Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dispensing with a Neo-Con canard

One of the Neo-Con complaints about Donald Rumsfeld, which only found a public airing after the fact, is that the he should have sent more troops, quite a few more, to subdue the insurgency. In hindsight, this argument seems to have merit, but the world isn't lived in hindsight.

With the benefit of hindsight, assuming one still agrees with the colonial adventure, the need for more troops is clear. Installing a number of permanent US bases in Iraq to ensure enforcement of the new oil PSAs was always going to require a significant troop presence.

But I don't remember this war ever being about control of oil resource or the creation of a new American colony in the Middle East while it was being sold to the American people.

Samuel Clemens wrote that fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, the truth isn't. Thus the lack of troops in Iraq. As Paul Wolfowitz famously opined, For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.

Removing WMDs and deposing Saddam were the raison d'ĂȘtre of the War during the sales pitch phase. The exercise was supposed to be a cakewalk because the people of Iraq would welcome US troops with open arms and gratefully accept our help in liberating them from Saddam.

And so many of them did, at first. Saddam was a tyrant. Troop levels were sufficient to depose the tyrant and search for possible WMDs. But the aims of the current executive branch were much broader than finding WMDs and deposing Saddam, which brings us to today's dilemma.

If, instead of settling on easy to sell bureaucratic reasons, the broader aims of opening Iraq for the oil majors, inter alia, were openly discussed the need for more troops for much longer periods of time would have been obvious.

But, I doubt if the American people would have supported the war so wholeheartedly if the plan sold on that basis. As Pat Buchanan argues often, colonialism isn't part of America's DNA. The idea of the consent of the governed, so firmly entrenched in the founding documents of the nation, particularly the Declaration of Independence is inconsistent with aggressive colonial expansion. This isn't to argue that there haven't been and aren't factions that desire such a political economy, but rather that, thus far at least,
thankfully, adventures in colonialism need to be sold on a different basis than grabbing resource.

But let's assume, for sake of argument, that the American people would have, in theory, supported the idea of a Middle Eastern colony. As a practical matter, I doubt they would have been willing to pay the price, another stumbling block for the Neo-Con salesmen.

The War was supposed to pay for itself, as Wolfowitz argued: There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon. Larry Lindsey and Paul O'Neill were dumped from the administration, in part, because they argued the war would cost much more than the public discourse suggested.

Ah, the tangled webs we weave. In order to prosecute any war successfully, as Colin Powell knew well, the aims of the war have to be clearly defined, and troop levels need to be overwhelming in light of that objective. The decision to sell the war on a fraudulent basis, while trying to obscure the eventual cost, all but guaranteed difficulty.

And that is one of the ways the mythos of any culture works on its people.
It details behaviors that can be practiced overtly and those which need to be practiced covertly. In many cultures, for instance, one cannot proclaim that one intends to steal or kill if one wishes to avoid recrimination.

As Plato realized, the Homeric Mythos created archetypal heroes. Instead of kids wanting to "be like Mike" (in reference to Michael Jordan), or Tiger Woods, Greek children dreamed of being Heracles, or Achilles, or Odysseus. It was the hope of Christian fathers to replace this mythos with a new one, with new heroic exemplars, notably Christ. Likewise the founding fathers of this nation hoped to create their own mythos of liberty, with a new (perhaps additional would be, in some instances, more accurate) set of heroes.

For the United States to become a militarily imposed Empire, it will need to find a new soul, a new defining mythos. Until that time such adventures will always run into difficulties as the system works against its sense of self.

In that regard I take comfort that the Neo-Cons felt they had to lie. They knew their desires ran counter to the American soul described in our founding documents, and feared to test those waters.