If you fancy
losing an argument, try shooting down my contention that Mikhail
Gorbachev is the leading historical figure of our time. Not one
to miss a shooting opportunity, Dick Cheney tried. To my surprise,
fondly remember Gorbachev for finishing off an ailing Soviet empire
left bleeding from its Afghan travails. Defusing half a century
of nuclear tension can leave a mark on impressionable minds. On
Cheney’s — not so much. The former Defense Secretary had a tender
spot for the Cold War and never forgave Gorbachev for ending it
with not even a kind word for defense contractors. Cheney is the
quintessential warrior, with plenty of dead quails and birdshot-peppered
lawyers to prove it. He is the gallant hussar — one day greenlighting
"Shock and Awe" to give Guernica a second chance; the
next day apprising US Senator Pat Leahy of his favorite sexual technique:
"F**k yourself!"(1) Quite the martial
wag, the man Maureen Dowd calls Big-Time Dick saluted the fall of
the Berlin Wall in 1989 by persuading his boss to invade Panama
(for reasons no one seems able to remember). And today it is anybody’s
guess which Caribbean island the United States will invade to celebrate
its victory in Iraq.
is a man of war, and a man on a mission: a crusader who won’t rest
until the name Bush Jr is etched in the history books — not lost
in the microscopic print of the endnotes section, mind you, as is
destined to be Senior’s fate, but glowing in the radiant typeface
of a chapter heading. That mission, for once, is all but accomplished.
In January of 2001, George W. Bush took — er, grabbed — the reins
of an American Empire at its zenith. He will soon hand back a smoldering
wreckage of broken lives, enduring hatred, and vanished influence.
Michael Ignatieff has called Pax Americana Empire Lite.(2)
A better phrase would be Empire Short-Lived, or, if you’re
William F. Buckley Jr and the vernacular ruffles your literary feathers,
Imperium Brevissimum. At a recent ceremony for his son Jeb,
George H. W. Bush was caught on national television sobbing uncontrollably.
Pity the man who stands one short letter away from the worst president
in US history. The letter is H, as in H for hubris.
winning! " exulted Bush last October.(3) Well…
actually, "We’re not winning," he clarified a few
weeks later, but "We’re not losing" either.(4)
So "We’re wosing," quipped the Guardian’s cartoonist
Steve Bell. Indeed, we are; and for you, Mr President, I shall count
the wosing ways.
smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go."
— Siegfried Sassoon
deep in the cold, worm-infested soil that a mother will keep watered
by tears, lies one of 3,000 young Americans.(5) Dispersed
across the land, thousands more will forever carry the scars of
war in their battered bodies and hollowed souls, mutants battling
hellish shadows and silent phantoms. And the Iraqis, yes those,
Mr President, see them spiral into Dante’s lower rings of hell,
as they join the fastest-growing sect in the land: the dead — hundreds
of thousands strong.(6) Watch the White Man’s Burden
devolve into an orgy of torture and mayhem. (Has it ever devolved
into anything else?)
Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, detainee bill, and extraordinary rendition
are seared in the world’s consciousness as the badges of shame of
a democracy gone mad. According to Pew’s most recent "Global
Opinion" survey, "anti-Americanism is deeper and broader
now than at any time in modern history."(7)
The war effort’s claim on the US treasury will soon exceed $600
billion: more than Vietnam;(4) more than all the money
ever spent on cancer research;(8) more than enough to
"race for the cure" all the way to Alpha Centauri. We’re
wosing big, Mr President.
will ponder how one gangly caveman and nineteen scrawny associates
turned America into the land of the kind-of-free (53rd freest press
in the world, tied with Botswana (9)) and the home of
the petrified. The sons and daughters of the nation that stood up
to Hitler and Tojo now file through airport security barefoot, much
as they would walk, shoeless, into a mosque — a mosque, they pray,
empty of Muslims.
is bigotry’s favorite nourishment, and cynics might expect the political
class to gorge on it by blaming our imperial agony on the natives.
In America, today, cynics rarely go wrong; and the air, indeed,
is thick with talk of fainthearted hordes of Mesopotamian ingrates,
who quail at the latest bombing and wail at the moon in exotic garb.
Not long ago,
the achingly earnest Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist
whose only sin is to be more virtuous than you — and keep you informed
of this in each and every one of his bromidic columns — reassured
his readers that the trouble is not with the Muslims but with the
Arabs. They are too violent and they give Islam a bad name.(10)
Well, that settles that. Funny, though, that in the last twenty
years Americans have outkilled Arabs in a ratio in excess of one
hundred to one. But there I go again, nitpicking, while Saint Kristof
is back in Cambodia, rescuing teenage prostitutes one Pulitzer prize
at a time.
