I want to follow up on a point I made as an aside in an earlier Post.
The true tragedy – to the extent the word can apply to him – of Bush the Egregious was that he could not really tell the truth about why he invaded Iraq and did all the un-truthy stuff leading up to it.
The American people have never supported the type of Great Power land-grabbing that characterized the late 19th century world scene, as a robustly industrialized Europe-USA began to reach out for chunks of the rest of the planet, and they have never supported the use of their soldiery for that purpose.
Yes, it may seem strange that a citizenry that had just about completed a several-centuries long semi-obliteration of the continent’s native population would be squeamish about going overseas and doing the same thing ‘over there’ that they had been doing ‘over here’. But that just goes to show how Americans – like any human group – can deceive themselves and pull out the ‘moral warning’ wires when they reely reely want something bad enough.
They told themselves – and not without some justification – that they were bringing ‘progress’ and that it was God’s Will (the German soldiery had it inscribed on their uniform belt buckles).
By the 1890s their government had ‘matured’ to the point where it realized that a ‘good’ purpose had to be announced to the citizenry in order to get anything done in an overseas-military-expedition sort of way. Thus the Spanish-American War was publicly characterized as a righteous expedition to bring ‘freedom’ to the Cubans and ‘Christianity’ to the long-Catholic Philippines. And while the attention of the public was fixed on Teddy Roosevelt purportedly leading his small bunch of Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, President McKinley was quietly sending the largest overseas military expedition up to that time – 10,000 troops – to the Philippines, not to liberate them but to replace the Spanish Imperium with an American protectorate strategically placed to support military and commercial expansion into the great potential resource-fields and markets of the doddering Chinese Empire.
That the Filipinos, eager for freedom and liberation, responded to this monstrous chicanery by fighting a protracted jungle resistance that took several years, huge and nasty toil, and many deaths on both sides … was ‘spun’ as merely the result of ‘native intransigence’ in the face of true progress. The natives ‘just didn’t get it’, as might be said in today’s argot.
But what was McKinley to do? As he saw it, it would be worse than imbecile for Washington to sit still and allow the old Great Powers to carve up the last great vulnerable resource-fields of the planet (Arabia’s oil was not yet discovered, nor was America in any need of it, pumping not only her own but everybody else’s out of her own domestic fields.)
So the American public – ‘The People’ as Lincoln had iconized them several decades before on the field at Gettysburg – was fed the pabulum of ‘good and great intentions’ while the government dug into the thick red meat of serious Great Power strategic moves. That the ‘red’ came from blood was not considered of any great consequence – that’s what Life and History required for the achievement of great purposes (the Soviets were late-comers with their dainty imagery about the necessity of breaking some eggs to make an omlette – although they proved fearfully bloody when it came to translating the image into reality).
Along came the Great War: it was stupefying that three of the most significant participants didn’t really need to be in it at all, in terms of formal treaty responsibilities. Great Britain had no obligations in the Russian-French alliance; but her government realized that if the Germans got in and won, her entire strategic scheme for keeping a balance of power in Europe would be shattered and her credibility as a Great Power, as well as her complex web of Imperial commerce itself, would be hugely reduced – and so she dealt herself in.
The United States was not threatened by a possible German victory – she could sell to anybody who had the cash for commerce; surely the Germans would not be invading the United States (although there was, later on, some brouhaha about the Germans supporting the Mexican government in a bid to re-take the Southwest). And the entire Upper Midwest was rather Germanic in its ancestral ties and its sentiment. But Wilson saw that Great Things were afoot and felt deeply that it would be unworthy of a Great Nation to stand aloof. When the Brits and French found themselves near the point of exhaustion on the Western Front, and were desperately calling upon the US for aid, Wilson raised up as a casus belli the deaths of 124 Americans who knowingly booked passage on a ship of a combatant nation – the British Lusitania – even though the German Consulate in New York had taken pains to advertise in the Times that British liners were ‘enemy vessels’ that might be sunk. The public’s deep unease over the novelty of submarines attacking passenger vessels upon which women and children were embarked helped lubricate the grinding rush to war.
The Germans were in an even more complicated position. Since their Austrian cousins were invading Serbia and were not attacked by the Serbs, then Germany technically had no responsibility to become militarily involved. But Berlin saw that Germany, the most robustly developing industrial power in Europe, though land-locked and without any resource-rich colonies to supply her industries, was going to have to square off against the other two great Continental Powers – France and Russia, but especially France – sooner or later, and Great Britain as well, since her Royal Navy (though not her Army) posed a formidable potential obstacle to German expansion into world-class markets.
So for the Germans, it was a matter of: They’re getting stronger while we are now at the height of our powers and can only get weaker or stagnate, so if we must have a fight then sooner is better than later. And Germany dealt herself in.
Fast forward to a much more recent era, though one that now seems – and probably is – as irretrievably gone as the era of the Great War and its world. I speak of the late 1990s in America.
The Beltway mandarins look around the world, and back at America’s position relative to it all. She had won World War 2 not on the ‘power’ of her ideology; ‘freedom’ is a fine and vital concept, but concepts don’t of themselves effect Great Events.
Rather, America had won because of her formidable industrial capacity, her unparalleled ability to grow food, her unique independence in the matter of necessary natural resources, a labor force largely willing to cooperate with management in the demanding project of harnessing all these potentials in order to produce war materiel, and a population sufficiently adult and sturdy to ground the entire massive effort of raising and supporting vast military forces.
