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

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Friday, August 11, 2006

the lords of rule

I talked to a friend last night in Mexico City. Her husband had just returned from visiting one of Lopez Obrador’s encampments on the Zocalo. He was enthused. There’s even a makeshift library, as well as musicians, things for kids, etc. It sounds like Christmas along Reforma, the huge street going into downtown. There springs up, in the Christmas season all along Reforma, fairs and manger scenes. While intellectuals like to talk about political theory, I think there is something to the idea that political action is full of bricolage – take a bit of Christmas here, add it to a bit of revolutionary iconography here. The Lord of Misrule used to come to London, in Tudor times, and be very seriously treated by the London corporation. That Lord has been repressed in our time – bombed, poisoned, and chased by business, education and the military. But you can’t chase him away forever. They’ve cleared the area of the Lord of Misrule. They’ve labeled him a terrorist. Yet he keeps coming back.

Meanwhile, the Lords of Rule step on our freedom, host insane, bloody, and civilian targeting wars in which the tactics of the guerilla side are no fair (stand up so that we can kill you with our very expensive weapons, please), and talk in the language of buyouts – here a proxy, there a proxy, everywhere a proxy.

Douglas Gardner’s column in the Financial Times is, again, a plea for the only sensible course in the middle east – the U.S. and Iran must open direct talks. The pull out of American troops, the takeover of Lebanon’s territory by Lebanon’s army (which Hezbollah has agreed to), and the withdrawal of Israeli settlements on the West Bank are the natural outcomes of such talk. Israel is going to have to forget its regional hegemon ambitions.

All of which is not going to come to pass with the Lords of Rule, such as they are. The point, however, is to insert them into the mainstream so that they assume a presence, against the howlings of such as the WAPO editorial page.

“All the Anglo-American approach to Lebanon promises to do is join these up, adding a failed state on Israel's northern border to the failed would-be state of Palestine to its south, with the broken state of Iraq to its east. This is a policy that continues and compounds the failure in Iraq where, as Anthony Cordesman, the US strategist and supporter of the war, recently observed: "we essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop".
It is also a policy that is hopelessly inconsistent, adding further to Arab and Muslim perception of western hypocrisy. In Lebanon, a Shia Islamist militia allied to Iran that is also part of an elected government, Hizbollah, must be destroyed. In Iraq, however, a Shia Islamist militia allied to Iran, the Badr brigades of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is part of an elected government Washington supports. Inconsistencies of this sort have a way of stewing for a bit, but then they boil over.
That is what is happening among the Shia in Iraq, tactical allies of the US who could soon become its enemies. Hundreds of thousands came out into the streets in Baghdad and southern Iraq last week to support Hizbollah and/or their Lebanese Shia co-religionists, not just the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, the young Shia radical who models his Mahdi army on Hizbollah, but the Sciri, too. Indeed, how many members of the US Congress, recently addressed by Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, would know that his Da'wa party was one of the original progenitors of Hizbollah?”

This is the Financial Times, so certain truths are discretely sheathed – Western hypocrisy becoming the ‘perception of Western hypocrisy’, etc. To get to a simple truth in the press, you do have to go through the bodyguard of lies – and in fact, sometimes all there is is the bodyguard of lies.

LI, about three years ago, already sorta said this. But, as usual, we can’t find, in our confusing archive, the exact moment when we connected the withdrawal of American troops to talking with Iran. So many words, so few paths. However, we did come upon our little predictions (in September, 2004) about what the Bush regime would look like in the Middle East. We did pretty good. Since this touches on the current situation, we will quote our own selves:

“Given the vast and almost incomprehensible incompetence of the Bush people in managing the ‘war on terrorism’ so far, in other circumstances this would surely signal an expansion of the war in the Middle East to Syria and Iran. The post Powell State Department would certainly be on-line for that adventure. And it will be vigorously pushed by the Pentagon pump house gang. One of the real winners in the upcoming election will be Cheney, whose side – the President’s base – will be massively owed.

One thing this will certainly mean, given the characteristic bloodthirstiness of this group, is a lot more Iraqi deaths. The Vietnam comparisons are always to the number of Americans killed – not to the number of Iraqis killed. But with the re-installation of an ultra-hawkish wing in D.C. (who will justly take the election as a legitimation of their methods) surely we will see an acceleration of Rumsfeld’s kind of warfare – the terror bombing of Fallujah, the pillage of Najaf, that kind of thing. The Bush people have been pushing a re-definition of the aim in Iraq as ‘working democracy” – which means that they will skew what election process they allow, in January, to put in an American puppet. Allawi is the candidate right now, and he does have one essential quality – he will rubber stamp any terror tactics the U.S. forces take against the Iraqi population. But it is hard to see how an election, no matter how corrupt, could be won by Allawi. Without opposition in Washington, however, there might be no pressure to hold elections at all. Postponing the elections next year would surely be on the Pump house wish list.

What are the constraining factors here? We think the major constraint is the Bush fear of having to resource its war. It has been obvious for some time, in Iraq, that the distance between what Bush says is the goal in Iraq and Iraqi reality could have only been bridged if Iraq were treated as a serious occupation. That would require about two to three times the manpower that is there right now. Instead, this war is being fought like a child playing with the puddles from its bottle of milk on the high chair – American soldiers go into an area, ”pacify” it, then withdraw. Then the insurgents return. Going to war with Iran and/or Syria is going to require a lot more military manpower. We think the fear of that will drive the Bush administration to make threats, and to maybe use its airpower, but not to invade. The worst case scenario would be: seeing that we need a proxy in the Middle East, Wolfowitz et al encourage an Israeli attack on Syria.

The down side of the constraint on Bush’s aggression is that the administration will increasingly use Rumsfeld tactics. That is why we expect a big upsurge in Iraqi deaths – that will be the major characteristic of at least the first year of the Bush administration. At a certain number of deaths, as Saddam Hussein has shown, a country can be pacified. Will the Bush people reach this threshold?

Another component enters the picture, here. That’s the unknown variable of the network that has radiated out from Al Qaeda. Again, the vast, almost incomprehensible incompetence shown by the Bush people in the past, vis a vis Al Qaeda, will no doubt continue. So far, the Bush’s have benefited enormously from their errors – from the attack on the towers itself, from the comedy of the WMD, and from actually colluding in the preservation of a continuing Al Qaeda threat in Peshawar. Each of these were failures that should have brought down the administration. Instead, they renewed the allegiance of the American public to this administration. Will the thinking in the administration change about these things? We’d guess that the answer, for Pavlovian reasons, is no. When the button rings and the animal responds badly, and is rewarded multiply for the bad response, it will keep responding in the same way when the bell rings again. Other terrorist attacks, in Europe, Latin America, or the U.S., will be mishandled in the same way, and surrounded by the same aura of propaganda that will disallow criticism of the performance as a subtle aiding of the perpetrators.

To sum up: four more years of Bush, if these components are near correct, will lead to a multiple of Iraqi deaths, more successful terrorist attacks, and a belligerence towards Iran and Syria that will either encourage a war between Israel and Syria, or will, at the least, lead to some American military action, short of war, targeting one of those countries. Wild cards here are the effectiveness of the Al Qaeda like organizations – will they, for instance, opt for what, to an outside observer, seems like the obvious ploy? Namely, disrupting the flow of oil. Especially Saudi oil. Will the Saudi royals, through its usual combination of mass murder and bribery, be able to tamp down its rebels? And finally, if Israel under Likud has already managed to seize a goodly portion of the West Bank. Will it be satisfied with that amount, or will it try for more?”

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