The Empire Slayer
By Bernard Chazelle
24 January, 2007
If you fancy losing an argument,
try shooting down my contention that Mikhail Gorbachev is the leading
historical figure of our time. Not one to miss a shooting opportunity,
Dick Cheney tried. To my surprise, he won.
Westerners fondly remember
Gorbachev for finishing off an ailing Soviet empire left bleeding from
its Afghan travails. Defusing half a century of nuclear tension can
leave a mark on impressionable minds. On Cheney's—not so much.
The former Defense Secretary had a tender spot for the Cold War and
never forgave Gorbachev for ending it with not even a kind word for
defense contractors. Cheney is the quintessential warrior, with plenty
of dead quails and birdshot-peppered lawyers to prove it. He is the
gallant hussar—one day greenlighting “Shock and Awe”
to give Guernica a second chance; the next day apprising US Senator
Pat Leahy of his favorite sexual technique: “Fuck yourself ! ”
(1) Quite the martial wag, the man Maureen Dowd calls Big-Time Dick
saluted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 by persuading his boss to
invade Panama (for reasons no one seems able to remember). And today
it is anybody's guess which Caribbean island the United States will
invade to celebrate its victory in Iraq.
Dick Cheney is a man of war,
and a man on a mission: a crusader who won't rest until the name Bush
Jr is etched in the history books—not lost in the microscopic
print of the endnotes section, mind you, as is destined to be Senior's
fate, but glowing in the radiant typeface of a chapter heading. That
mission, for once, is all but accomplished. In January of 2001, George
W. Bush took—er, grabbed—the reins of an American Empire
at its zenith. He will soon hand back a smoldering wreckage of broken
lives, enduring hatred, and vanished influence. Michael Ignatieff has
called Pax Americana Empire Lite. (2) A better phrase would be Empire
Short-Lived, or, if you're William F. Buckley Jr and the vernacular
ruffles your literary feathers, Imperium Brevissimum. At a recent ceremony
for his son Jeb, George H. W. Bush was caught on national television
sobbing uncontrollably. Pity the man who stands one short letter away
from the worst president in US history. The letter is H, as in H for
“We're winning! ”
exulted Bush last October. (3) Well... actually, “We're not winning,”
he clarified a few weeks later, but “We're not losing” either.
(4) So “We're wosing,” quipped the Guardian's cartoonist
Steve Bell. Indeed, we are; and for you, Mr President, I shall count
the wosing ways.
Somewhere, deep in the cold,
worm-infested soil that a mother will keep watered by tears, lies one
of 3,000 young Americans. (5) Dispersed across the land, thousands more
will forever carry the scars of war in their battered bodies and hollowed
souls, mutants battling hellish shadows and silent phantoms. And the
Iraqis, yes those, Mr President, see them spiral into Dante's lower
rings of hell, as they join the fastest-growing sect in the land: the
dead—hundreds of thousands strong. (6) Watch the White Man's Burden
devolve into an orgy of torture and mayhem. (Has it ever devolved into
The words Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo,
detainee bill, and extraordinary rendition are seared in the world's
consciousness as the badges of shame of a democracy gone mad. According
to Pew's most recent “Global Opinion” survey, “anti-Americanism
is deeper and broader now than at any time in modern history.”
(7) The war effort's claim on the US treasury will soon exceed $600
billion: more than Vietnam; (4) more than all the money ever spent on
cancer research; (8) more than enough to “race for the cure”
all the way to Alpha Centauri. We're wosing big, Mr President.
Historians will ponder how
one gangly caveman and nineteen scrawny associates turned America into
the land of the kind-of-free (53rd freest press in the world, tied with
Botswana (9)) and the home of the petrified. The sons and daughters
of the nation that stood up to Hitler and Tojo now file through airport
security barefoot, much as they would walk, shoeless, into a mosque—a
mosque, they pray, empty of Muslims.
