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IRAQ- Some Impressions on the Invasion

So strange and eerie how it has all passed, now, almost a memory. The evil dictator is gone but the problems of building democracy in Iraq, remain. Did America prove that the rest of the world is irrelevant? No, not necessarily. But, the judgment of the rest of the world is tainted by theocratic beliefs or totalitarian beliefs of one sort of another. The minds of many intellectuals wanted massive cries of revenge from the masses in the Middle-East.

While a good and decent person can have questions about the war, the same good and decent person must be able to look at facts and at the truth of the modern world and conclude that his or her government has operated tolerably well. As long, that is, as the "war on terrorism" is a legitimate war. As long as dedicated people have the desire and seek the ability to wipe out a few cities or paralyze them, to take one piece of evidence. We know what they are capable of when left alone with their seething hatreds. When all is said and done we may recognize that the terrorist depended on surprise and the slap-on-the-wrist that had been administered previously for several decades. And once the element of surprise was over and the American government treated them as enemies in a war, then they vaporized under the pressure. The jury is still out.

The problem President Bush has is in the embarrassment over the lack of "weapons of mass destruction." How can any new grand pronouncement about Iran or any other country be taken seriously? We are at the moment when America made the fatal decision to go full-speed into Vietnam, based on intelligence reports that were deeply flawed. That is, the lie about the Tonkin Gulf incident. President Johnson's, "credibility gap," harmed his chances of making his case to the people. When government is not truthful, it loses the heart and mind of the people. It sows the seeds of its own destruction. People who would harm the US always make the government out to be a lying beast for that very reason. Well, we know the government is not truthful all the time, but it is not always wrong. If its untruth, however, leads the nation down a path of waste, in lives and money, in prestige and global friendship, then it loses the hearts and minds of the good people and condemns culture to its wholesale slaughter which we witnessed in the 70's.

There will come a time when we are, as they say in the Bible, "sorely tested."

Democracy is proven through the dignity of the people. Without dignity, without substantial meaning in the people, democracy is a charade commanded by the criminal element in a society. Can men and women stand up and speak their minds? Can they choose their employment? Can they develop as they please? Can they ignore any idiocy that is thrown in their face from official government or the commercial system? These are a few of the tests of a democracy.

Dignity says, primarily, "you are a free person, go and make it a reality, and join with your brothers and sisters who, too, have made their freedom a great reality."

Posted May 29, 2003

We, who are builders, do not like to see destruction. And we do not fear the destroyers. But the impulse is to build and create, even a city, through the vitality of the people.

And don't we build and create a feeling for a nation? For our nation, where our forefathers came over 400 years ago? And isn't that feeling destroyed as well as created? And we assert that the best in ourselves come through the constructive principles, whether it is a piece of art or a nation.

The question goes beyond agreement or disagreement. It goes to the heart of what a nation is, and how it lives in the hearts and minds of the people.

And we assert that if 99% of the people are for destruction we will be with the tiny 1% that asserts the creative, constructive principle. It is our freedom. And this is the freedom we live and die for. None other.

Some things we have seen and not seen: While there was not the outbreak of Americanism in Iraq, neither was there a great outbreak of anti-Americanism. My feeling was that Baghdad would be defended by the civilian population, almost all of whom have guns. That didn't happen, thankfully. The outcome was almost perfect for the Bush Administration. I'm not convinced it was a perfect outcome for the United States but the jury is still out. My concern is that these things have happened before. The British Empire went into the Middle-East, with some of the same rationalizations and created some of the havoc that plays in the region today. And, Britain is not exactly a great power these days.

The one anomaly are the "weapons of mass destruction." We see a fascinating shift of American strategy from western Europe to eastern Europe, pointing at the Middle-East and Caspian Sea area.

The Hussein government was that classic combination of true believers who have no opposition; no checks and balances and fated to the types of corruption evident before the war.

As we've stated before, America is the only power in the world who can afford to be prudent and wise. We need to mend some fences while ignoring a lot of the vicious hatred that is promulgated by a variety of potentates.

