They're Back in Town — Don't Miss the Show!
by Karen Kwiatkowski
We may have been taking this war in Iraq a bit too seriously. Peter Davis, writing for The Nation about his recent visit to Baghdad, quotes Iraqi thespian Rasim Mansour:
"I'm glad Americans got rid of Saddam, but conquering us was not a good idea. Americans have harmed this country, and traces of the occupation will remain a long time. You never thought how to save Iraq, only how to conquer it in order to terrorize and warn the entire world. I can't believe that four months after they won the war they have still not restored basic services like electricity and water. So who's worse, Saddam or the Americans?"
Then — fascinatingly — Rasim closes with, "I'm a great fan of George W. Bush as an actor and I hope he'll be performing in a theater one day very soon."
Actor? Indeed, the Washington Times front page supports this view, providing charming photos of George W., billboarding a Presidency of positive pulchritude. The Times headlines the perfect photo with the perfect presidential situation, including "high support from Americans for the war in Iraq, a reviving national economy and a burgeoning bank account for his 2004 re-election campaign."
The entertaining diversions of the Washington Times are indeed important to our nation, as such diversions always are in times of trouble. Well, perhaps not so important to the whole nation, given the Washington Times circulation of about 110,000 reaches only an eighth of those reached by the competing local daily, the Washington Post. But it is the paper of choice for neoconservatives in D.C., and they do matter. In fact, if we need to have neoconservatives at all in Washington, surely we prefer them to be happy and contented, pleased by what they read in the paper. Right?
A happy and contented neoconservative is becoming harder to find in Washington these days, and just as the comedy of the Depression was screwball, we may be seeing a revival of something similar in Washington today. Screwball comedy is not just funny, and it is not just slapped together. It relies on excellent actors and ingenious writers. The technique of screwball is "…juxtaposition: educated and uneducated, rich and poor, intelligent and stupid, honest and dishonest, and most of all male and female. When two people fell in love, they did not simply surrender to their feelings, they battled it out. They lied to one another, often assuming indifferent personas toward each other. They often employed hideous tricks on each other, until finally after running out of inventions, fall into each other's arms. It was fossilized comedy, physical and often painful, but mixed with the highest level of wit and sophistication, depending wholly on elegant and inventive writing."
Juxtaposition of opposites — amateur rancher with masterful imperial president. Lying to each other about their real feelings and goals — Wolfowitz and the bureaucratic reasons for war or perhaps Ahmed Chalabi as trusted confidante in executive corridors. Elegant and inventive writing — Kristol and Krauthammer, Mylroie and Gingrich, maybe? OK, inventive at least!
Fossilized comedy — routinized, carefully crafted, formulaic funny stuff — came in handy during the Depression. Audiences needed to laugh but not ask too many questions, or think too hard. Questions entail examination of reality, investigation of wrongs done and mistakes made, reflection on character flaws both close to home and in political leadership. Over-thinking things can lead to a sense of futility and absence of control — all tending to produce to the opposite of happiness, frustration and anger.
In fact, without screwball comedy in Washington today, one (or more!) might be inclined to take up drinking again! And I'm not talking about breaking out the champagne in the American Enterprise Institute when Dubya gave the Hussein family 48 hours to get out of town on 21 March 2003. That was a black coffee event! The champagne was reported to have been brought out later, at Perle's house.
Juxtaposition, lying to each other, playing roles operatic in their predictability, all these are important in Washington circles today. The President intones "stay the course" and incites the American "will to win." Just don't ask what the course is or what we are winning. The dry numerical and engineered progress reports of itemized "proof" of progress in Baghdad are juxtapositioned with the real live wounded flowing back to Walter Reed and Bethesda every day and the real live angry folks living in Baghdad, Najaf, Tikrit, Basrah, Karbala, Fallujah, Nasriye, and their suburbs.
The lying has been going on for some time — the Iraqi National Congress lies about its viability and popularity in Iraq, and its leader Chalabi lies to the only policy insiders who still talk to him, junior intelligence agents-in-training Dickie Cheney, Richie Perle and Dougie Feith. Garner lies about why he left and Bremer lies about why he came, and both lie about what they have accomplished. But perhaps "lying" is too harsh — after all, art is about perception and creativity, not outright lying. And we are seeing plenty of art, much of it performance art involving those who orchestrated the war and occupation, ad hoc as it were from safe stages in Washington, and those who actually conduct the war and occupation in the dust and sweat and fear and increasing confusion in the towns and cities of occupied Iraq. Minus those who come back early to be hospitalized or buried.
Role-playing, of course, is key to understanding the ongoing screwball comedy in Washington. The President is doing his thing, playing a kind of a small-minded and not-so-innocent Dumbo in a world of far sharper intellects wielding ravenous agendas for the rest of the country, or at least its cash assets. The Congress, slow moving and cautious, wonders exactly what is in it for them if they work to expose the catastrophe of war, perfidy and squander brought in under Dumbo's administration. The soldiers and generals continue to play their role like soldiers of previous wars, making the best of it and marking off the days before they can come home and start forgetting.
Meanwhile, at the precipice of a long-awaited economic recovery, we have just found out that it is indeed coming, but isn't bringing us any new jobs and paychecks. The American people, increasingly depressed and uncertain, are looking to be entertained and Washington is doing its creative best. Screwball is right. I'm just not sure it's comedy.
September 3, 2003
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.
Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com