S. response. George Bush I, whatever one thought of the First Gulf War, did have an aggressive action that justified his advocacy of the war: an attack on an ally. I have no nostalgia for that disgusting old man’s presidency, but he did not suffer from being a dishonest broker.

This isn’t to say that a stake has been put through the preemptive war doctrine. That is the ne plus ultra of D.C. thinking, and it will have a long and sour career, surely, chewing up lives. But, happily the Iraq war has been shedding even the shabby reasons for continuing the American participation in it, and with the call at the end of the Arab League meeting for a timetable of withdrawal (a position behind the overwhelming popularity of withdrawing American troops from Iraq among Iraqis, according to the British military – whose poll on the subject is the most reliable, having been done for no propagandistic purpose), perhaps we will actually see the reluctant dislodgment of the American imperialistS from Mesopotamia.

Readers, I am going on vacation for two weeks. Posts will be sporadic. But I will occasionally throw in my two cents worth, although not to the absurd lengths of the usual LI post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein, re Kuwait, that the U.S. didn't have a dog in that fight.