Fighting Words

Tony Blair inspired Americans with his speech to Congress this week. As I watched and listened, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering why we can’t trade our belligerent inarticulate cowboy for the smooth, moving words and natural-born earnestness of Tony Blair. Labour, Shmabour — this is about feeling good about your country, not silly political parties. Hard questions, harder answers, partisanship, competition of ideas… who needs those when you can just feel good? Who needs drugs or escapist movies when the power of sweet soothing words spoken by a politician can heal your heart and thrill your mind?

I watched Tony Blair’s speech from the roof of the Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, D.C., in the open canvas tent that serves as BBC Washington’s operations room/studio. BBC asked me to show up, and it sounded interesting. I brought the kids in for the museums while I sat around on the roof watching CNN and the BBC crew getting ready for the next news cycle.

Tony Blair said many things that sounded nice. But the neoconservative themes of his speech should concern and anger patriotic Americans of all political persuasions. Couched in a pro-America presentation, the arrogant and illogical thinking of American neoconservativism penetrated Blair’s well written words like virus RNA in a once healthy organism. The theme was liberty. The medium was warmth and joy. Yet the mechanism and the message was ahistorical, arrogant and Straussian. Blair told us,

"Our new world rests on order. The danger is disorder." Really? Whose "new world"? From the perspective of the Wolfowitz, Cheney, Bush and Perle, of course the danger must be disorder. But in a world where liberty reigns and private property is respected, where individual choice in ideas, religion, congregation and production is the norm, the state’s diagnosis of "disorder" actually refers to the most productive and naturally ordered form of human existence. Edmund’s Burke’s English garden, a parable for a decentralized, diverse and lovely place where individuals and families and communities produce, create, and find joy — as they work to gently govern themselves in ways that satisfy their higher values, culture and tradition — is never found in statist "order." This is true whether the state is led by a committed politician like Lenin, or by a three-stooges clique featuring Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz.

The order created by Bush and Blair in Iraq is today one where women and children hide in their houses, where young men and businessmen have no legitimate work except that authorized by the dictates of Mr. Bremer’s bureaucracy, where the discussion of the moment is "authorized" media in Iraq and the proper allocation of oil revenues to the Iraqi people (either direct welfare or some kind of crumb sharing arrangement after Halliburton and Chevron have had their fill). It is an order enforced under fire by American and British soldiers, volunteer forces made Spartan knaves after a lie-based Washington bait and switch. The Third Infantry Division, misled again and again, now under disciplinary threat to perform with a good attitude, become our 21st century helots. The evil treatment of Iraqis by Saddam’s nepotistic rule cannot be defended. However, for many years this evil was tolerated, politically supported, even vouchsafed, by his American and British allies, as have been the evils of other useful allies, past and present. Which brings us to another neoconservative pillar of Blair’s speech.

"Such a theory [classical realism] may have made sense in 19th-century Europe. It was perforce the position in the Cold War. Today, it is an anachronism to be discarded like traditional theories of security." While Blair quoted freely from historical examples (the U.S. role in rebuilding Japan and Germany, and Lincoln on liberty) his statement here was refreshingly radical, absolutely shockingly wrong, and typically neoconservative. Realism is based on the study of ancient civilizations and historical fact, a spare theory to be sure, but resting on hard evidence from the dead bones of soldiers and leaders and nations. If "such a theory" is to be discarded, then we must throw the babies, and those yet unborn, out with the bathwater. This mental sponginess, this point-and-click intellectuality, is a major flaw in neoconservative thought as expressed in Washington over the past two and a half years, and articulated by Blair this week. For Blair to say this in a speech is not dangerous or frightening. To have the President and much of the Congress cheering like fans at a WWF blowout is both.

Blair told us "The ending of Saddam’s regime in Iraq must be the starting point of a new dispensation for the Middle East: Iraq, free and stable; Iran and Syria …made to realize that the world will no longer countenance [their u2018succor to the rejectionist men of violence’]…" Indeed, this is the neoconservative vision long in work and now fruiting prematurely to instant rot for the people of Iraq. Saddam’s regime would have ended in time, but then American and British interests could not have controlled an Iraq "free and stable." Iran and Syria certainly have been "made to realize" that United States military bases are long-term and right next door. That’ll show them! But most concerning here is the use of the term "dispensation." Its primary definition is "the act of dispensing or dealing out; distribution; often used of the distribution of good and evil by God to man, or more generically, of the acts and modes of his administration." Good and evil, God to man, and God’s administration. God’s state! No wonder we fear the political Shia — they compete too well, bless their hearts! The choice of this word reveals the pathology of neoconservative arrogance, exposing the taproot of blindness and practical inhumanity they share with the most vicious of clerics or kings.

The bookend to the "dispensation" we have so generously granted the Middle East is another D word, Blair’s grand finale of "destiny." It’s usually a word associated with heroes, individual men and women. Great novels and great histories are stories of great people. Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy implementers believe they are today’s men of destiny. But the claim of destiny for a whole nation or a constructed state has long been the ultimate tool of the fascist, the super-nationalist, the propagandist worthy of a Lenin or a Hitler or a Pol Pot. The truth of the language cannot be evaded. What is truly meant by this rousing phrase is nothing more than the destiny of a Straussian cadre of gifted advisors. Blair lauds, and with subtlety crowns those few superior individuals, who through the secretive and propaganda-based leverage of a massive state military, information and economic machine, rise from their own individual obscurity and personal frustration to become "great men."

BBC asked me if I felt that Americans were beginning to look more deeply into the nature of the Bush administration and its actions, at least in Iraq. Whether Americans were beginning to question and perhaps to doubt. I said I thought so. A formerly silent mainstream media is beginning to assert itself against the tides of state propaganda, on both foreign affairs as well as domestic issues.

Real change will occur only when it happens in the hearts and guts of Americans. When more and more Americans, like the soldiers in the Third ID and the wives, husbands, parents and children left at home, realize that they have been lied to not once, not twice, but endlessly and insidiously, and as the President becomes more belligerent and accusatorial with every new question — Edmund Burke’s English garden will once again begin to thrive in America. May Tony Blair, in his upcoming retirement, quickly forget his most recent speech, and instead humbly bask in the reflected glow of Burke, that most valuable and prevailing of British* contributions to our philosophy, liberty and security.

* Note to readers: Truth be told, Edmund Burke was born in Dublin. But don’t you all let my little insinuation that the Irish-bred Burke was a Brit get in the way of a perfectly serviceable essay! Does it really matter? I stand by my decision to write this essay, and I believe my purposes will be shown to be moral and just. Plus, it fits my presumptions and politics so nicely. I am the commander in chief of my keyboard! Furthermore, a recent poll says that at least 59% of readers don’t care one way or the other, or won’t notice the difference. And we wouldn’t want Tony Blair to feel bad just as I was trying to do the humanitarian thing after blasting his speech. Anyway, we’re all on the same side, unless you happen to be against all that is good and righteous…

**Note to the Dear Leaders of the Free World: Hey, George and Tony! Your stuff works great! I was in a tight spot, hit a little speedbump on the agenda, you know how it goes, but your advice was spot on! Thanks!