Cravenness is bigotry's favorite
nourishment, and cynics might expect the political class to gorge on
it by blaming our imperial agony on the natives. In America, today,
cynics rarely go wrong; and the air, indeed, is thick with talk of fainthearted
hordes of Mesopotamian ingrates, who quail at the latest bombing and
wail at the moon in exotic garb.
Not long ago, the achingly
earnest Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist whose only sin
is to be more virtuous than you—and keep you informed of this
in each and every one of his bromidic columns—reassured his readers
that the trouble is not with the Muslims but with the Arabs. They are
too violent and they give Islam a bad name. (10) Well, that settles
that. Funny, though, that in the last twenty years Americans have outkilled
Arabs in a ratio in excess of one hundred to one. But there I go again,
nitpicking, while Saint Kristof is back in Cambodia, rescuing teenage
prostitutes one Pulitzer prize at a time.
Not to be undone, The Times'
resident flat-earther, Thomas L. Friedman, never tires of recycling
Golda Meir's racist rant about hateful Arabs. He writes:
“We can't keep asking
Americans to sacrifice their children for people who hate each other
more than they love their own children.” (11)
The hate-lovers never asked
for anybody's sacrifice, Mr Friedman. To steal a thought from the heroic
Robert Fisk, all they ever craved was the one freedom you've always
refused to grant them: freedom from you! The Washington Post columnist
Richard Cohen, a man who's never met a heap of moral compost he did
not want to climb, wrote recently that “the prudent use of violence
[against Muslims] could be therapeutic.” (12) Being a kind soul,
I'll assume that Cohen is unaware of the ideological pedigree of that
phrase and that he doesn't read what he writes—apparently, a skill
highly prized in American punditry.
To talk the neocolonial talk
from the plush comfort of the imperial capital is easy. To walk the
walk is not. US military expenditures exceed those of all nations on
earth combined. And yet battling a ragtag band of lightly armed insurgents
was more than the world's mightiest army could take. It is “about
broken,” laments Colin Powell—and, by the way, “We
are losing.” (13) A recent Marine Corps memo concedes that Coalition
Forces “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency
in al-Anbar. ” (14) Last summer's stabilization push in Baghdad,
Operation Together Forward II, proved a dismal failure: the violence
actually rose by 43 percent! (15)
The US military has been
fighting in Iraq longer than it did in World War II. What does it have
to show for it? Not much. Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is a country-wide killing
field, one giant Sniper Alley where sporting the Stars and Stripes can
get you killed any time, anywhere. Not a square inch of Iraqi soil is
safe for the Americans outside the high walls of their fortresses. To
borrow from Cheney's vast repertoire of bons mots, the US counterinsurgency
is in its last throes; hence the “surge” and kindred shows
of desperation. Israel's finest military historian, Martin van Creveld,
does not mince words: “The American military have proved totally
incompetent.” (16) In Iraq, the world's sole superpower has been
the world's serial superbungler. (I've always wondered if the trope
of the “sole superpower” serves any purpose other than teaching
us how thin the line is between the sublime and the farcical.)
Whose fault? (The wrong question
for a moral perspective—starting the war was the sin, not losing
it—but the right one here.) Breathtaking as they were, the majestic
vistas of Rumsfeld's ineptitude were little more than a convenient excuse
for war advocates with egg on their faces. The grand whining parade
has already begun, and mealy-mouthed apologists are being wheeled in
on bloated floats to proffer lame excuses about inadequate troop levels,
insufficient 4GW training, political fecklessness, etc. Eventually,
the chest beating will die down as it always does, with the blame for
the debacle pinned on the dirty antiwar hippies.
But hippies don't fight wars.
The Pentagon does. It did, and it lost. One reason—not even the
most important—is the military's endemic inability to win hearts
and minds. Early in the war, the Guardian sounded the alarm:
“Senior British military
officers on the ground are making it clear they are dismayed by the
failure of US troops to try to fight the battle for hearts and minds.
