The Ideology of Control

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In
the latest issue of The New Republic (September 2), the
magazine's editors make what they take to be the "best case"
for attacking Iraq. As the flagship magazine of the left-neocon
wing of the Establishment, it might be worth examining TNR's
argument in order to gain some insight into the thought process
of our elite punditocracy.

The
editors admit that Saddam is evil, but deny that this alone constitutes
a sufficient reason for pre-emptive action. "But he is not
the only evil leader in the world, and we are not proposing to act
against other evil leaders, not even against the other leaders in
the u2018axis of evil.'" Nor are we justified in making war in
order to "bring democracy to Iraq," because, after all,
there are plenty of countries currently languishing without the
blessings of democracy, and we're not about to invade all of them
and create a multitude of Jeffersonian republics (at least not yet).

No,
the best case, the overwhelming case for military action in Iraq,
according to the lights at TNR, is that old bugaboo, "weapons
of mass destruction":

He
[Saddam] is the only leader in the world with weapons of
mass destruction who has used them. He used them against Iranian
troops and against Kurdish civilians. This is what makes
Saddam Hussein so distinguished in the field of evil. Morally and
strategically, he lives in a post-deterrence world. We do not need
to speculate about whether he would do the dirtiest deed. He has
already done the dirtiest deed. That is the case, and "the
case."

Well,
I guess that settles that.

Of
course, as
Pat Buchanan pointed out
, the first leader in the history of
mankind to use weapons of mass destruction against a large civilian
population was none other than the neocons' own beloved "Give
u2018em Hell" Harry Truman. And yet, to my knowledge, The New
Republic has yet to run an editorial on the uniquely evil nature
of Harry Truman. Does TNR think that Great Britain or France
or the dreaded U.S.S.R. would have been justified in attacking the
U.S. on the grounds that Truman had demonstrated both the capability
and willingness to use WMD's?

TNR
goes on to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski's argument that the U.S.
and Israel, Saddam's two likeliest targets, both have "the
capacity to retaliate and thus to deter," and consequently
are not immediately or directly threatened. The editors effectively
concede Brzezinski's point by changing the subject and "insist[ing]
that the use of weapons of mass destruction denotes a general derangement."
So, if Saddam won't use WMD's against the U.S., then I guess he
doesn't live in a "post-deterrence world" after all! But
wait, the fact that he has used them "denotes a general derangement."
So does that mean that Harry Truman was deranged and lived in a
post-deterrence world? The Russians certainly didn't think so.

The
editors completely sidestep the question of whether Saddam poses
an actual threat to the security of the U.S. and instead claim that
his willingness to use WMD's constitutes "a international emergency."

And
it should not matter to us that these crimes were not committed
against the United States, or that Saddam Hussein's missiles do
not have the range to hit American places, because the use of weapons
of mass destruction, rather like genocide, represents an international
emergency.

So,
the fact that Saddam used poison gas against Iranians (with whom
he was at war, one in which he was supported by, ahem, the U.S.)
as well as "his own people" the Kurds (who aren't "his"
in any meaningful sense) a decade or more ago, somehow constitutes
an international emergency now? And if the editors are using
this as a demonstration of intent, they conveniently ignore the
fact, pointed
out by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter
and others,
that the evidence that Saddam possesses large quantities of chemical
or biological weapons is scanty at best. Rather than addressing
the factual question, the editors assert "The physical defense
of the United States includes also the moral defense of the United
States [since when?]; but the defense of American values sometimes
[sometimes?] requires action in non-American places [you don't say!]."

It's
interesting to see the underlying ideology at work here. Even if
America is not physically threatened, she is morally threatened
by the fact that someone, somewhere exists who has demonstrated
the willingness to use weapons of mass destruction (besides our
own government, that is). And never mind that we can't even say
for sure that Saddam has the weapons in question. It's at
least possible that he has them and that he'll use them, even though,
contrary to the editors' claim, Saddam has not shown himself
to live in a post-deterrence world, since he hasn't used WMD's against
a foe capable of responding in kind.

For
the folks at TNR (and their nominal political opponents at
National Review) our foreign policy cannot rest content with
anything as mundane as the physical defense of our land, the security
of our borders, and the protection of our citizens. No, these sensitive
and lofty souls insist on the "moral defense" of "American
values." Assuming this isn't just a cover for a variety of
economic and other special interests, they must surely realize that
this is a recipe for unending intervention in the affairs of other
countries, or a "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

Our
ruling elite seems to have been seized with what I can only call
an "ideology of control." Nothing must be left to chance.
All contingencies must be dealt with beforehand. And if that means
that we pre-emptively attack a few countries, and kill a few thousand
innocent people, violating norms of international law that go back
350 years, well, that's a small price to pay for "defending
our values." For as long as I've been alive, and especially
since the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy of the U.S. seems
to have been bent on maintaining total supremacy over any threats,
real, imagined, or just logically possible, to our "way of
life." The world can never be left alone, but must be continually
shaped into a compliant new world order under the benevolent guiding
hand of Uncle Sam, even if that hand is sometimes holding a cluster
bomb. I wonder if the people in charge are even capable of thinking
about global affairs differently, of thinking that other nations
might have their own ideas about shaping their destiny.

This
mentality is the logical counterpart to the social-democratic approach
to domestic policy shared, with only slight shades of difference,
by the "right" and "left" wings of the respectable
political establishment. Nothing must be left to chance here either.
The economy can be planned, if not by outright nationalization of
the means of production, then by the shenanigans of a central bank
and a complex system of regulation, taxation, and subsidy. Taxes
may sometimes be cut, but only if they stimulate the "right"
kind of economic behavior. An elaborate arrangement of controls
and regulations will ensure the "correct" balance of various
interest groups is achieved in all the important areas of our cultural
and economic life. Guns will be taken away, no one will drive too
fast, and we'll all eat federally-approved 100% all-natural tofu
products. And you thought the planned society went out of style
when the Berlin Wall fell!

This
mania for control seems to have turned our rulers into a rather
obsessive bunch. They are forever finding new threats in every third-world
half-starved backwater that require our immediate action. Just as
every domestic problem becomes a "crisis" or an "epidemic"
that requires new draconian regulations, every tin-pot dictator
is a threat to our values, our way of life, and probably our personal
hygiene. Call me a crass materialist, but I'd venture that most
of us would settle for the good old-fashioned physical safety that
doesn't seem nearly noble enough for the editors at TNR.

September
11, 2002

Lee
McCracken [send him mail]
lives with his wife in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has also written
for anti-state.com.

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