No one seems upset that the charge of Iraq possessing "weapons of mass destruction," was erroneous, yet, was the pretext for entering the country.

If Hussein viewed his biological weapons as gold, wouldn't he store a cache that he could take with him in exile? It would have happened in a Bond movie and, by the way, we are living in a Bond movie. Or, do we forget the small nuclear device that was to blow up Fort Knox by the evil Goldfinger? I say that as a tribute to the Ian Fleming novels I read when I was an impressionable 12 year-old.

To the Entertainment Class: Don't let this opportunity pass you by. America is exactly where, (1) Greece after Alexander the Great, (2) Rome (3) Islam (4) Western Europe from 1500-1950 were at different moments. That is, at the moment when the creative mind flourished. It comes and then it goes. It has arrived in America and it will go, at some point. Every ignorant Entertainer needs to study these civilizations and what they produced when they were top dog.

P.S. The academics will steer you in the wrong direction.

Posted May 11, 2003

The President counts. His perspective makes history. It is a perspective that is held accountable every four years and one that is always being checked throughout the system. Only one man plays that role. I, however, as a citizen have other roles to play, much less dramatic of course but of significance in its own way. I can, for instance, take the perspective of the Iraqi citizen who suffers both Hussein and coalition bombs and say, from his point of view, the world is a hell that neither the US nor anyone else can solve. Then again, I can take the perspective of some historian in the future who is looking at the very beginning of the 21st Century for clues as to how things got to the point they did, later in the 21st Century. And I can simply take the perspective of the honest, free citizen who ignores the braying on the left and right and attempts to assess "what is going on."

The central question, for Americans, is this: How deadly is the threat of terrorism? The answer to that clears up the moves into the Middle-East since September 11th. It is very evident that the Bush Administration believes it's in a war. And they have decided to strike boldly where the enemy is rather than waiting for something to happen. This is the crux of the matter.

I agree with those who believe American intentions, for the most part, are benign. I don't think it should be exhalant, however. Arrogance would lead to this scenario: Mexico is sending too many illegal immigrants over the border and that it is creating a lot of instability. Not only that, the Mexican government is a bad one, inefficient and corrupt, with ties to drug cartels. Therefore, in order to protect our vital national interests, we will mount a campaign similar to Iraq under the flag of, "giving Mexico back to the people..." This is why it is crucial to understand the exact nature of our mission in Iraq and our intentions in foreign policy. I, as a free citizen, am confused a bit.

The Bush Administration would be in a better position if it had said, "The war in Iraq is part of the war on terrorism. Once Iraq is secure we will be able to monitor other states like Syria, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, as well as the terrorist networks. In war, you bring whatever competitive advantage you have to the table...." A skeptical person would say that "rebuilding Iraq" is merely a ploy to keep American presence in that region for military and intelligence operations. In fact, most Arabs believe that is the case. But then, if we are in a war on terrorism, isn't it the smartest thing to do?

In the end, I think American policy will win out because it will be seen that the market-driven, democratic country, connected to the secular West in trade, science, and technology, is superior to the medieval states that exist there today. Should it be standard practice though? Given some of the gruesome facts of the world I have grave doubts.

It is no fluke that America attacked a socialist nation and that the name of Russia keeps popping up. American leadership assumes that socialism is dead as a political rival and has nothing to fear from it.

There's hardly been a time in history when power has not been reviled. America has an opportunity to establish new forms of power that signal a new epoch on the planet. In many ways it has already demonstrated that through the Marshall Plan, Peace Corps, billions in foreign aid, defeat of nazism and communism, adventure into space, among some of the instances of a benign use of its power.

From the perspective of a person of the old world, either in Europe or the Middle-East, America looks like an alien force that has landed on the otherside of the globe and built a stupendous economy and military with a privileged citizenry who live life as though there are no problems: Who look like the other humans on the planet except they laugh too much and are in love with guns. They do not feel the sting of generations of conflict or theocracy or military dictatorship. It's really the same perspective of old residents of a city who resent gentrification. Or, the classic conflict between the poor who look with jealousy of the rich and with hatred at the police who they always view as acting on behalf of the wealthy.

