Hit Iran?

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If
the United States decides to bomb Iran – or green-lights Israel
to do it, which is morally indistinguishable – the duly reelected
government of the United States of America will put us in the position
of having no moral defense against Islamic terrorism. Some leftists
– most crassly Ward Churchill – made something like this
point after 9/11. That was overblown rhetoric; and the reference
to “little Eichmanns” at Cantor-Fitzgerald was a statement of moral
idiocy.

It
hurts to write and know that we have done unto others much more
than they have done unto us – this includes 9/11, I’m afraid.
No one “deserved” to die on 9/11, nor will anyone “deserve” to die
in a future terror attack in the United States. But then, no one
“deserved” to die, as we sat transfixed in our living rooms, under
the bombs of “Shock & Awe,”* That’s moral equivalence
too – all human life is precious.

The
explanation which is often offered by amoralists like William Bennett
is that the state’s motives are pure, which – as any middling
school boy knows – is a farce. States can’t be “moral,” neither
can corporations – only human beings have that capacity, as a matter
of choice.

And,
again and again they tell us: we’re “the greatest democracy in the
history of the world.” Why we’re Americans; don’t people
know that we’re a good people? We “work hard and play by the rules;”
we try (and mostly fail) to raise good children.

Sorry,
self-regard doesn’t cut it. Non-Americans want to see some actual
evidence of these alleged values and morals that the president
prattles on about.

The
question should be asked: are we a good people anymore? We are not
a great people – that much is certain. Not in a land where more people
watch “American Idol” than the State of the Union address. In reality,
we are still, as Martin Luther King pointed out nearly four decades
ago, “the greatest purveyors of violence in the world.” One day,
if we are not careful, we will choke on our myths and kill our civilization.

9/11
should have been a wake up call. Instead, it counter-intuitively
put us further to sleep. They got it in Spain on 3/11 in two days;
over three years later, we’re still clueless. It’s the petulance
of a successful youth. All of the worst in Americans came out after
the months of inspiring solidarity with New Yorkers began to fade.
Myopia, the retreat into escapist consumerism proceeded rapidly:
in the yawning shadow of no towers.

We
bought 0% financed cars en masse to “keep freedom rolling.”
We “went about our business” as consumers – shopping – to keep the economy
going. We continued to ignore our duty as citizens – participation
in the public sphere – to keep our democracy going.

The
“free market economy” – which perhaps never has and certainly never
will actually exist – is a bloated, alienating idol. We’ve lived in
what libertarians call the “Welfare-Warfare” state since the dawn
of the affluent society in the 1950s. Today, the private sector
stands as the last remaining dynamic element in a society that long
ago lost its moral imagination.

Working
class whites all over the country were singing Charlie Daniels (“this
ain’t no rag, it’s a flag / and we don’t wear it on our head”) songs,
while sending their sons and daughters off to meaningless deaths
in Iraq. Your son or daughter died for the right of Muqtada al-Sadr
and Ali al-Sistani to treat women like cattle, ban alcohol and whip
and lacerate themselves freely with chains.

Oh,
but you give such a damn about “democracy” in Iraq, don’t you Mr.
Freedom Fries? You couldn’t find it on a map before the war, could
you? Can you find it now? Stand tall for the Leader and the
flag and all of the rest of the lies, you tragic dupe. But you’re
worse than tragic; you’re poison to our body politic. You’re complicit
in the rapid decay of the Republic and its long-standing, slow-motion
replacement with Empire; you’re complicit in dragging down our democracy
and replacing it with an authoritarian regime.

And
what do authoritarian killers like Saddam and Bush generally do?
Most often, they attack their neighbors, plunder the treasury and
intimidate their subjects. Then one day down the road you wake up
and wonder what happened to your country, what happened to your
life. Your country is on its knees because the price you
paid for freedom and democracy was putting a flag sticker on your
SUV and bellowing, as Wilhelm Reich once put it: “Heil Great
Vulture!”

We
of course are not yet living in a tyranny. But our country is essentially
a different place from the land we loved on September 10th, 2001.
Sure, we’ve still got all the vacuous democratic trappings, the
speeches, the conventions, the monotone “debate” in Congress – if
you need them. But it’s the substance, the policy, the deficit,
the bloated Pentagon, the subsidizing of the rich through massive
tax cuts in “wartime,” and most frighteningly, the jingo-conformist
social-psychological context – all this is radically different from
9/10.

And,
we all know it. Most people snap to attention and say: “rightly
so!” Unfortunately, people around the world take us at our democratic
rhetoric and expect that the governed will not choose authoritarianism
and aggression. But we did, didn’t we? We were “free to choose”
and look at the result, because the world sure as hell is.

