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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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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March 27, 2003