It's an unavoidable perspective with thousands of cameras on the surface of the planet. The perspective, however, is narrow-minded because the right thing to do would be to study the United States and try to understand how it produces such a strong and stable nation. And then apply those to one's own land. Wise leaders would do this. We are discovering how corrupt the Hussein government was. And any truthful investigation of other middle-eastern governments would reveal much of the same.

Poor Europe must have nightmares about the transformation of history they have witnessed in a short period of time. And they know, better than anyone, that history flows in one direction. Rome never regains its powers. Egypt never flourishes again. So, the bitterness on that end is palpable.

The attack on Iraq was not a rogue one but it makes it absolutely necessary for the Bush Administration to define the nature of its goals in foreign policy.

The astounding thing is how opposed the older, World War II generation is to this conflict. It speaks to the changes that occur in a generation as well as how pessimistic people get as they age. I keep hearing, "This is not the America I grew up in..." It indicates to me that we are quickly changing from an idealistic culture orientated to change, to one of power, orientated to the status quo we create.

The colleges ended their Latin studies a bit prematurely I think.

Of course, America is not Rome. America possesses at least three qualities that Rome did not have: Democracy, Science, and a belief in Progress. Democracy because the free people are able to organize for their own ends, therefore they have a stake in what's going on. The Romans lost heart when it was apparent that the Empire belonged to a few families. Science gives us a technique to gauge success and failure and change things. Progress lurches the mind forward and treats everything as becoming rather than basking in an Eternal Now or reaching back to some ideal, lost past.

These are the principles that will be put to the test in the 21st Century and will determine whether we live or perish as a nation-state.

Posted April 22, 2003

Ultimately, the people have the wisdom to know when they've been wronged or screwed. This is one reason tyranny always perishes, no matter how much torture, weapons, police intelligence it has. I'm pretty convinced that if you ask the majority of Iraqi people several years from now, "are you, your family, and country better off now than when Hussein was in power?" they will say yes. But, for how long? And all the intelligent warnings I've read have been about the aftermath, not the military engagement itself.

A democracy demands several items: A constitution that spells out the obligations of government. It has to be made so that all the factions have loyalty to it. It needs to institutionalize checks and balances and due process through guaranteed rights. There needs to be enough freedom to produce dynamic opinion that individuates the citizens while making them loyal to the idea of the constitution. It has to produce stable, mediating institutions like political parties, free press, community services, etc. that becomes wholly identified with Iraqi culture.

One could go on I suppose. It needs a strong middle-class since they are the true defenders, as a class, of the constitution. The poor feel it's a sham and the wealthy believe it's their own private document to protect them. The middle-class understands the true power of the document.

Whether some of these things can be implemented in Iraq is a question to think about.

It's important to note, too, that post-Vietnam, America abandoned it's policy of "nation-building." Is there resource, intelligent and otherwise, in the Bush Administration to re-start this policy?

Posted April 11, 2003

War fuels its own belief in its rightness. The generals coolly stand over their maps and calculate the movement of troops and material but the context of war is always madness. The madness within. And the madness is never really transformed; it's always latent and releases, in the words of Shakespeare, "the dogs of war."

Saddam, the tyrant, is gone; no doubt about it. The kill was quick and easy even if he's still alive. He has become irrelevant.

But, the debate over just and unjust wars is a good one, a necessary one, especially now where it looks like America could be involved in more of these types of conflict down the road.

The democratic citizen is caught between two clashing rocks. On the one hand no self-respecting citizen allows him or herself to be bowled over by the government or military and intelligence communities. That occurs in tyrannies not democracies. On the other hand, the citizen has to have a cold and objective view towards the world. And one of the first things he or she has to resolve is that we live in a system of nation-states and are not "one" in any sense of the word, despite the existence of the United Nations.

As people have commented all along, the war will be easy but the peace will be hell. Such is the world we live in today. One thing needed: A universal outpouring of solidarity with the Iraqi people and their suffering.