We
hit Iraq, home to one of the most vicious dictators on the planet.
We promised far and wide that we would free and liberate the Iraqi
people – a claim unsupported by any convincing evidence, presented
as it was only after no WMD’s were found.

That
we have killed over 750,000 Iraqis since the start of the first
Gulf War, through the sanctions and the ongoing aggression is given
a coat of cheap moral gloss because “we’re a democracy.” Saddam
himself never sent so many Iraqis to their deaths outside of the
military campaign against Iran in the 1980s – which we supported
whole-heartedly, right through the gassings of Kurds. You know,
the ones that so exercise the consciences of von Rumsfeld and von
Wolfowitz.

In
America, these thoughts are impermissible. One will not hear them
in either the corporate media or by any elected federal politician.
They are, however, well known and uncontroversial in the rest of
the world – particularly in the Middle East. The “ignorance” excuse,
the faintly justifiable abdication of moral responsibility for the
actions of our government, is coming to a close. The curtains are
being drawn, all over the world, on that reality show.

Yes,
some people still make the distinction between “Americans” and the
“American government.” But that too is changing, as recent international
opinion polls have demonstrated. It’s happening – in Europe too.

Iran,
some may be shocked to find out, is actually something of a democracy,
particularly by regional standards. A reformist cleric, Mohammad
Khatami – a man more familiar with the Enlightenment than George W.
Bush – was elected president, overwhelmingly, in 1997. And then he
was reelected in 2001. Yes, the conservative mullahs thwarted him
at every turn. The point is, there is something of an institutional
structure there which allows for some public influence – which was
decidedly not the case in Saddam’s Iraq.

Some
say, well, Iran is developing WMD’s. The International Atomic Energy
Agency says they’re not sure. I personally think Iran would be insane
not to develop a nuclear deterrent. First, there’s Pakistan, China,
India and Israel right in their neighborhood. Second, let’s face
facts, we are the driving force behind their program – if we hadn’t
spent the last 15 years militarily dominating the Persian Gulf region,
they might not have bothered getting around to it – at least not with
their present, likely rapidity.

And
so, if we do bomb Iran – or, God forbid – actually invade, then we will
lose even our last tattered shreds of moral credibility around the
world. Tony Blair won’t be there aww shucksing the planet for us.
Neither will anyone else on Earth, save Israel. And I imagine that
many Israelis might well see the moral and strategic costs involved
in a protracted – and inevitably destabilizing and doomed – attack or
occupation of Iran.

If
an attack is launched, the American public will support it overwhelmingly,
like they always do. It will be an act of “defense” because Iran
is supporting the “Islamo-fascist insurgents” in Iraq and developing
WMD’s. We neutralize threats before they materialize, like rational
people.

When
we are struck again in the aftermath of a second unprovoked aggression
against a Muslim country, Le Monde will not again write “we
are all Americans.” Crowds will not gather across the planet at
American embassies to pay honor to the dead, tearfully piling flowers
amidst remembrance candles. There will be a kind of sadness at the
human toll involved, just as there always is when an earthquake
or tsunami strikes.

But
there will be something else: a silent or perhaps muttered refrain.
What did you arrogant, ignorant Americans expect to happen when
you bomb thousands of people to death at the whim of a proven liar?
And then march in your parades with your yellow ribbons, saluting
as heroes soldiers not much different morally than those grunts
who poured across the Belgian frontier in 1940.

Terrorism
is universally defined as the application of violence against innocents
in furtherance of a political, religious or strategic goal. State
terrorism is still terrorism. In the eyes of the world, if not in
our own – the repugnant face of hubris – we will have achieved “moral
equivalence” with the arch nihilist: bin Laden.

We
too – individual Americans – will be widely seen as terrorists.
And if the critics of an Iran invasion are honest, they will tally
not only our body count, but theirs as well. There
will be a reckoning. And for those nave believers out there: God
will no longer be smiling on the land of the free and the home of
the brave.

Obligatory
bit of “inspiration” or “solution” now at the behest of my mother.
Sorry, there is no “quick fix” – the ineffable desire of the
consumers in a debauched affluent society. Get off your a** and
volunteer in your community, join an activist group or better yet,
start your own with your friends and neighbors.

*Corporate
country jingo Toby Keith released an album called “Shock & Y’all.”

March
31, 2005

Stephen
Bender [send him mail] is a writer based in San Francisco. You can
find more of his work at his
website
.

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Bender Archives

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