Not to be
undone, The Times’ resident flat-earther, Thomas L. Friedman, never
tires of recycling Golda Meir’s racist rant about hateful Arabs.
can’t keep asking Americans to sacrifice their children for people
who hate each other more than they love their own children.”(11)
never asked for anybody’s sacrifice, Mr Friedman. To steal a thought
from the heroic Robert Fisk, all they ever craved was the one freedom
you’ve always refused to grant them: freedom from you! The Washington
Post columnist Richard Cohen, a man who’s never met a heap of moral
compost he did not want to climb, wrote recently that “the prudent
use of violence [against Muslims] could be therapeutic.” (12)
Being a kind soul, I’ll assume that Cohen is unaware of the ideological
pedigree of that phrase and that he doesn’t read what he writes
— apparently, a skill highly prized in American punditry.
Half-devil and half-child.”
— Rudyard Kipling
To talk the
neocolonial talk from the plush comfort of the imperial capital
is easy. To walk the walk is not. US military expenditures exceed
those of all nations on earth combined. And yet battling
a ragtag band of lightly armed insurgents was more than the world’s
mightiest army could take. It is “about broken,” laments
Colin Powell — and, by the way, “We are losing.”(13)
A recent Marine Corps memo concedes that Coalition Forces “are
no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar.”(14)
Last summer’s stabilization push in Baghdad, Operation Together
Forward II, proved a dismal failure: the violence actually rose
by 43 percent!(15)
The US military
has been fighting in Iraq longer than it did in World War II. What
does it have to show for it? Not much. Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is a
country-wide killing field, one giant Sniper Alley where sporting
the Stars and Stripes can get you killed any time, anywhere. Not
a square inch of Iraqi soil is safe for the Americans outside the
high walls of their fortresses. To borrow from Cheney’s vast repertoire
of bons mots, the US counterinsurgency is in its last throes;
hence the "surge" and kindred shows of desperation. Israel’s
finest military historian, Martin van Creveld, does not mince words:
“The American military have proved totally incompetent.”(16)
In Iraq, the world’s sole superpower has been the world’s serial
superbungler. (I’ve always wondered if the trope of the “sole superpower”
serves any purpose other than teaching us how thin the line is between
the sublime and the farcical.)
(The wrong question for a moral perspective — starting the war was
the sin, not losing it — but the right one here.) Breathtaking as
they were, the majestic vistas of Rumsfeld’s ineptitude were little
more than a convenient excuse for war advocates with egg on their
faces. The grand whining parade has already begun, and mealy-mouthed
apologists are being wheeled in on bloated floats to proffer lame
excuses about inadequate troop levels, insufficient 4GW training,
political fecklessness, etc. Eventually, the chest beating will
die down as it always does, with the blame for the debacle pinned
on the dirty antiwar hippies.
don’t fight wars. The Pentagon does. It did, and it lost. One reason
— not even the most important — is the military’s endemic inability
to win hearts and minds. Early in the war, the Guardian sounded
British military officers on the ground are making it clear they
are dismayed by the failure of US troops to try to fight the battle
for hearts and minds. They also made plain they are appalled by
reports over the weekend that US marines killed Iraqi civilians,
including women and children, as they seized bridges outside Nassiriya
in southern Iraq.”(17)
on force protection is a far cry from past imperial practices. The
Romans, Spaniards, British, French, and conquerors of yore seldom
agonized over their own casualties. To their credit, Americans do.
But this comes at a moral cost: US soldiers are brave but the casualty-averse
military doctrine of their commanders is cowardly. That, in essence,
is what Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy, and Bill Maher said — right
before the lynching began.(18–20) In a similar show of
disgust diplomatically stripped of the C-word, this British officer
echoed the sentiment:
troops have the attitude of shoot first and ask questions later.
They simply won’t take any risk… Unfortunately, when we explained
our rules of engagement which are based around the principle of
minimum force, the US troops just laughed.”(21)
Somalia notwithstanding, the United States rarely cuts and runs.