Posted April 9, 2003

There are plenty of questions that can be raised about the war in Iraq. However, it's rather suspicious that the intellectual community, en masse, have come out automatically against it. This simply makes their arguments predictable and easily dismissed. "Ah yes, the people who desire power, yet possess not a drop of it. How well some of us understand that bitterness!"

It's not criticism that is so rare and needed but truth-seeking. And a person seeking truth would address some questions that might be held obnoxious in the minds of those safely tucked away on college campuses. For instance, the proposition, "Iraq will be a healthier, freer, wealthier, happier nation in the aftermath of this battle." That would be a proposition a truth-seeker would pursue in order to investigate everything that his or her ideology would not permit. Or, the proposition, "What would the world do with Saddam if the United States did not exist?" Or, even, "If a group of people, identified as terrorists and their state sponsors, declare war on another country, can that country defend itself by any means necessary?"

Credibility plays a huge role in deciphering the ideas and opinions of different groups. With the government, one is already skeptical, it is built-in. But, with both the churchmen and the intellectual crowd, a huge dose of skepticism is necessary. We have to throw the comical entertainers in there as well, as representatives of a massively corrupt commercial culture. Truth is, indeed, the first casualty of war.

Posted April 6, 2003

I had an opportunity to hear Bob Woodward lecture in a grand old theater that was filled with over 3,500 people. He had some illuminating things to say about the war effort. For one, he's firmly convinced that this is George Bush's war, not Rumsfeld's or Cheney's. He stated that Bush was transformed by the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. More importantly, when the war plan was written up one of the military objectives was to "bring democracy to Iraq." Woodward emphasized this was a military objective. That's why the war is being conducted in the way it is; with ground troops first, and air support second. The overriding concern is to preserve the integrity of the fascinating and troubled nation.

I have no doubt these are correct assessments. But, it raises the question that has always played heavily in war. In the struggle between political objectives and military objectives, who wins out? In Vietnam, the political objectives were primary and the result was a catastrophe. The problem with embedding a political objective in a military one, is that it presents an opportunity for Hussein to do what he's always intended to do: Bog down coalition forces and let the American people win the war for him. That is a danger. It is unlikely because of the overwhelming advantage to the coalition forces.

Woodward can be a funny guy.

Posted April 2, 2003

As I write this, bombs are destroying portions of the city of Baghdad. Whatever else they say about the precision-bombing, one thing is clear. An attack of this nature does not weaken the resolve of the people, it strengthens it. It's as old as Sumer. I know that if I lived in the outer districts of San Francisco and some foreign power was destroying the City Hall area, I would not be comforted and I would be extremely mistrustful of that power. This is human nature. And it is one of the primary reasons why you never attack unless provoked.

I know of no case where people wanted a foreign army to come in and liberate them. The only exception is when a foreign invader, itself, has taken over the country as was the case in France in 1944. And the case can be made that Hussein is not the legitimate leader and that the people are in a constant state of fear and loathing in regards to him.

All the attack has done has been to turn oppressed, defeated lives into the most meaningful of moments: they are the Defenders of Baghdad. They suddenly realize that if they can hold off and defend their city they will be great heroes throughout the Arab world. They will be remembered through time. Just as in Vietnam, the American government has miscalculated the reaction of the people it's trying to save.

Cops face a similar situation in domestic disputes. The husband and wife are close to killing each other, they have driven each other nuts for years, but when the cops show up, they turn on the cops. I see very little evidence that America is being hailed as a liberator. From the privileged perches of the government and mid-America, we may look like liberators. We can rationalize our action as one of liberation, but, do the people purportedly being liberated? It's too early to tell. Nothing would be better than if the people embraced the American troops as they roll into Baghdad and Hussein's army, looking at their happy comrades, throw down their arms.

There's no more dangerous animal than one defending its own territory.

The fighting in and around Baghdad is going to be fiercer than imagined. This is now the standard report and the American public is being geared to expect it.

