Two Strikes Down

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Slaughter-House-Five
opens with a recommendation to anyone considering an antiwar book
that they try an anti-glacier book instead. Same effect, same futility.
In spite of the odds, Kurt Vonnegut then proceeds to finish one
of the best antiwar books of the 20th century. If Slaughter-House-Five
is an exercise in futility, it's a damned fine one. Hayden Carruth's
poem On Being Asked to Write a Poem against the War in Vietnam
is in the same vein. "Well I have [written many antiwar poems]…"
the poet begins, but for all the toil and angst and emotional investment,
in the end:

…not one
breath was restored
to one

shattered
throat
mans womans or childs
not one not

one
but death went on and on
never looking aside

except now
and then
with a furtive half-smile
to make sure I was noticing.

Again, if this
is an exercise in futility, it's a damned fine one.

The Bush Administration's
exercises in futility, in contrast, are damned demeaning. The idea,
I guess, was to drop a few bombs, kill bad men with beards, eliminate
terrorism (if not Evil altogether), and get on with the business
of being the Greatest Country in the World. The mission, sporadically
"accomplished" in fantasy, remains unaccomplished in fact.
Nobody likes us all that much (though our world reputation remains
u2018great' in a sense, ranging from Great Satan to Great Debtor to
Great Goofball), nobody trusts us all that much, and nobody really
respects us all that much. It didn't have to be this way. But thanks
in large part to Bush-league military adventures, it is.

The war in
Afghanistan, the one commonly regarded as the good one, has looked
steadily less good to the point that it isn't mentioned much anymore.
The one in Iraq may still read like a success story to a handful
of Likudo-fascists, but looks like a stinking meshugaas to the rest
of the planet. You'd think that two strikes down, the Bush-leaguers
would contemplate guarding the plate awhile — but no, as we wait
for the next pitch, the third base coach (who in the world is he,
anyway — an Al Qaeda mole? Beelzebub? A tobacco-chewing Machiavelli?
Someone with a PhD in baseball???) is still sending swing-for-the-fence
signals, Bush-code for war.

Now that calm
has been so effectively established in Afghanistan and Iraq, talk
of moving the good work to Iran is in the air. Those who doubt that
even Bush-league management could be capable of anything so stupid,
should consider the words of Rummy's pinch-hitter, Robert Gates,
who in early February declared: "We are not planning for a
war with Iran." The statement would be immensely reassuring
on the lips of some, but such lips tend not to work in the Bush
Administration, which has now lied its way through a dazzling six
years in office.

A few weeks
ago, Oman received a visit from one of the Administration's most
distinguished liars. The Vice-president's few hours in the country
were marked by monumental traffic snarls and a pervasive smell of
sulfur. Genuine statesmen presumably go abroad with at least a hope
and a prayer for peace in their hearts. Cheney goes with a hope
and a prayer for war in his gall bladder (the heart being unsuited
to a bilious agenda), to squeeze concessions of the u2018Please can
our fighter planes take off from your glorious land, say yes or
expect to be crudely snubbed' sort. Countries Cheney ought to be
engaging in open diplomatic discussion, such as Iran and Syria,
are meanwhile treated with dismissive contempt. As Seymour Hersh's
The Redirection makes clear, Bush policy prefers now to deal
with the Middle East's "centers of moderation" — that
is, puppet regimes like those of Saudi Arabia or Egypt, corrupt
enough to stomach its Plans for the region. In contrast to this
"arc of moderation" (the phrase is a particularly noisome
Blairite dropping), the Bad Barts of the region (Syria/Iran/Hezbollah)
"have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize"
(a particularly noisome Condoleezza dropping, on behalf of that
venerable old champion of Middle Eastern stability, the American
government). Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

"Dominion
of the world from end to end is worth less than a drip of blood
upon the earth," wrote the great Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz.
The designers of the Great Iraq Liberation Scam had little use for
that perspective. They may yet come round to it the hard way, or
let the rest of us come round to it the hard way, while they go
right on insisting that their failures are in fact successes. Lao
Tzu said: "Those who would take over the earth and bend it
to their will never, I notice, succeed." Saying it may not
have made any more difference than writing an anti-glacier book
or an antiwar poem, or observing that a war with Iran would be ignoble,
unnecessary, ineffective, and possibly insane. But Lao Tzu said
it anyway, and thank God for that. Some exercises in futility are
better than others.

March
17, 2007

John
Liechty [send him mail]
currently teaches in Muscat, Oman.

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