The American Empire is scheduled to depart from Iraq in June. The unofficial word is out in Washington: Karl Rove has told President Bush that the body count, however much reduced by strange definitions of what constitutes a battlefield death, is going to cost him the election if it continues through the summer. Dutifully, the Commander-in-Chief has announced a June deadline for the transfer of Iraq’s sovereignty to “the Iraqis,” meaning whichever remnants of the coalition of the suppressed will still officially deal with him on his terms.
If you want a mental image of what is taking place in the White House today, picture Dorothy and her three companions walking through the forest of Oz. They are chanting, over and over, “Shi’ites and Sunnis and Kurds.”
The United States government started a pre-emptory war last year. Patriotic couch potatoes marveled at televised shock and awe: flash, boom, smoke. “Wow! Neat! Cool!” President Bush, Sr., said in 1991, “This shall not stand.” That is what his son said about the Baghdad skyline. But Americans are now being asked to pick up the pieces, or at least to pay Halliburton to pick up the pieces. Karl Rove has heard the rumblings. The departure date is now set.
Of course, all of the troops will not depart. Reserves are being called up to serve as car-bomb fodder. But, officially, the United States will become an invited observer, probably sharing authority with the United Nations. (This assumes — safely — that no elections will be held prior to June 30; otherwise, the United States will be asked to leave on July 1.). That will please liberals, who will chant, “Bush should have done it this way from the beginning.” Meanwhile, conservatives will conveniently overlook the fact that (1) the U.S. military is in retreat mode and (2) the Administration had to beg the United Nations Organization to come to Iraq and bail out Mr. Bush politically. Rush Limbaugh will not remind his listeners of this embarrassing fact. He will not sing the praises of “those courageous and dedicated representatives of the United Nations, the world’s legitimizer of last resort.” He will, instead, do his Winston Smith imitation, for which he is deservedly famous.
Americans thoroughly enjoy seeing American troops bang heads around the world, but only on these assumptions: (1) the victims can’t or won’t fight back; (2) the military’s adventures do not visibly tap into Americans’ pocketbooks; (3) our troops can pull out at any time without visibly putting their tails between their legs. When there are helicopter retreats from Saigon, American voters react in a hostile fashion. Americans like war, but they like it cheap.
The war in Iraq has been costly in every sense, yet Americans still are paying higher prices at the gasoline pump. The price of oil has risen. The flow of oil out of Iraq today barely trickles. The pipelines cannot be defended by our troops. They are being blown up, although the media rarely report this. The Iraq adventure has now become a vast foreign aid program, and Americans do not like foreign aid programs. The do not like to share the wealth. They want to get their hands on the wealth confiscated politically from their neighbors. They resent foreign interlopers who tap into the flow of stolen goods.
When the regular troops pull out, news from Iraq will peter out, just as Iraqi oil has. There will be stories of this or that car bombing, this or that assassination, this or that break-off tribe. But Iraq will become Afghanistan in the perception of most Americans: out of sight, out of mind. If you want it packaged in a convenient slogan, however incorrect politically, I suggest this one: “When wogs are killing only wogs, the West loses interest.”
This will mark the reversal of the American empire. It has taken a long time.
“WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION”
George W. Bush invoked weapons of mass destruction, just as Lyndon Johnson invoked the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It was never quite clear exactly what had happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, but it is clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Johnson was never successfully exposed publicly as a liar regarding the Gulf of Tonkin. Bush has been exposed, and will continue to be exposed, as either completely misled or a liar, either a nincompoop or a deceiver. He is never going to get back his image as a reliable leader in a time of war, which is the only positive image he ever enjoyed, brief as it was. He will be on the defensive from now on. The phrase, “weapons of mass destruction,” will be pinned on his backside the same way “trust me” was pinned on Carter, “read my lips: no new taxes” was pinned on Bush’s father, and “I feel your pain” was pinned on Clinton, barely leaving enough room for “I did not have sex with that woman.”
It will become extremely difficult from now on for any American President to invoke a looming military threat in order to justify military intervention by the United States. Clearly, President Bush will never be able to do this again, but I think it goes beyond him. His enduring legacy will be the conversion of “weapons of mass destruction” into the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time.” The phrase will become a laughingstock. Every President from now on who attempts to justify anything comparable to the Iraq war will be greeted with Congressional hoots of “weapons of mass destruction.” Any Congressman with an eye to being re-elected (but I repeat myself) will remember seeing John Kerry’s verbal tap-dancing around his support of launching a war against Iraq. No Congressman wants to be sucked into a retroactive quagmire.
Iraq is a sandy quagmire, just as the war’s critics predicted it would be. It is Vietnam without a comparable body count. It is a continuing disaster, and as soon as the troops leave, Rush Limbaugh will cease trying to defend the disaster. When the troops depart, the Republican faithful will become afflicted with what I call Rushheimer’s disease: selective amnesia. Saddam Hussein will get a trial, but media coverage will match the coverage given to Slobodan Milosevic’s trial.