It did not in Vietnam. It fought to the death — of the other guy
— and then cut and walked when victory proved elusive. Iraq is too
central to US hegemonic fantasies to allow a speedy retreat: it’ll
be done cut-and-crawl style, with enough pit stops to admire the
fireworks over Iran. Bush’s playbook: (1) run out the clock; (2)
anoint successor as “the dope who snatched defeat out of the jaws
of victory and handed Iran the victor’s crown”; (3) let the etching
in the history books begin.
invasion have succeeded? Not a chance. All the grousing about incompetent
planning is the age-old excuse-making prattle of losers. Leave aside
the not-so-trifling fact that the United States never had the proper
DNA for empire (lite or otherwise). It is the incontrovertible reality
of the 21st century that the time for the White Man’s Burden has
passed. Not only is the era of empire gone, but the days of the
so-called liberal hegemonic order are numbered. Even before 9/11,
the cumulative impact of European integration, the rise of Asian
powers, and the resurgence of Muslim identity sounded the death
knell for American hegemony. To hasten the burial will be one of
Bush’s legacies. Alas, incalculable misery in the Middle East, enduring
anti-American hatred, and future terrorist attacks in London, Paris,
and Seattle will be another one.
The same Madeleine
Albright who called the United States "the indispensable
nation" — presumably to avoid confusion with the dispensable
ones — taunted Colin Powell with the wickedest double-entendre since
Mae West: "What’s the point of having this superb military
you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?"(22)
To paraphrase an old line, it is better for a big country to keep
its superb army idle and let the world think it’s not much of a
superpower than to use it and remove all doubt.
doctrine seeks to apply Straussian philosophy to the unfettered
pursuit of US energy interests. Its unspoken motto: "perpetual
war for perpetual peace." The rough idea — and the idea is,
indeed, rough — is to play this century’s Great Game (first prize:
control of Mideast oil supply) under the banner of national security.
Until we whacked them on the head, Iraqis had never expressed much
desire to attack us. To the lesser minds, therefore, the idea of
fighting them there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here always
teetered on the edge of insanity. To the neocons’ delight, 9/11
came to cleanse the public discourse of the yelpings of lesser minds.
And so, today,
we gather to honor the superior minds, all of these men (they are
mostly men) who so decisively turned out the lights on the American
empire. Heading the roll call is none other than the Decider himself.
If you’re among the wise who chose to sit out the Bush years at
the bottom of a well, you need to know only two things about the
man: the first is that he is President of the United States; the
second is that he said:
of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on
it to the war for terror would indeed be easier. A self-declared
uniter, Bush is beginning to unite the country around the belief
that he is the worst president in US history.(24) Whether
his reelection, ipso facto, makes the electorate the dumbest ever
is a logical inference that a political culture drunk with self-admiration
will have trouble getting its woozy head around.
To call Team
Bush a thundering herd of galloping loons is to be unnecessarily
kind. For rarely has daftness been elevated to such a lofty plane
of power and influence. The early days of the Iraq adventure set
the tone. A year after Defense strategist Ken Adelman infamously
called the coming liberation of Iraq a "cakewalk," Paul
Wolfowitz, then Rumsfeld’s deputy, used the occasion of an interview
with NPR’s Melissa Block to stamp the prediction with the Pentagon’s
seeing today how much the people of Poland and Central and Eastern
Europe appreciate what the United States did to help liberate them
from the tyranny of the Soviet Union. I think you’re going to see
even more of that sentiment in Iraq. There’s not going to be the
hostility that you described Saturday. There simply won’t be."(25)
What an idea! On the eve of the war, in a vice presidential reprise
of Tom Cruise’s couch-hopping antics, Cheney stepped on the set
of NBC’s "Meet The Press" to share the love: "We
will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."(26)
For a mere $44 billion a year,(27) all we got from US
intelligence was a silly update of an old movie script:
And what in Heaven’s name brought you to Baghdad?
Bush: The sweets and the flowers. I came to Baghdad for love.
Renault: Love! What love? We’re in the Middle East.
Bush: I was misinformed.
2003 came early in Iraq and WMD-stuffed stockings were spotted everywhere
by late March. Or so Rumsfeld told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos:
"We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit
and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."(28)
East, west, south and nowhere somewhat. In September of that year,
the part-time AEI scholar, full-time slimeball Richard Perle got
all his neurons firing at once to produce this marvel of crystal
a year from now, I’ll be very surprised if there is not some grand
square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."(29)
some grand morgue? Which naturally leads us to the 600-billion dollar
question: where did they find these people? The answer: in that
dank rodent house known as the American Enterprise Institute. Often
found gnawing on the chicken wire, the rabid ferret Michael Ledeen
needs no cage rattling to work himself into a froth of hysteria:
ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy
little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world
we mean business."(30)
In their knockoff
of Mein Kampf, retitled An End to Evil, Richard Perle
and former Bush speechwriter David Frum give voice to their full-blown
dementia by recommending all-out attacks on anybody ever so slightly
Muslim. Why? Because "There is no middle way for Americans:
It is victory or holocaust."(31) Salon’s Gary
Kamiya calls the Perle-Frum worldview "a strange combination
of Hobbes and Popeye."(32) Harsh on Popeye.