They also made plain they are appalled by reports over the weekend that
US marines killed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, as
they seized bridges outside Nassiriya in southern Iraq.” (17)
The emphasis on force protection is a far cry from past imperial practices.
The Romans, Spaniards, British, French, and conquerors of yore seldom
agonized over their own casualties. To their credit, Americans do. But
this comes at a moral cost: US soldiers are brave but the casualty-averse
military doctrine of their commanders is cowardly. That, in essence,
is what Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy, and Bill Maher said—right
before the lynching began. (18—20) In a similar show of disgust
diplomatically stripped of the C-word, this British officer echoed the
“US troops have the
attitude of shoot first and ask questions later. They simply won't take
any risk... Unfortunately, when we explained our rules of engagement
which are based around the principle of minimum force, the US troops
just laughed.” (21)
Lebanon and Somalia notwithstanding, the United States rarely cuts and
runs. It did not in Vietnam. It fought to the death—of the other
guy—and then cut and walked when victory proved elusive. Iraq
is too central to US hegemonic fantasies to allow a speedy retreat:
it'll be done cut-and-crawl style, with enough pit stops to admire the
fireworks over Iran. Bush's playbook: (1) run out the clock; (2) anoint
successor as “the dope who snatched defeat out of the jaws of
victory and handed Iran the victor's crown”; (3) let the etching
in the history books begin.
Could the invasion have succeeded?
Not a chance. All the grousing about incompetent planning is the age-old
excuse-making prattle of losers. Leave aside the not-so-trifling fact
that the United States never had the proper DNA for empire (lite or
otherwise). It is the incontrovertible reality of the 21st century that
the time for the White Man's Burden has passed. Not only is the era
of empire gone, but the days of the so-called liberal hegemonic order
are numbered. Even before 9/11, the cumulative impact of European integration,
the rise of Asian powers, and the resurgence of Muslim identity sounded
the death knell for American hegemony. To hasten the burial will be
one of Bush's legacies. Alas, incalculable misery in the Middle East,
enduring anti-American hatred, and future terrorist attacks in London,
Paris, and Seattle will be another one.
The same Madeleine Albright
who called the United States “the indispensable nation”—presumably
to avoid confusion with the dispensable ones—taunted Colin Powell
with the wickedest double-entendre since Mae West: “What's the
point of having this superb military you're always talking about if
we can't use it? ” (22) To paraphrase an old line, it is better
for a big country to keep its superb army idle and let the world think
it's not much of a superpower than to use it and remove all doubt.
Bush's neoconservative doctrine
seeks to apply Straussian philosophy to the unfettered pursuit of US
energy interests. Its unspoken motto: “perpetual war for perpetual
peace.” The rough idea—and the idea is, indeed, rough—is
to play this century's Great Game (first prize: control of Mideast oil
supply) under the banner of national security. Until we whacked them
on the head, Iraqis had never expressed much desire to attack us. To
the lesser minds, therefore, the idea of fighting them there so we wouldn't
have to fight them here always teetered on the edge of insanity. To
the neocons' delight, 9/11 came to cleanse the public discourse of the
yelpings of lesser minds.
And so, today, we gather
to honor the superior minds, all of these men (they are mostly men)
who so decisively turned out the lights on the American empire. Heading
the roll call is none other than the Decider himself. If you're among
the wise who chose to sit out the Bush years at the bottom of a well,
you need to know only two things about the man: the first is that he
is President of the United States; the second is that he said:
“One of the hardest
parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” (23)
To connect it to the war for terror would indeed be easier. A self-declared
uniter, Bush is beginning to unite the country around the belief that
he is the worst president in US history. (24) Whether his reelection,
ipso facto, makes the electorate the dumbest ever is a logical inference
that a political culture drunk with self-admiration will have trouble
getting its woozy head around.