Speeding troops up a desert for hundreds of miles, over days and nights, with occasional fire fights with the enemy, do not make for battle-ready troops.

The one justification for the attack is the presence of chemical and biological weapons. They must be found and scrutinized by the independent press, even that strange organization called the United Nations.

Never blame the men and women who fight for their country. It's one of the very strange facts of human nature that we demonize the other soldier when we know, very clearly, that he is us.

The protests are not as compelling as the Vietnam War protests. They seem too politically charged and too pat. I don't see the anti-war protestors addressing the dilemma that Hussein poses and, generally, that terrorism poses.

There is a sense of rightness in overcoming Hussein. There is a sense of rightness, even, is putting the United States smack dab at the center of the Middle-East and yanking the region into the modern age. The argument is over the means to achieve the goal. The Bush Administration will either rise in esteem or collapse horribly as it abandons any plans to structure Iraq towards democracy.

I'm sympathetic to those who say they never choose to live in a dominant world power and are uneasy at the powers it has and the things it must do to remain strong. But, here we are.

War always introduces the "myth of the eternal return." The Nietzchean belief that history is a pattern repeated every generation. We've changed the technology to stimulate our failing imaginations but it is, in the end, only the legions going to the outposts near the Danube to protect the borders. Men slaughtering men. Fire. The Wailing of Women and Children.

Sometimes, not always, I am embarrassed by what I hear from the commentators on TV. They are as ignorant as the people who are running the government. I sense some reckless and pent-up hatred is running through a lot of them. Sometimes they sound just like commentators in a tyranny who speak from fear. In the tyranny it is fear for their life; here it is fear for one's public career.

It is the type of fear that will countenance most anything. Freedom is the pursuit of truth. And the truth can not and should not be compromised by power.

The computer has taken over the battlefield. It reminds me of a claim I heard in the mid-70's. One day, "two warriors will square off in front of computers and simulate a war, the best gamer giving his country a piece of the other's territory or, at least, just compensation." And, indeed, it's very possible that in the future, wars will be fought by robots. It's more likely that will happen, especially if there's a spate of wars involving nuclear devices.

Nonetheless, there is bravery and human skill still involved in the fighting of wars. The soldier, adhering to the conventions of war, is never to be blamed. War is a political decision. The blood is on the hands of political leaders.

But the good citizen is in this dilemma. The President has made his decision. Success will be better than failure. In fact, one could characterize the failure to capture Baghdad and get Hussein as catastrophic. And we don't want this to happen. So, we must witness, be patient, and account for the outcome through political means. President Bush will be held accountable in November of 2004 and the jury is still out. It could be a magnificent victory for him. Or it could be Dienbienphu.

Conflict amazes the future who read about the deeds, the heroism, the awful deaths, the destructive fury human beings are capable of. Our wars, like our art is different than in the past. The Civil War was always explained as the "first modern war," since the rifled bullet, grapeshot, trains used for transport, telegraph, submarine, machine gun, mortar, ironclad, balloons, were all used for the first time on a regular basis. Plus, it was photographed. There is Lincoln in the tent at Antietam looking tall and grim with some farmers house in the background. One could imagine the farmers kids at the high window looking over at the battlefield. And the dead with their mouths slung open. The dead with puffed up bellies and palms turned outward as if saying, "in gods name why?" And the free blackmen burying the dead, digging the graves. The game of baseball is unimaginable without the civil war.

Now we have weapons of mass destruction. We posses, in fact, what mythology gave to the gods: Thunderbolts to destroy the enemies cities; turn them into pillars of salt. Sometimes I imagine that our moral codes were built so that the blueprints for modern weaponry would not be discovered. But, here they are. And we could be in the first century that sees their wide spread use in ways that only evil can fathom at this point.

Humanity has a say in it though and won't tolerate the use of these huge weapons.

At this point it's far more prudent for creative types to pull back, meditate on the nature of the world, world power, American purpose, and one of the more dangerous periods of recent history.

Posted March 28, 2003

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David Eide
copyright 2003
March 27, 2003