While the Soviet Union and most of her beneficiaries became more free in the past fifteen years — and thus more responsible for their own success or failure, more honestly accountable for their own joys and sorrows, one beneficiary of the old Soviet Union did not become more free, more responsible, or more accountable. You can probably guess the exact old Soviet beneficiary to which I refer.
The past annus horribilus strikes me as emblematic of the past decade, and perhaps of the entire post Cold War era. For fifteen years, we have struggled to explain ourselves as Americans in the world to the world. We quickly sucked dry the marrow of such words as winners, victors, and glorious freedom fighters. We needed a little Middle Eastern dustup in 1991 to eliminate excess military supplies and last generation equipment, and Father Bush happily engineered it. The American government needed to continue the kind of destabilization that early on, our manipulation of Iranian politics had provided, and later, what our support of both sides of the Iran-Iraq war had done so well. When Saddam Hussein conceded that draw with Iran and began to make good on his debts by selling what he assumed was his oil, American politicians and Western governments understood what was at stake. Thus, Saddam was publically emasculated.
When I say "emasculated," "dustup," "engineering" of a major destructive conflict, and killing poor ignorant people because one powerful state wishes it so, I am using 21st century language that is cynical, ugly, and repulsive to the politicians who advocated the American actions, and the soldiers who championed their mission. Future historians will not be bothered by my words, recognizing realism. Instead, future historians will pore over other words, much as today’s historians have pored over the state’s language from our own Civil War, World War I, World War II and Vietnam. Their fascination won’t be the ugly truth of our American foreign policy in the early post Cold War era, but rather the mysterious yet glorious, freedom fighting, democracy embracing, exalted love for the global citizen that was said to course through the veins of the inhabitants of Washington, D.C and throughout this great "homeland." Sociologists and psychologists will also spend time wondering how the people of a so-called republic again and again ate it up, devoured the lovely words, made them their own, and marched their nation patriotically into oblivion and disaster.
The sanctions on Iraq after 1991 were war by other means, with predictable results: a strengthened, heroic dictator presiding over a socially fragmented and economically drained populace, the one combination historically least likely to presuppose a real revolution. Perhaps in retrospect, historians will discover this was our intent after all. While American foreign policy mouthpieces from Bush to Clinton to Bush all insisted that Iraqi oil was to be owned and utilized for the benefit of Iraqis, surely we never meant that.
The current chapter of the never-ending story of American interference in the Middle East is George W. Bush’s Iraq. Interestingly, he was disrupted this week from rewriting his Iraq strategy at the ranch with news of a former president’s death. Bush’s press conference on Gerald Ford’s passing was mercifully brief — perhaps he knew from his friend Bob Woodward that Ford had held strong opinions on Bush’s decisions, his staff’s machinations, and the whole American government’s prosecution of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Ford was seen during his president as a regular guy, honest, faithful, patriotic, normal. His post-mortem comments on the Iraq fiasco prove that we were not wrong then about Ford, and we are not wrong today.
The past year has been destructive for George W. Bush, his staff, his political party, the defense department, and the finances of this country. It has been a hard year for the puppets and the talking heads at CNN and Fox News, on Clear Channel radio, and in the editorial offices of large and small town "conservative" newspapers. It has been a hard year for the ethical and moral among us, as we wonder how much more blood will be required to get the United States political leadership, Democrats and Republicans, to do the right thing, and how we ourselves should live in opposition to it all. Clearly, the love and warm feelings displayed across the aisle so far in Washington means that constitutionalists, libertarians, populists and patriots will wait a bit longer for the coveted gridlock that pushes governments towards the wise and accountable.
Sadly, it has not been a hard year for neoconservative media, as most of the war promoters have found new Democratic friends even as they absolve themselves of any personal responsibility for Iraq and Middle Eastern policy failures. And why not? Iraqis continue to die — except now they are killing each other. Middle Eastern countries — other than Israel — are roundly distrusted by Americans, even as they fight amongst themselves. It’s still good to be a neocon.
As 2006 ends, we hear that Saddam Hussein’s death sentence, sent down by a kangaroo court funded and staffed and protected by American occupiers, has been carried out. Iraq has no legitimate government except by force — and we are that force, at least for a few more months, at least in the Green Zone and within the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Oil. Saddam had information he could have shared in future war crimes trials — ideally those to be held in the United States for United States officials. Clearly, he needed to be done away with quickly, before the big day of mourning for Gerald Ford, and more importantly, before George W. Bush unveils his "NewStrategy" for Iraq. Bush has been, as we might have expected, working hard on it. After all, 3,000 young men and women are dead and 50,000 injured and maimed as a result of his previous strategies. The fiasco in Iraq will exceed the duration of the Civil War and of World War II. People might start asking questions about why we fight, you know.
I hope that 2007 brings some curatives for the moral malaise that grips this country. I hope it brings peace and cooperation within Iraq, across the Middle East, and between Israel and Palestine. I hope that our government in all of its Judeo-Christian cheap talk has a genuine come-to-Jesus meeting in January, heeding the desperate pleas of the Comptroller General, and the majority of Americans who understand the idiocy and immorality of our occupation of Iraq, be they generals or former Presidents, the old men of the previous Bush era, normal people all over the country, the young and the dead. I’d like to see 2007 bring a new kind of respect for reality, reverence for truth, and real hard work. Not the reverence, reality and hard work George W. Bush talks about, but the kind that the silent majority of the country today actually lives every day, without showmanship, strutting and complicated speeches.
I don’t think it is too much to ask. And as always, to borrow a phrase from a previous time, let it begin with me. Happy New Year!