Me, I have no patience for moral midgets who’ve seen their Napoleonic
hour arrive. Like Alexander in Gordium, I head straight for the
deliciously obvious: to end evil, end Perle and Frum.
Enterprise Institute serves to mitigate the most glaring defects
of our democracy. Take the current escalation in Iraq, for example.
President Bush alone grasps the full cosmic immensity of its wisdom,
even calling the idea a "surge" to convey its irresistibility.
Alas, the Forces of Darkness, aka the Pentagon, the Congress, and
the American public, will have none of it. Enter the AEI and its
paunchy, double-chinned warmonger, Frederick W. Kagan. Faster than
a chickenhawk can flap its wings, Kagan demothballs his fave retired
general, Jack Keane, and whips up The Surge. Voilà. Rasputin
would be proud.
It would be
unfair to let Team Bush steal all the credit for the imperial collapse
without a tip of the hat to the White House Dictation Office, also
known as the mainstream media (MSM). Skipping right over the miniskirted
hyena Ann Coulter (a risky stunt but I’ve got my spiked pogo shoes
on), the oafish junkie Rush Limbaugh, and the assortment of one-trick
performing fleas hopping mad on the AM dial, I shall ascend Mount
Olympus to gaze at the brainy stars of the MSM.
more brightly than Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the supernova
of the Murdoch empire — unless red dwarf is a tighter cosmic fit
for someone known to his friends and pet hamster as "Dan Quayle’s
brain." The day after the 9/11 attacks, the surrogate brain
seized the moment and began pounding the war drums: "There’s
a fair amount of evidence that Iraq had very close associations
with Osama bin Laden in the past."(33) There
was not a shred of evidence. A year later, Kristol nuzzled up to
The New Republic’s Lawrence F. Kaplan to break into a cakewalk jig
on the National Review dance floor: "Having defeated and
then occupied Iraq, democratizing the country should not be too
tall an order for the world’s sole superpower."(34)
Brilliance of this magnitude is Kristol’s trademark. Time magazine
took longer than most to realize that and only this month got around
to adding Kristol to its roster of columnists.
Canadians with a nasty case of empire envy, Mark Steyn and Michael
Ignatieff pulpiteered the good news — one from his stool at the
Chicago Sun-Times, the other from his booster seat at the Harvard
Kennedy School. From Steyn we learned that "Imperialism
is the answer" (35) and from Ignatieff that
"The case for empire is that it has become, in a place like
Iraq, the last hope for democracy and stability alike."(2)
(I don’t know about you, but the dazzling acumen of the expert never
fails to give me goosebumps!) Former TNR editor Andrew Sullivan,
another heavy smoker of the imperialist’s hookah pipe, found his
knees wobbly after 9/11 and his left flank badly exposed: "The
decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and
may well mount what amounts to a fifth column."(36)
no account of MSM malfeasance would be fitting without at least
a passing glance at the yapping chihuahuas. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman
woofed a few choice words of his own: "We had controversial
wars that divided the country. This war united the country and brought
the military back."(37) Well said, Howard. His
colleague Chris Matthews yaks at such vertiginous speeds that his
brain emits exotic particles of synchrotronic quirkiness. One month
into the war, he blurted out, "We’re all neocons now."
A few weeks later, Matthews highlighted a side of war that too often
gets short shrift: what great, clean fun it is! "Check it
out. The women like this war! I think we like having a hero as our
president."(37) Must a TV show be pornographic
just because it’s called "Hardball"?
The war has
given the American mainstream media a brilliant opportunity to prove
its essential worthlessness. It has shown itself to be little more
than a circus of entertainers and cheerleaders for whom every season
is the silly season. Tragically, the media has failed in its sacred
duty to keep a vigilant, skeptical, critical eye on the centers
of power. Who is the American Robert Fisk, Gideon Levy, or Amira
Hass? Whoever they are (and Sy Hersh proves they exist), why are
their writings not filling the op-ed pages of the great American
newspapers? How can the nation that produces the bulk of Nobel prize
winners be stuck with such a sullen bunch of journalistic mediocrities?
The sycophantic enablers of the Fourth Estate have blood on their
catastrophe in Iraq had a single cause: the reassertion of US hegemony
after 9/11. Its trigger was a rare astral alignment. Big Oil, the
neocons, the Christian fundamentalists, the liberal hawks, AIPAC,
the MSM, and 9/11 all formed cosmic dots in the sky that only one
power could — and did — successfully align: the president of the
United States. No American leader has so much owned a war.
