Let’s twist again, like we did last summer
Let’s twist again, like we did last year
–Chubby Checker, Let’s Twist Again
To understand the madness of our entanglement in Iraq, I find it helps to reject out of hand everything the administration says and continually remind yourself that the point of the occupation is the occupation. For all of its alternating justifications and serial failure, what we have is less a war seeking resolution than a committed government enterprise experiencing cost overruns.
The administration has shown admirable resourcefulness in utilizing its very failures to obscure and further, even now, its intentions. But no matter how much our might has degraded our sense of national responsibility, I suspect that to operate on the premise that regardless of everything we must remain in Iraq to prevent the consequences of our invading Iraq, while refusing to impeach those responsible for this deadly chain of causality, indeed, while so much as an apology to the people of Iraq is absolutely out of the question, a notion for marginal cranks, must come with its own unanticipated consequences.
The prospect of losing Iraq’s oil to nationalization under a hostile government allied with a strengthened Iran was no more anticipated than the need for 150,000 besieged troops five years on–to maintain what at this point was supposed to be a fraction of that number, welcome and paid for out of Iraq’s properly developed oil reserves. Still we behave as if the failure of the administration’s designs are evidence they never existed. Where then is all this oil, some have asked straight-faced.
But its failures only reveal the administration’s Iraq project as a hopeless gambit mistaken for a sure thing. This crime, of incompetence, too goes unpunished. A nation that produces and accepts this can be described as neither just in its relations with others nor sensibly self-regarding. But the faithful denial of these things is a requirement of public office or stature in the media. We have made a religion of the evasion of responsibility.
The pretences of the war have fallen away one by one, like the insubstantial bunting they were, but our purpose in Iraq is revealed by precisely where it is we will not allow tribes to defy the government, in contrast to our arming and encouragement of Sunni insurgents elsewhere: in Basra, the prize within the prize that is Iraq’s oil. But in this our first postmodern war, the pretences just keep presenting themselves anew, failure is construed as success and the public lives at one ironic remove from reality. A war of plunder is just so obvious.
If we truly sought “political reconciliation” and mere “stability” we would, obviously, be attempting to reconcile Muktada al-Sadr, as a leader with popular legitimacy who has demonstrated political competence and even a good deal of helpful restraint, with his Shia adversaries within the government. Despite the habitual characterization of al-Sadr as a violent agent of Iran’s mullahs what actually distinguishes him from those we ally with is his categorical rejection of an American presence. If we were seeking simply reconciliation our work would be much easier, and Iran’s role would be welcome and encouraged. Our lies carry as much truth as they can bear; we seek a political accommodation alright, but it must serve our ends. We are submitting Iraq to a peculiarly American absurdity, the “conversation”; as in, we’re going to have a “conversation” until you come around to my point of view, even if it kills us (think of our occasional “national conversation about race”).
This year, like the last time General Petraeus testified before Congress, the deliberately provocative charge of American blood on Iranian hands was leveled, when Senator Lieberman’s helpful reach-around prompted General Petraeus to enthuse that, yes, Iran may be indirectly responsible for “hundreds” of US casualties. Moments later he would celebrate our erstwhile mortal enemies among the Sunni, their responsibility for thousands of American deaths, unlike the circumstances of Iran’s “proxy war”, direct and well-documented.
The assumption that, despite the grave moral error of invading and destroying Iraq, America retains objective moral legitimacy there while Iran, despite sharing a border and recent war with Iraq, categorically has none, reveals a disturbing inability to think morally or coherently about the United States abroad. That the public has gone beyond unwilling to become quite unable to recognize this grand moral contradiction and its immense consequences betray us as a people degenerating into catastrophic self-delusion.