The war was a bipartisan effort, but because of the President’s rhetoric, he will deservedly get blamed. The Democrats will not push too hard, however, because voters might make the connection between the President’s unsubstantiated claims and Congress’s willingness to roll over and play dead, or whatever it was playing when it rolled over. (“Will you still respect me in the morning?” “Sure I will, baby.”) The next time a President calls for an invasion, Congress will be far less supine.
LOSING THE WAR
Our troops won a minor battle in March, 2003. That battle was called a war, but it was only one battle in a very long war. This war has been going on for about 14 centuries. The war’s main theater today is the Middle East. When it becomes apparent to America’s enemies, which are also the State of Israel’s enemies, that the United States did not win its phase of the ancient war, they will be emboldened. Winning the battle in the Middle East requires permanent military occupation by the victors. American voters will not pay the price required. When it comes to wars, American voters are great believers in hit and run. For them, a war is a one-night stand. They prefer to get on with business. Americans want a commercial empire, not a military empire. They view a military empire as justified only because it promotes business. Iraq is not promoting business.
Americans have no intention of becoming surrogate Israelis. The State of Israel is now permanently on the defensive. When Israeli troops fled from Lebanon — “fled” is the correct word to describe their literally overnight departure — it was clear who is winning the war.
This war is deeply religious. This makes it a demographic war. Israelis are losing this war in the bedroom. It is only a matter of time, which is why they are building the wall: a very large prophylactic to deal with the effects of smaller prophylactics. But the comparative birth rates inside the wall’s confines tell the story. The Arabs are winning. They know it. Only if the government imposes a new diaspora and forces all Arabs outside the wall can the Israelis even pretend to be winning. This would be a policy of democracy by removal — what the Afrikaners were unwilling to attempt. In gentile countries, this process is called ethnic cleansing. It is very popular in areas where Muslims and Christians seek territorial hegemony.
In Europe the same war is in progress. Muslims are winning it in the same place: the bedroom. If the trend continues — and there is little evidence that it won’t — the result is inevitable. Christian Europe, which is in fact secular Europe, is going to be replaced. Tours and Lepanto will prove to have been minor skirmishes in a very long war. I can think of only one event that might reverse this process. No one ever mentions it in polite company. It is officially unthinkable. Yet it is being thought in high places. It could take place within 30 minutes from now. It would change everything geopolitically. The Israelis could launch a pre-emptory nuclear strike against Mecca and Medina. The primary symbols of Islam would be reduced to radioactive dust. If the Israelis used a cobalt-tipped bomb, Muslims could not visit Mecca for millennia. Yet Muslims are told to do so at least once in a lifetime.
This tactic is Israel’s trump card strategically. Everyone in power in the Middle East knows it, but no one ever mentions it publicly. Muslims venerate Mecca and Medina and their monuments. When veneration becomes superstition, monuments become primary military targets for the enemy. If the Jews blast Mecca’s rock into radioactive dust, the fallout will be more than radioactive dust. It could be the end of Islam.
Do I think this attack will ever happen? Yes. The Israelis know they are in a fight to the death. They know they will never be accepted by Arabs as lawful residents in the region. Over time, they will be overcome demographically. They know it. Their enemies know it. So, when push comes to shove, Mecca and Medina will disappear.
The United States government is not about to play this trump card. So, the United States is going to lose the war in the Middle East. If you hold back in the Middle East, you are perceived as a loser. The United States has no ace in the hole. Voters here are impatient.
President Bush used to talk tough. Rumsfeld talked about a war lasting for decades. But the Bush Administration will not last for decades. It may not last another twelve months. This is why all the tough talk has ended. The war that matters here is politics, and Iraq has become a political liability. We see and hear little from Rumsfeld these days. Rove appears to have put a gag on him.
The neo-cons are finished. They said the Iraq war would be a cakewalk. It wasn’t. They said we had to establish a presence in the Middle East. We couldn’t. The Republican Party, once Bush leaves office, will not listen to them again. They will publish their subsidized magazines and pretend that the public is listening, but the public has had enough. The neo-cons are visibly losers. They got their shot at power, and they squandered it in the streets of Baghdad. Straussians do not need to read between the lines in order to discern this traditional message: “Americans do not listen to losers.”
Bobos in paradise are uninterested in the Middle East. Trust me.
The contraction of the American empire will begin in June. It has already lost considerable legitimacy in the eyes of the voters, not because of some great alteration of their principles, but because we are being car-bombed out of the place. The oil is not flowing. Sand isn’t worth the price.
This will be an historic event. Historians will be able to establish a date on which to hang their narratives. Historians will do anything to find such a dated event. December 7, 1941 marks the beginning of the empire in the textbooks, although the Spanish-American War was the more obvious birthplace, assuming that the Louisiana Purchase wasn’t — a major assumption. But Pearl Harbor gets all the attention because of the unarguable transformation of American foreign policy that it produced. Sporadic intervention prior to Pearl Harbor became permanent intervention after.
The troops’ departure from Iraq will mark the day that Johnny comes marching home. There will be no parades, any more than there were when Israeli troops pulled out of Lebanon.
The implosion of the American empire is about to begin — not just the military one but also the commercial one. An empire that can no longer afford to keep its troops on active duty in occupied areas is not a good credit risk.
Mark the date on your calendar: June 30, 2004.
February 23, 2004
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