And none has
so little owned up to it. Victors are never war criminals. That’s
because they get to write the history books. Bush won’t have that
chance. The die has been cast and the hour is too late for him or
anyone to alter the unforgiving judgment of posterity. Therein,
paradoxically, lies our quandary. For, if freedom is just another
word for nothing left to lose, then Bush is a free man — free to
pursue the most malignant policies, heedless of the consequences
to his unworsenable presidential standing. Beware the desperation
of a cornered man.
of imperial dominance, Bush slew the "last empire." The
towering figure of our time, he is a piteously small man. The self-anointed
emissary of a "higher father," he is servant to no power
but himself. The captain of the sinking ship has laid his command
upon his fellow Americans: "Ask not what your country can
do for you; ask what you can do for me." No sacrifice of
life shall be too great, no damage to civil liberties too high,
no expenses too vast for a vainglorious man deluded by fantastic
dreams of redemption by force.
But who besides
the bereaved will mourn? Who besides the orphan will whimper? Who
besides the humiliated will stare back? Who besides the thugs and
the craven will lead? Patriotism is a lovely thing. In its name,
some go dying by the side of an Iraqi road in twitching agony; others
go shopping in oversized automobiles festooned with yellow ribbons.
We all play our part — and nobody else’s.
an era when the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were
full of passionate intensity. Today, Kristol blusters and hectors,
Cheney scolds and forebodes, Bush struts and smirks. Meanwhile,
the giant, timid chorus listens politely to the deafening silence
of the outraged — and the mad march of war goes on.
Cheney Dismisses Critic With Obscenity, by Helen Dewar and Dana
Milbank, Washington Post, June 25, 2004.
America’s Empire Is an Empire Lite, by Michael Ignatieff, The
New York Times, Jan. 10, 2003.
Press Conference by the President, The White House, Oct. 25,
U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time, by Peter
Baker, The Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2006.
War in Iraq, CNN, 2006.
The Human Cost of the War in Iraq, by G. Burnham, S. Doocy,
E. Dzeng, R. Lafta, L. Roberts, Lancet, 2006.
Global Opinion: The Spread of Anti-Americanism, Pew Global Attitudes
Project, Jan. 24, 2005.
Cancer Research Funding, National Cancer Institute, May 19,
Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006, Reporters Without Borders,
The Lingo Of Vietnam, by Richard Cohen, The Washington Post,
Nov. 21, 2006.
Powell Says U.S. Losing in Iraq, Calls for Drawdown by Mid-2007,
by Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, Dec. 18, 2006.
Anbar Picture Grows Clearer, and Bleaker, by Dafna Linzer and
Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, Nov. 28, 2006.
The Iraq Study Group Report, by James A. Baker, III and Lee
H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, United States Institute of Peace, 2006.
Closer to the Abyss, by Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, Dec. 6,
Coalition divided over battle for hearts and minds, by Richard
Norton-Taylor and Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, Apr. 1, 2003.
The Talk of the Town, by Susan Sontag, The New Yorker, Sept.
The Most Cowardly War in History, by Arundhati Roy, Global Research,
June 28, 2005.
Politically Incorrect, Wikipedia.
Trigger-happy US troops ‘will keep us in Iraq for years’, by
Sean Rayment, Telegraph, May 15, 2005.
Madeleine’s War, by Walter Isaacson, Time, May 9, 1999.
Bush: ‘We Don’t Torture’, CBS News, Sept. 6, 2006.
He’s The Worst Ever, by Eric Foner, The Washington Post, Dec.
United States Department of Defense, by Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Feb. 19, 2003.
Upbeat Tone Ended With War, by Dana Milbank, The Washington
Post, March 29, 2003.
Official Reveals Budget for U.S. Intelligence, by Scott Shane,
The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2006.
United States Department of Defense, by Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld, March 30, 2003.
Turkey at the Crossroads, by Richard Perle, Sept. 22, 2003.
Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two, by Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Online, April 23, 2002.
"An End to Evil" by David Frum and Richard Perle,
by Gary Kamiya, Salon, Jan. 30, 2004.
Their War, Too, by Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect, Sept.
Closing In, by Lawrence Kaplan and Bill Kristol, National Review
Online, Feb. 24, 2003.
Imperialism is the Answer, by Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times,
Oct. 14, 2001.
A British View of the US Post-September 11, by Andrew Sullivan,
The London Times, Oct. 15, 2001.
‘The Final Word Is Hooray!’, FAIR, March 15, 2006.
Chazelle [send him mail]
is professor of computer science at Princeton University.