Thursday, November 09, 2006

Agreeing with Donald Rumsfeld

The great respect that I have for your leadership, Mr. President, in this little understood, unfamiliar war, the first war of the 21st century -- it is not well-known, it was not well-understood, it is complex for people to comprehend. Donald Rumsfeld's parting words

As the first sacrificial lamb headed for slaughter it opened its mouth and out came irony.

Yes, Donald, (I use the familiar as he is no longer an official) this war is both unfamiliar and little understood. Of course, obscurantist speech has that effect, does it not? As with many lessons in life, the virtues of plain speech are only recognized when the opposite choice has born fruit.

It's the deception, stupid.

The War in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, that is, the War on those who don't take US imperialism lying down is not well understood. The causes of the War
, to name a few, can be found in the US' choice, in the early 80s to not continue to reduce dependence on foreign oil imports, in the rapid success of Gulf War I, which inflated views of the efficacy of force, and in the fall of the Soviet Union, which led many, like Francis Fukuyama, to see Neo-liberalism as the final stage of political-economic development.

The glamour of utopia is always and everywhere seductive.

I also agree with Mr. Rumsfeld's earlier assertions that the War in Iraq is not at all like that in Vietnam. Fighting to maintain and/or gain colonies was still in (albeit waning) vogue in the 60s. Western dominance was a given. Notions of national sovereignty have strengthened in the intervening decades. The world, as Thomas Friedman put it, has flattened.

Vietnam was also not a significant trader on the world stage, as it did not possess or produce hard to find commodities.

Iraq, by contrast, sits on a sea of black gold, which can, as President Bush recently warned, be held from the market to mold opinion in importing countries, or be sold at substantial profit to build up military might. From this perspective, walking away from Vietnam was easy (although in the event it looked anything but) while walking away from Iraq will have major consequences- not insurmountable consequence, but painful nonetheless.

Before I create too much confusion, I'm not arguing that the decision to go to War was wise, or that the US should continue this adventure in colonialism. My argument is that the focus on finding a bureaucratic reason, to quote Wolfowitz, to sell the war to the people was detrimental to a real inquiry into the pros and cons of such a risky endeavor. The very fat (and getting fatter by the minute) tail in the study of possible future scenarios
of what if we lose was, as virtually every book on the topic argues, never discussed.

Cheney's one percent doctrine comes to mind, if there was but a one percent chance the US might lose the War in Iraq, given the cataclysmic effects of such an event, it should not have been pursued.

But it was pursued. And an ugly, non-spinnable reality unfolded, and unfolds still.

The US is caught in Iraq. To stay is to pour more lives and treasure into an unwinnable, or so I believe, exercise of a colonial world view which had already been disproven. It wasn't the end of history, but the lack of study thereof.

To leave Iraq lock, stock and permanent military base, is to admit that the American Empire is dead, and to begin to rationalize the US economy on apples to apples terms. For when the American Empire dies, the US$ will need to find its own level and the terms of trade will change, most likely not in our favor.

I, for one, will be happy to see the Empire go, for then I might find the country I read about, remember and still see about me in small pockets again. To use a sports analogy, it was the awareness of a probable loss that made the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Gold Medal so sweet. Being the underdog suits us, or so I believe.

I still have faith in the tenets of this nation and the people who believe in them.

But it will be a tough sell. Just as the end of wars leads to distress among the makers of munitions, the end of empire will lead to distress among its proponents, and they are many, on both sides of the political aisle.

I've been party to a few growing companies and that was always a fun experience-hiring new people, finding new office space and handing out bigger checks. What's not to like?

I was also working at Chase during the late 80s down sizing and that was not fun. Management at the time was a revolving door because few can survive for long as the bearer of bad tidings.

If Jimmy Carter found it a tough sell to get the US to conserve oil back when we only imported a third of what we used, back when the trade and fiscal deficits were orders or magnitude less, who will be able to sell conservation and sacrifice now? The meme of dominance will be hard to shake. So the final cuts will likely be ostensibly inflected from outside, perhaps China's recent comment about diversifying away from US$ reserves is the first of these.

Yes, Donald, the War in Iraq was little understood, by yourself. It did not need to be our Waterloo, Stalingrad or Suez, but barring some miracle looks likely to be so.

And we, or at least some of us, might find that it's OK. People are still happy in France, Germany and the UK.

Life goes on.


rr_ said...

Seymour Hersch mentioned taking a call from one of his sources in Baghdad who says "Welcome to Stalingrad."

What does it mean when so many of the actors do understand the historical precedents?

Dude said...

Sorry I missed your comment for a few days.

Yes, some actors do grasp historical precedents, sadly they are usually not calling the shots. Thus they sometimes end up in that sense of being in a car that's out of control and about to crash, for years.

Cicero is one figure in antiquity that comes to mind. He was well aware of the eventual effects of the political shifts going on around him, and even aware of the risks he took, which eventually led to his death, by beheading.