the bloody third

The bloody third anniversary. There is a demonstration in Austin tomorrow, starting at eleven. Myself, I'd advise --as a protest -- reading MacBeth, today. Take this passage as your guide to Iraq:


Let us seek out some desolate shade, and there
Weep our sad bosoms empty.


Let us rather
Hold fast the mortal sword, and like good men
Bestride our down-fall'n birthdom: each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland and yell'd out
Like syllable of dolour.


What I believe I'll wail,
What know believe, and what I can redress,
As I shall find the time to friend, I will.

In honor of this anniversary, we are going to publish a little travelogue of posts. A travelogue from a man who never budged, a pocket Cassandra.

This is from March 09, 03:

March 09 03

The Exile's Temptation

"C'est une chose infiniment plus dangereuse de révolutionner pour la vertu que de révolutionner pour le crime. Lorsque des scélérats violent les formes contre les hommes honnêtes, on sait que c'est un délit de plus. On s'attache aux formes, par leur violation même ; on apprend en silence, et par le malheur, à les regarder comme des choses sacrées, protectrices et conservatrices de l'ordre social. Mais lorsque des hommes honnêtes violent les formes contre des scélérats, le peuple ne sait plus où il en est ; les formes et les lois se présentent à lui comme des obstacles à la justice" " -- Benjamin Constant, quoted in Lucien Jaume, Droit, Etat et obligation selon Benjamin Constant

It is infinitely more dangerous to revolutionize for virtue than to revolutionize for crim. When the scoundrels violate the forms against the honest people, we know that it is just one more of their crimes. We are attached to the forms, even by their violation: we learn in silence, and by the weight of mischance, to regard them as sacred things, the protectors and conservators of the social order. But when honest men violate the forms against the scoundrels, the people no longer know where they are; the forms and the laws present themselves then as obstacles to justice.”

How would I see the War 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 supremacy 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.