Occupied America

There are some interesting differences between living in neoconservative occupied America and neoconservative occupied Iraq. Our neoconservatives came in under cover of presidential appointment and moved catlike from cozy American Enterprise Institute conference rooms into even cozier offices in the E-Ring of the Pentagon, to sunny floors of the State Department, and into the baroque curves and corners of the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House.

Iraq’s neoconservatives came to town smelling of diesel sucked in through the air conditioners of their Toyota LandRovers bumping up behind a line of U.S. Army tanks. If they moved catlike at all, it was to prevent the bulletproof vests from chafing their delicate skin in the short travail from military escort to the latest vacated palace.

The results have been much the same in both cases. Foreign and domestic policy for the respective countries must seem, to the average American as to the average Iraqi, to be designed and implemented by space aliens. A different species of political leader, from a different culture, with a new language. Jerry Bremer doesn’t know how to be polite in Iraqi or Arab culture or get the cell phones and power back on (subtle hint for the proconsul — step the hell aside, you socialist bimbo!). George Bush doesn’t seem to know the difference between the yellowcake you can’t make bombs from without high-tech—processing equipment not available in Iraq, and the stuff found in the baking aisle at the local grocery store.

No matter. There are some differences, and it is good news. It turns out that Iraqis are evolving into true news junkies, and beyond, into information connoisseurs. The New York Times reports that for suppliers of televisions, satellite dishes, newspapers, and access to the Internet, business is booming in many parts of Iraq. The only problem, according to the New York Times, is that Iraqis don’t know what to believe with all of the choices around them.

This is truly a "good news" story for what is left of Iraq, and God bless them every one. Ingenious, energetic people in an open marketplace are finding ways to get lots of information technology goods and services into Iraq, and the people in Iraq are profiting as entrepreneurs and as human beings. The Times goes on to say the "nascent Iraqi media offers evidence that a free market can thrive here."

Whoa! Offers evidence? A thriving free market is the natural state of human association and human action. It is people inspired and free to create, trade and preserve things that have value to themselves and others, through an unrestricted, often indirect, access to millions of other unique and valuable people. A free market is not, as the reporter’s sentence intimates, a cultural quality, somehow found in the soil or water or gene pool of a particular vicinity. It is not something we have to plant and nurture like some hypersensitive orchid. If it were, of course the statement becomes even more asinine, as the Tigris Euphrates basin could teach the rest of the world a few things about the free market, given they have been doing it for thousands of years minus some relatively short-term interruptions by external conquerors and domestic socialist tyrants.

A free market thrives when supplier and consumer are free to communicate with each other, through unfettered pricing and valuation. It works in proportion to the extent it is free from external interference, whether by mafias, governments, or in the case of Iraq, the Civilian Provisional Authority. Coercion looks the same no matter who does it, and Saddam and Jerry Bremer both have had a role in disrupting the Iraqi "free market" as surely as a boot disrupts the life of an industrious ant underfoot. The market despises war, and states for that matter; its healthy existence is antithetical to the physical destruction that precedes mass government theft, theft made possible only by the power of states to extract the gold and blood of it citizens.

The assumption of marketplace frailty, of the free market as unexpected and surprising in an Arab country as water suddenly flowing from a rock, or bit of shrubbery burning bright without being consumed, is mind-boggling in its mix of arrogance, navet and basic misunderstanding of economics and human behavior. That such a statement is made as part of a news story is appalling in itself, but the sin is multiplied a thousandfold when not questioned (and it won’t be) by millions of American readers.

America’s occupiers, the big government, war-oriented eunuchs who guard and watch over the Texas emperor’s global string of poor oil-producing countries, and others who facilitate oil and gas pipelines, have succeeded in America in a way they will never succeed in Iraq. This is because, as the Times points out with some concern, Iraqis are busy assessing, questioning, choosing and analyzing the wide variety of information now available to them. They are asking questions, becoming critical consumers, demanding valid information upon which to make decisions.

They can thank Saddam for this. Saddam taught just about every Iraqi how to tell if your government representatives, politicians, security workers, and co-opted neighbors are lying to you. You guessed it. Their lips are moving. I imagine that even Iraqi ventriloquists were caught up in this tendency to be disbelieved.

In occupied America, we have not yet been delivered into that Joplinesque freedom of having nothing left to lose. We still think that our government tells the truth, to the extent that if we observe the government lying, we — like abused women at the violent hands of some drunken boyfriend — make excuses. He didn’t really mean it, it was for my own good, he’s really a good man when he isn’t drinking or having a bad day.

Philip K. Dick’s greatest novel was The Man in the High Castle. He describes an America that lost World War II, divided into a Japanese two-tiered ethno-socialism on the west coast and German fascism on the East Coast. But there is a time in the story when the main character has a brief vision of an America as it might have been — prosperous, ethnically diverse, meritocratic, free — he thinks it might be drug induced, and the vision quickly disappears. For a moment, it is not clear which world is true and which is a dream.

Occupied Iraq is getting a glimpse of a rich future. Because they already know that their government, of Saddam before or Bremer and the CPA appointees after, lies, misleads and works at cross purposes to their free market, they have a real chance of creating a future themselves of prosperity, free markets, and limited government.

Occupied America, on the other hand, is still busy giving more flesh, more gold, and more honor to the power drunk, arrogant, pro-war, pro-spending, anti-freedom liars in Washington. While Leiberman accuses quasi-fiscally conservative Dean of being too far left, and Bush wonders if Colin Powell will really quit and what that does to his 2004 chances if the man starts talking about what really happened this year, occupied America cowers, hoping the beatings will stop soon.