As with drug dealers after a successful caper, who must confront the problem of turning dirty cash into spendable income, the job of the US government after the invasion is to launder a grim and dreadful war, and turn it into political and moral capital.
No, the analogy isn't perfect, because drug dealers at least have customers who demand what they supply; war, on the other hand, is a wicked imposition on everyone but the merchants of death.
But the analogy concerning laundering helps us comprehend the depth of the chasm — from immorality to morality, illegality to legality, destruction to creation — that the US must cross now that it has proclaimed itself victorious.
I don't believe this war can ever come clean.
The celebrations of victory, in which shock and awe at US military power displaced shock and revulsion at what the US had done, lasted about 36 hours. Soon, the looting began and hasn't stopped. The death counts began to appear. The political fallout began to rain down on the US. Day by day, the news has gotten worse.
Those of us who check Eric Garris's selection on Antiwar.com everyday can only stare in astonishment at the calamity. The horror that remains cannot be swept aside. A host of practical difficulties for a postwar Iraq have appeared. Here is a sampling of the blizzard from just one day of news.
- Putting together a government that is not seen as a US puppet will be impossible.
- The destruction of priceless artifacts of the history of civilization is more extensive than anyone imagined possible. This fact more than any other may make this war notorious in the history books.
- Iraq and even Baghdad might break into smaller seceding units.
- There are grave legal problems that the US faces in marketing Iraqi oil. Those who buy it may face lawsuits, absent a UN certification of the US right to sell.
- The US will need to confiscate weapons from Iraqi citizens to assure US hegemony.
- Information has been very public about the ties between those who get the rebuilding dollars and those who prosecuted the war, raising grave political problems.
- More information is coming out about murders committed by US troops
- More murders of civilians take place every day.
- Iraqis hate their "liberators."
- Everyone wants to kill Americans.
- Protests against the US are gaining steam.
- There is growing resistance to removing UN sanctions now that the US would benefit from free trade. The UN sanctions were in place because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and were not contingent on a regime change.
- The US has found no WMDs or may have inadvertently destroyed evidence of their existence.
- The ayatollahs are back.
- War revisionism is rampant. For example, it turns out that the rescue of well-treated Jessica Lynch was effortless.
- As with Afghanistan after the war, militarized gangs are competing for control.
- Everyone is demanding compensation.
- There is little food in Iraq and water is in short supply.
- A new generation of would-be terrorists is being raised.
- There is rising bitterness about the role that oil has played after the war.
How the defenders of this war are planning to try to launder all of this (which is only a tiny sampling of the hourly avalanche of bad news) is also becoming clear. They will try to keep the focus on the supposed tactical brilliance of the US war victory and the glory of US troops. This is just about the only subject discussed in their magazines and websites.
After that, they will try to keep the focus on the usual patriotic symbols of American power. Finally, they will refuse to discuss any of the costs, just as they have done with every previous war.
In short, the warmongers are hoping that anti-intellectualism, ignorance, and blind loyalty to the US state will carry the day.
They may. But one suspects it could be different this time. World opinion has been alerted to the imminent danger that the US poses to world peace, and the entire globe seems to be coalescing in an effort to stop the next war. The costs of war, particularly a war led by the biggest government in the history of the world and employing the largest stock of weapons of mass destruction ever assembled, are more obvious and exposed for all to see than ever before.
One doesn't have to be a libertarian to understand the ancient principle: the king is not above the law. States cannot, with clean hands, commit deeds rightly illegal for the rest of us. Just the one armless, burned, orphaned 12-year-old boy invalidates the entire project. Not even government may do evil so that alleged good may come of it. However, it seems that this war did evil so that evil will come of it.
This war cannot come clean. Indeed, people who supported it have written me to say that they have changed their minds in the face of the evidence. This time, its sheer ugliness and horror may be too much for any thinking person. The American empire might, just might, have its wit's end in sight.
April 18, 2003
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