By the late 1990s, very little of that capability remained. Her industrial capacity was largely gone – either lost to other now-capable productive nations or outsourced to them; her ability to grow food was still strong, though it was another thing to deliver the product overseas since her merchant marine was a shadow of its former self; she was hugely dependent on foreign sources for oil, long incapable of meeting even her own needs though domestic wells and fields, and hugely indebted to foreign investors for the cash necessary to sustain her economy and domestic government programs; and after decades of denigrating ‘maturity’, iconizing ‘youth’ and ‘victimhood’ and ‘entitlement’ as well as the immature human qualities most desirable in a consumer-oriented society, and with her society fragmented by identity politics and the very foundations of her cultural assumptions ‘deconstructed’ to the point of becoming invertebrate.
America, a serious but discreet assessment might well reveal, was losing power –especially industrial, economic, and cultural – and something was going to have to be done to remedy that. And sooner was better than later, because 1945 wasn’t going to be coming back and the country was slipping farther away from that era of strength.
I am suggesting that any sufficiently clear-eyed government honchos, unburdened by platitude or any sense of morality (which has been declared to be nothing but a ‘private’ matter anyway, according to the Supreme Court), might have started thinking in 1999 or 2000 along the same lines as their long-dead professional counterparts in Berlin had done in 1914.
To wit: it’s not going to be getting any better for us, so if we are going to reverse this slide, it has to be sooner rather than later.
After all, even as Cheney left the Clintonistas in the dust in deploying government pressure to enrich the already-rich, it had to be clear that helping Enron to engorge by rigging the game on the backs of the rate-payers and taxpayers couldn’t go on forever; you were only going to be able to call this ‘economic productivity’ for just so long before you’d incite some sort of ‘unrest’ among the herd of citizens and you’d certainly tap them out at some point in the finite future.
The most competent and ‘serious’ government ‘players’ never believe their own propaganda and don’t make the ‘Scarface’ mistake, getting high on their own ‘product’. The whole racket, the whole game, was already starting to feed on itself, and before long that would become obvious even to the masses too dumb to ‘get it’, and happy-face ‘spin’ would no longer be able to keep enough lipstick on the pig.
The Game had to be Changed, decisively, and sooner rather than later.
Then, suddenly and by stunning coincidence, the entire hugely-expensive and vaunted defense, intelligence, and security apparat of the nation failed in a perfect storm of failure, allowing a gaggle of ‘natives’ armed with box-cutters to successfully carry out their plan to destroy the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and on national television, and with a live, world-wide hook-up.
A wave of public outrage was reinforced and amplified. The military – long weakened in its ground combat sinews by years of assorted political machinations and social experimentation – was still considered more than a match for the rickety government of Afghanistan, where it appeared the plotters’ main support was headquartered. That a rickety government did not of itself mean a rickety nation or a simple military challenge … that did not occur to the already-failure-besotted Beltway; perhaps one of them, among the many so fond of quoting World War Two-era Great Men, even uttered the famous prediction: “You have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down”.
But at that point, then, the ‘resource’ angle kicked into high gear. Afghanistan was surely a legitimate – if not easy – target for some sort of action. But as a colony, protectorate, or source of any useful and necessary resources, it was pretty much useless. Its very existence somewhere in the vicinity of the Eurasian resource fields might, in the last resort, be useful, but beyond that simple geographical given, the place was hardly worth the effort.
Iraq, on the other hand … When viewed through the hard clear prism of resources, that nation provided a much more appetizing picture: lots of oil, an interesting position on the regional chess board, an ‘Arab’ country whose discomfiture would greatly amuse the Israeli Realm – to whom the Beltway had irretrievably indentured itself. And the whole thing could be pulled off under the ready-made cover of liberating a country – as the Greatest Generation had liberated France in the gaudy MGM era of 1944 – from a world-class dictator.
So Sadaam became ‘Hitler’, his targetability further enhanced by the stunningly specious claim that he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (he didn’t, the Israeli Realm – like the North Korean Stalinists – did and do). And, just to nail the coffin lid down securely, a further enhancement was devised: the ruthlessly secularist and modernizing dictator was in full cahoots with the religious fanatics who had pulled off the Twin Towers gambit.
I think that the Beltway – standing perhaps on the shoulders of Lenin and Goebbels – has finally found a way around Abe Lincoln. The Railsplitter had once observed that you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
After 60 years of postwar hegemony and 40 years of ‘advocacy’ politics, the Beltway has finally figured how to change the rules of the game as Lincoln set them: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time with the same piece of frakkery.
BUT if you simply toss up a whole passel of frakkeries – lies, untruths, half-truths, quarter-truths, lunatic fantasies, diabolic perversions of reality, whaaaaaaaatevvvvvvverrrrrrrrrr – then each crapulous chunk will attract the allegiance – or at least the acquiescence – of a fraction of the public, and all those fractions attached to all those crapulous chunks will add up to ‘enough support to call it the will of the American people’.
And if the public – after 60 years of postwar hegemony and 40 years of ‘deconstruction’ and Identity Politics and advocacy spin – no longer has the capacity to examine what is proffered to it, and simply swallows what is shoved at its eager mouth like an infant (and the National Nanny State, even more than the National Security State, requires not ‘citizens’ but ‘children’) then there will be no organized and coherent and cohesive public opposition to stand in the way of the Great Game and its Great Gamers.
So back to Bush the Egregious: he couldn’t simply face the American Citizenry and tell it like is: Mah fellow and sistah Amerikums, we are running out of evahthing that makes our way of life possible, and if we don’t start using what power we got left to go and git more, then we are on the short road to becoming the next ex-superpower.
Had he done so, then he would have forced all of Us to confront the reality underlying Our recent military (mis)adventures: if We want to stay fat and happy, then We are going to have to go take other people’s stuff in order to do it. Or We can not-take other people’s stuff and start sobering up after this national binge of consumerist self-indulgence.
But he didn’t have the courage to face that. And, I think, neither did We.
Do We now?