the passion for ascendancy

“The good Samaritan he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show…”

Mark Danner begins his NRYB essay (see last post) with an exemplary historiette concerning a young State Department employee in Falluja who reminds him of a:

“… young Kennan's reincarnation in the person of a junior State Department official: a bright, aggressive young man who spent his twenty-hour days rumbling down the ruined streets in body armor and helmet with his reluctant Marine escorts, meeting with local Iraqi officials, and writing tart cables back to Baghdad or Washington telling his bosses the truth of what was happening on the ground, however reluctant they might be to hear it. This young diplomat was resourceful and brilliant and indefatigable, and as I watched him joking and arguing with the local sheikhs and politicos and technocrats —who were meeting, as they were forced to do, in the American bunker —I thought of the indomitable young Kennan of the interwar years, and of how, if the American effort in Iraq could ever be made to "work," only undaunted and farseeing young men like this one, his spiritual successor, could make it happen.”

This was in the days leading up to the vote on the Constitution. You will remember that Falluja is a mainly Sunni city. It was also razed by American troops in November, 2004. The inhabitants, returning to the ruins of their home, are treated like parolees in a work camp by the Americans. A little background for what the young Kenner told Danner: “And so as I sat after midnight on the eve of the vote, scribbling in my notebook in the dimly lit C-Moc bunker as the young diplomat explained to me the intricacies of the politics of the battered city, I was pleased to see him suddenly lean forward and, with quick glances to either side, offer me a confidence. "You know, tomorrow you are going to be surprised," he told me, speaking softly. "Everybody is going to be surprised. People here are not only going to vote. People here—a great many people here—are going to vote yes.”

Now, only a true mook could think something so unutterably stupid. And yet, the bright young thing almost dazzled Danner into disbelieving his own peepers. Until, of course, the elections showed that the Sunni population voted against the constitution which would basically immiserate them forever) by around 97 percent.

I think that mook was not stupid, but, rather,representative. In LI’s last post, we tried to show that the twilight of the Cold War witnessed a huge economic shift away from the Social Democratic policies of the early Cold War period within the structure created by the Cold War. The end of the Cold War, in a sense, stripped bare these shifts. George Santayana, speaking of patriotism, claimed that, without an ideal, patriotism reduces to a mere “passion for ascendancy.” This was the code of the post-war order. And it is with this code that the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Yet historic forms just don’t pop like the pricked balloons at the end of a children’s birthday party. The intensity of the anti-communist crusade created a whole discourse of righteousness that was extremely potent in America. That discourse no longer had a set object. The idea that our defining anti-thetical is now Islamo-fascism has proven to be a massive flop. Except among a small zombie contingent, Islamofascism hasn’t even entered into the public domain. If you ask around, you will find that the average person hasn’t even heard of it. This shows the common sense of the average person, since, of course, there is no such thing as Islamofascism. The closest actual thing in the world to that hybrid nothing was the government the U.S. conjured up in Iran after overthrowing Mossedeq, since it relied on a heavy contingent of those people around the Pahlavis, in the 1950s, who had ardently supported the Nazis in the 1940s. That ardor was obviously premature anticommunism, and so given a big round of applause by America’s handlers at the time. But there is nothing else on the face of the earth that resembles, in any way, this neo-con anxiety dream.

So… we are left with the passion for ascendancy. The State Department official in Danner’s article walks about in a kind of dream of this passion, as does most of the Bush White House. Mere ascendancy, however, is never sufficient to prompt social action. It generates legitimating stories. These stories are essentially heroic in nature. This, for those who have the eyes to see it, is why the Bush people are so… well, funny. They think of themselves in heroic terms, which is in stark contrast to their incredibly pampered existences and their lifelong avoidance of any real existential risk outside of quailhunting with the gross V.P. These are Chihuahuas dreaming they are lions. They are uniquely disqualified from understanding Iraq -- not because they are unfamiliar with the facts about Iraq, but because their very lifestyles have stifled the faculty of imagination within them. Imagination, for them, is merely projection. Thus, the state department boy projects onto the Iraqis he meets a passion for… well, for the ascension of the state department boy. In their hearts, they all want him to climb the ladder. And to climb the ladder, he needs them to get on board. It is a photo op world, but the reward is that we happy plebes, we rude mechanicals can say, “we knew him when.”

Perhaps the worst thing Chalabi, the prototype D.C. salon Iraqi, ever did was to convince policy-makers that Iraq has the best interests of the U.S. at heart, and in particular the best interests of the 0.00001 percent of the U.S. that owns an AEI card. The ingratitude of the Iraqis must painfully remind these people of other betrayals that strew the path of the meritocratic - like that trusted maid one caught rummaging in the medicine cabinet, pilfering those very expensive mood changing pills. How could she? And just as we gave that made the best hand me down toys and clothes for her squalling brats, in truth, we had given the Iraqis the best of hand me down constitutions -- we trained their savage young men in the best policing techniques, though we did have to laugh behind our hands about how new it all was to them - and we are all about training up an army for them. But of course they know nothing, and in the end you can’t turn your backs on these people.

And so the disappointments of that cadre of people like the eager State department boy have mounted, until we have polite articles in the Sunday NYT debating the pros and cons of Sunni genocide – should we kill one million, or maybe three? The memos, as we know, have been emanating from the V.P.’s office. These articles that are conveniently right next to blasts at the President of Iran for threatening to wipe out Israel, so that we can get the full flavor of the moral arrogance on hand here, a moral arrogance inseparable from the passion for ascendancy.

That passion, we think, is going to get a good and stout fucking in the next year.


Brian said…
Wow. Just wow, roger
Anonymous said…
Thanks for pointing to the Danner piece and for the added perspective. Challenging and enriching.

I asked my 35 yoa family man neighbor yesterday, "Is life enriching?" He immediately answered, "Life? No."

He answered so fast it made me laugh. Merry Christmas.