To call Team Bush a thundering
herd of galloping loons is to be unnecessarily kind. For rarely has
daftness been elevated to such a lofty plane of power and influence.
The early days of the Iraq adventure set the tone. A year after Defense
strategist Ken Adelman infamously called the coming liberation of Iraq
a “cakewalk,” Paul Wolfowitz, then Rumsfeld's deputy, used
the occasion of an interview with NPR's Melissa Block to stamp the prediction
with the Pentagon's gold seal.
“We're seeing today
how much the people of Poland and Central and Eastern Europe appreciate
what the United States did to help liberate them from the tyranny of
the Soviet Union. I think you're going to see even more of that sentiment
in Iraq. There's not going to be the hostility that you described Saturday.
There simply won't be.” (25)
Hostility? What an idea! On the eve of the war, in a vice presidential
reprise of Tom Cruise's couch-hopping antics, Cheney stepped on the
set of NBC's “Meet The Press” to share the love: “We
will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” (26) For a mere $44
billion a year,(27) all we got from US intelligence was a silly update
of an old movie script:
Renault: And what in Heaven's
name brought you to Baghdad?
Bush: The sweets and the flowers. I came to Baghdad for love.
Renault: Love! What love? We're in the Middle East.
Bush: I was misinformed.
Christmas 2003 came early
in Iraq and WMD-stuffed stockings were spotted everywhere by late March.
Or so Rumsfeld told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos: “We know
where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east,
west, south and north somewhat.” (28) East, west, south and nowhere
somewhat. In September of that year, the part-time AEI scholar, full-time
slimeball Richard Perle got all his neurons firing at once to produce
this marvel of crystal gazing:
“And a year from now,
I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad
that is named after President Bush.” (29)
Or perhaps some grand morgue? Which naturally leads us to the 600-billion
dollar question: where did they find these people? The answer: in that
dank rodent house known as the American Enterprise Institute. Often
found gnawing on the chicken wire, the rabid ferret Michael Ledeen needs
no cage rattling to work himself into a froth of hysteria:
“Every ten years or
so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country
and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”
In their knockoff of Mein Kampf, retitled An End to Evil, Richard Perle
and former Bush speechwriter David Frum give voice to their full-blown
dementia by recommending all-out attacks on anybody ever so slightly
Muslim. Why? Because “There is no middle way for Americans: It
is victory or holocaust.” (31) Salon's Gary Kamiya calls the Perle-Frum
worldview “a strange combination of Hobbes and Popeye.”
(32) Harsh on Popeye. Me, I have no patience for moral midgets who've
seen their Napoleonic hour arrive. Like Alexander in Gordium, I head
straight for the deliciously obvious: to end evil, end Perle and Frum.
The American Enterprise Institute
serves to mitigate the most glaring defects of our democracy. Take the
current escalation in Iraq, for example. President Bush alone grasps
the full cosmic immensity of its wisdom, even calling the idea a “surge”
to convey its irresistibility. Alas, the Forces of Darkness, aka the
Pentagon, the Congress, and the American public, will have none of it.
Enter the AEI and its paunchy, double-chinned warmonger, Frederick W.
Kagan. Faster than a chickenhawk can flap its wings, Kagan demothballs
his fave retired general, Jack Keane, and whips up The Surge. Voilà.
Rasputin would be proud.
It would be unfair to let
Team Bush steal all the credit for the imperial collapse without a tip
of the hat to the White House Dictation Office, also known as the mainstream
media (MSM). Skipping right over the miniskirted hyena Ann Coulter (a
risky stunt but I've got my spiked pogo shoes on), the oafish junkie
Rush Limbaugh, and the assortment of one-trick performing fleas hopping
mad on the AM dial, I shall ascend Mount Olympus to gaze at the brainy
stars of the MSM.
