I suppose I should comment on Bush's attempt last week to rationalize his war crimes and impeachable offenses, though it is hard to know what to say. That people didn't burst into laughter while listening to this audacious tissue of lies, half-truths, and fantastic allegations is, itself, rather remarkable, and indicative of the extent to which people who are no doubt often "decent" in their daily lives can be coopted for world-historic malfeasance through some combination of ignorance and wishful thinking. The Progressive Blog Digest has a useful round-up of commentary, most of it appropriately scathing. You can't really get the full flavor, though, for how unhinged a large segment of the United States has become until you take a look at the laudatory remarks Bush's through-the-looking-glass speech also attracted. The problem isn't just that Bush & his bestiary of madmen are liars and villains; it's that they win praise from tens of millions for being "honest" and "just."
I am particularly taken with the latest rhetorical ploy of Bush & co., namely, the use of the word "revisionism" to describe their opponents' version of events leading up to the aggression against Iraq. This is perversely ironic on at least two levels: first, of course, because this Administration doesn't just "revise" history, it invents it wholesale; and second, because real historical revionists are motivated by a concern for evidence and truth, whereas both Bush and his Democratic critics (especially all those Democrat war-mongers who voted for war and tyranny) are motivated by short-term strategic advantage.
By way of illustration of the generally unhinged condition of political discourse in America, I shall focus on just a few passages from Bush's speech. Bush stated:
In the four years since September the 11th, the evil that reached our shores has reappeared on other days in other places -- in Mombasa and Casablanca and Riyadh and Jakarta and Istanbul and Madrid and Beslan and Taba and Netanya and Baghdad and elsewhere.
The central delusion that has gripped the American right since 9/11 is that captured in this litany of unrelated places: it is the idea that every terrorist incident is related to every other one, that the grievances of Chechen separatists have something to do with the grievances of Palestinian suicide bombers which have something to do with Sunni resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq which has something to do with the murderous delusions of religious fundamentalists actually beholden to Osama bin Laden. But these events have almost nothing to do with each other (as we have had occasion to remark previously), except that they serve the propaganda purposes of a decadent and amoral empire. One really can't repeat this often enough: there is no "war on terror," not only because you can't wage war on a technique, but because there is no single agent of terrorism motivated by a unitary set of concerns. The whole "war on terror" is a fraud, and anyone who speaks of such a fake war should be laughed out of serious society. If America had not lost its collective mind after 9/11, there would now be only an international criminal manhunt for bin Laden and other perpetrators of crimes against civilians in New York and London and Madrid (etc.).
Bush admits, effectively, that the "enemy" here is a construct worthy of Tolkein when he states:
Islamic radicalism is more like a loose network with many branches than an army under a single command.
Just like the international Jewish banking conspiracy, apparently.
Yet these operatives fighting on scattered battlefields share a similar ideology and vision for our world.
In fact, of course, Chechen separatists, Palestinian suicide bombers, Iraqi Sunni rebels, and actual bin Laden loyalists do not share a similar ideology, but no matter, let the fiction continue:
First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace, and stand in the way of their ambitions.
It is true that some of the "extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East," but obviously not because the U.S. has supported "democracy and peace" in the region (I assume this was supposed to be a laugh line), but largely because it has supported compliant regimes, from the largely democratic (like Israel) to the largely totalitarian and fascist (like Saudi Arabia or Iraq in the 1980s), without any regard for human rights, democracy, or peace, as opposed to the strategic economic and military interests of the U.S. (I say "largely" only because it seems equally clear that bin Laden is also, by his own admission, motivated by bizarre sectarian concerns, like the proximity of "infidels" to holy places in Saudi Arabia.)
Secondly, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments.
This may accurately describe bin Laden's personal ambitions, but the delusions of men hiding in caves should not, generally, be a sound basis for foreign policy.
Third, these militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all modern governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.
Bin Laden is a delusional religious fanatic, to be sure (surely Bush knows the "type"), but even he hasn't set his sights on Islamic revolution in Spain! (Again: perhaps this was meant as a laugh line.)
With the greater economic and military and political power they seek, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda -- to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people and to blackmail our government into isolation.
There is no doubt that there are hundreds of millions of people around the globe--most, to be sure, under the age of seven--who entertain fantasies of unlimited power over all their adversaries, from their parents to their neighbors to their distant enemies: part of grown-up leadership is to assess which of these fantasies of power are actually realistic.
Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme. They are fanatical and extreme, but they should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed. As Zarqawi has vowed: We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life. And a civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history -- from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot -- consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history.
This litany of "fanatical" and "extreme" exemplars of evil is telling. Hitler, who commanded the most powerful economy and military in Europe, the wealthiest Continent on the planet (at that time), was able to launch armies of millions and topple governments throughout the region. He murdered tens of millions. Stalin transformed a pre-industrial economy into one of the most powerful empires of the twentieth-century, at the cost, again, of millions of lives--only to be nearly destroyed by Hitler, before allying with the United States, defeating the Nazis, and subjecting millions of others in Eastern Europe to totalitarian rule.
Osama bin Laden, by contrast, is a man currently hiding in a cave, whose main achievements in the annals of human horror involve the killing of a few thousand civilians in isolated incidents. He commands no armies, occupies no countries, and threatens no national governments. Whatever consolidated international response was demanded by Hitler or Stalin is irrelevant to the response to the religious zealot in the cave.
Bush's mention of Pol Pot underlines the point, since he is, in some ways, the closest analogy to bin Laden (though, yet again, bin Laden's horrors pale by comparison to Pol Pot's). The U.S. destruction of Cambodia, in the course of its invasion and obliteraion of Vietnam, made Pol Pot's rise to power possible. (Think of the U.S. role in driving the Soviets from Afghanistan, and how important that was to bin Laden's rise to power.) After an orgy of murder, inflicted only upon the people of a single country, Pol Pot was deposed after only a few years, and never posed a threat again. At no time did the U.S. need to declare "global" war in order to defeat "all South East Asians" or "all French-educated communist utopians."
Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience must be taken very seriously, and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.
This is certainly true, but there is an important suppressed premise here: the "evil men" must have access to realistic means of realizing their ambition. I suppose it is because of this important premise that most of the world thinks that it is George W. Bush who must be stopped "before [his] crimes can multiply."
In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.
Bush must not be reading the reports from the Pentagon.
The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century.
Indeed, it does: it provides, as the communist threat did in an earlier era, a rationalization for foolish and dangerous domestic and foreign policies; an endless distraction from the self-serving agenda of plutocratic elites at home; and a rhetorical trope for a failed leader, whose personal and political corruption would have turned him out of office long ago in a functional democratic society.
One can only hope that future generations will find this preposterous rhetorical display as appallingly and transparently ridiculous as we now find old films of Stalinist or Nazi propaganda.