Few shine more brightly than
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the supernova of the Murdoch empire—unless
red dwarf is a tighter cosmic fit for someone known to his friends and
pet hamster as “Dan Quayle's brain.” The day after the 9/11
attacks, the surrogate brain seized the moment and began pounding the
war drums: “There's a fair amount of evidence that Iraq had very
close associations with Osama bin Laden in the past.” (33) There
was not a shred of evidence. A year later, Kristol nuzzled up to The
New Republic's Lawrence F. Kaplan to break into a cakewalk jig on the
National Review dance floor: “Having defeated and then occupied
Iraq, democratizing the country should not be too tall an order for
the world's sole superpower.” (34) Brilliance of this magnitude
is Kristol's trademark. Time magazine took longer than most to realize
that and only this month got around to adding Kristol to its roster
Two influential Canadians
with a nasty case of empire envy, Mark Steyn and Michael Ignatieff pulpiteered
the good news—one from his stool at the Chicago Sun-Times, the
other from his booster seat at the Harvard Kennedy School. From Steyn
we learned that “Imperialism is the answer” (35) and from
Ignatieff that “The case for empire is that it has become, in
a place like Iraq, the last hope for democracy and stability alike.”
(2) (I don't know about you, but the dazzling acumen of the expert never
fails to give me goosebumps!) Former TNR editor Andrew Sullivan, another
heavy smoker of the imperialist's hookah pipe, found his knees wobbly
after 9/11 and his left flank badly exposed: “The decadent Left
in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may well mount what
amounts to a fifth column.” (36)
Of course, no account of
MSM malfeasance would be fitting without at least a passing glance at
the yapping chihuahuas. Newsweek's Howard Fineman woofed a few choice
words of his own: “We had controversial wars that divided the
country. This war united the country and brought the military back.”
(37) Well said, Howard. His colleague Chris Matthews yaks at such vertiginous
speeds that his brain emits exotic particles of synchrotronic quirkiness.
One month into the war, he blurted out, “We're all neocons now.”
A few weeks later, Matthews highlighted a side of war that too often
gets short shrift: what great, clean fun it is! “Check it out.
The women like this war! I think we like having a hero as our president.”
(37) Must a TV show be pornographic just because it's called “Hardball”?
The war has given the American
mainstream media a brilliant opportunity to prove its essential worthlessness.
It has shown itself to be little more than a circus of entertainers
and cheerleaders for whom every season is the silly season. Tragically,
the media has failed in its sacred duty to keep a vigilant, skeptical,
critical eye on the centers of power. Who is the American Robert Fisk,
Gideon Levy, or Amira Hass? Whoever they are (and Sy Hersh proves they
exist), why are their writings not filling the op-ed pages of the great
American newspapers? How can the nation that produces the bulk of Nobel
prize winners be stuck with such a sullen bunch of journalistic mediocrities?
The sycophantic enablers of the Fourth Estate have blood on their hands.
The unfolding catastrophe
in Iraq had a single cause: the reassertion of US hegemony after 9/11.
Its trigger was a rare astral alignment. Big Oil, the neocons, the Christian
fundamentalists, the liberal hawks, AIPAC, the MSM, and 9/11 all formed
cosmic dots in the sky that only one power could—and did—successfully
align: the president of the United States. No American leader has so
much owned a war.
And none has so little owned
up to it. Victors are never war criminals. That's because they get to
write the history books. Bush won't have that chance. The die has been
cast and the hour is too late for him or anyone to alter the unforgiving
judgment of posterity. Therein, paradoxically, lies our quandary. For,
if freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, then Bush
is a free man—free to pursue the most malignant policies, heedless
of the consequences to his unworsenable presidential standing. Beware
the desperation of a cornered man.
The apostle of imperial dominance,
Bush slew the “last empire.” The towering figure of our
time, he is a piteously small man. The self-anointed emissary of a “higher
father,” he is servant to no power but himself. The captain of
the sinking ship has laid his command upon his fellow Americans: “Ask
not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for me.”
No sacrifice of life shall be too great, no damage to civil liberties
too high, no expenses too vast for a vainglorious man deluded by fantastic
dreams of redemption by force.
But who besides the bereaved
will mourn? Who besides the orphan will whimper? Who besides the humiliated
will stare back? Who besides the thugs and the craven will lead? Patriotism
is a lovely thing. In its name, some go dying by the side of an Iraqi
road in twitching agony; others go shopping in oversized automobiles
festooned with yellow ribbons. We all play our part—and nobody
Yeats bemoaned an era when
the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were full of passionate
intensity. Today, Kristol blusters and hectors, Cheney scolds and forebodes,
Bush struts and smirks. Meanwhile, the giant, timid chorus listens politely
to the deafening silence of the outraged—and the mad march of
war goes on.
Dismisses Critic With Obscenity, by Helen Dewar and Dana
Milbank, Washington Post, June 25, 2004.
Empire Is an Empire Lite, by Michael Ignatieff, The New
York Times, Jan. 10, 2003.
Conference by the President, The White House, Oct. 25,
Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time, by Peter
Baker, The Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2006.
in Iraq, CNN, 2006.
Human Cost of the War in Iraq, by G. Burnham, S. Doocy,
E. Dzeng, R. Lafta, L. Roberts, Lancet, 2006.
Opinion: The Spread of Anti-Americanism, Pew Global Attitudes
Project, Jan. 24, 2005.
Research Funding, National Cancer Institute, May 19, 2006.
Press Freedom Index 2006, Reporters Without Borders, 2006.
Muslim Stereotype, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York
Times (firewalled original), Dec. 10, 2006.
Insurgency Out, Anarchy In, by Thomas L. Friedman, The
New York Times (firewalled original), June 2, 2006.
Lingo Of Vietnam, by Richard Cohen, The Washington Post,
Nov. 21, 2006.
Says U.S. Losing in Iraq, Calls for Drawdown by Mid-2007,
by Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, Dec. 18, 2006.
Picture Grows Clearer, and Bleaker, by Dafna Linzer and
Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, Nov. 28, 2006.
Iraq Study Group Report, by James A. Baker, III and Lee
H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, United States Institute of Peace, 2006.
to the Abyss, by Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, Dec. 6,
divided over battle for hearts and minds, by Richard Norton-Taylor
and Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, Apr. 1, 2003.
Talk of the Town, by Susan Sontag, The New Yorker, Sept.
Most Cowardly War in History, by Arundhati Roy, Global
Research, June 28, 2005.
US troops ‘will keep us in Iraq for years’,
by Sean Rayment, Telegraph, May 15, 2005.
War, by Walter Isaacson, Time, May 9, 1999.
‘We Don't Torture’, CBS News, Sept. 6, 2006.
The Worst Ever, by Eric Foner, The Washington Post, Dec.
States Department of Defense, by Deputy Secretary of Defense
Paul Wolfowitz, Feb. 19, 2003.
Tone Ended With War, by Dana Milbank, The Washington Post,
March 29, 2003.
Official Reveals Budget for U.S. Intelligence, by Scott
Shane, The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2006.
States Department of Defense, by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, March 30, 2003.
at the Crossroads, by Richard Perle, Sept. 22, 2003.
Delenda Est, Part Two, by Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Online, April 23, 2002.
End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, by David Frum
and Richard Perle, Random House (excerpt), Dec. 2003.
End to Evil” by David Frum and Richard Perle, by
Gary Kamiya, Salon, Jan. 30, 2004.
War, Too, by Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect, Sept.
In, by Lawrence Kaplan and Bill Kristol, National Review
Online, Feb. 24, 2003.
is the Answer, by Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 14,
British View of the US Post-September 11, by Andrew Sullivan,
The London Times, Oct. 15, 2001.
Final Word Is Hooray!’, FAIR, March 15, 2006.
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