Thursday, August 17, 2006

Once Upon a Time

[latest blog entries here]

This is a story about the neo-conservative thought process. It is also an answer to the question in what world does George W. Bush live?

Say you have two uninteresting stories. The first about a teen age boy and girl who meet, fall fiercely in love with each other, talk all the time about their love and want to be together forever. The second story is about two families who have been feuding for several generations. Every times members of one family bump into those of the other in the city square, trouble erupts. Now put the two stories together and for interest have the boy be from one family and the girl from another. Suddenly the expectations, values and actions in each story begin to constraint or challenge those in the other. The atoms of each part of the respective stories combine into molecules of a new story. We might get a story of desperate, forbidden love in a world of violence and plans that go awry. In the hands of a good playwright, it could become a very interesting and moving play.

Hollywood has a nifty shorthand for creating or describing a new story as the meld (or interference) of two familiar ones. It is “meets,” as in “Tootsie meets Fiddler on the Roof equals Yentl,” the Barbra Streisand vehicle also known in the trade as Tootsie on the Roof. Or Romeo and Juliet meets Blackboard Jungle to get West Side Story. In his brilliant book The Political Unconscious, literary critic Frederick Jameson deepens the idea of “meets” by developing a grammar (rules and constraints) for how conflicting narratives gives rise to novels seeking to resolve or transcend the conflict. Jameson’s convincing argument is startling because the novels he analyzes are generally considered to be realistic or naturalistic, e.g., Balzac, Gissing, Conrad. Most people regards them as either simple reflections of a world “out there” or reflections mediated by the author’s approvals and disapprovals of what is in that world. The mediated case gives rise to genre like satire, melodrama. For Jameson, the conflicting narratives can be such reflections. Embedded in their respective socio-economic situations, they reflect its normative expectations, world views and notions of social identities. But the story their interaction generates is not similarly grounded. It is ideological in the sense of being the product of ideas playing against one another rather than against a perception of some reality.

Gilles Kepel’s magisterial The War for Muslim Minds suggests that a similar process produced the neo-conservatives vision of The New Middle East and the US policies needed to realize it. In the mid-1990s, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle and their associates, including Richard Cheney, recognized a basic conflict between the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security and to the security of Middle East oil. To secure the oil reserves, the US relied on a series of government and corporate alliances with the traditional rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The neo-conservatives, however, anticipated increasing instability of these regimes, because of their populations’ economic frustrations and susceptibility to Iran’s message of radical Islam. Moreover the neo-conservatives judged that the regime’s standard way of coping with public unrest was to direct it at Israel, but their doing so would again would be inimical to Israel’s security.

Their ideological solution story was democratizing the Middle East. There were several key beliefs that developed the story:
  • market organized, liberal democracies are the only possible outcomes of economic and social development – Fukuyama’s “end of history” theory;
  • development in the Arab world is being blocked by traditional and dictatorial rulers, most notably Saddam Hussein;
  • “smart bombs” and other precision guided munitions can enable the United States to surgically remove Saddam and his supporters, and send a message to other rulers to speed reforms;
  • Most Arabs and Muslims do not deeply care about the Palestinians, but their rulers and clergy use it to divert attention from their real interests.
The neo-conservatives story of the New Middle East has been ridiculed for being simplistic and naïve. It told of an international system composed only of states, ignored the variety in radical Islam, missed completely Saudi Arabia’s deal with Islamic fundamentalism to bolster its regime, overstated the importance of economic development and understated the accompanying social dislocation and insecurities, etc. These critiques miss the point: The neo-conservatives did not misperceive reality, they did not look at reality at all. Their story was not based on an analysis of the international terrain under some suitable model that would identify forces, trends, challenges, opportunities amid shifts in power distributions. It was the resolution of an intellectual conflict.

The New Middle East story would almost certainly have remained a cult text, except for two events: The Supreme Court awarded George W. Bush the election of 2000, and September 11, 2001. In Bush the neo-cons found a man who experienced existentially the conflict they had resolved theoretically. He had a born-again Christian’s commitment to Israel’s security and years of involvement in the oil industry. But 9/11 forced him to take action. The equation of Iraq with Islamic terrorism having already been made, the creation of The New Middle East was on its way.

So in what world does George Bush live? In that of "Once upon a time…


Anonymous Montag said...

We can see this demonstrated in their tortured concepts, "Islamo-Fascism," and "Axis of Evil." They're trying to pound a square block into a round hole by equating their struggle to remold the Islamic states with World War II. The French tried that when they expected to fight WWII with the WWI-inspired Maginot Line, only to be outflanked by reality.

Another failing is the pedant's curse of lumping disparate groups together as being merely different heads of the same hydra beast, thus tilting at windmills in Iraq and Lebanon instead of the real enemy. Someone once said that, "Order is the virtue of mediocrity." We can see this personified whenever Dear Leader Bush begins one of his tortured, intellectually simplistic "explanations" of why his government has just done something self-defeating yet again.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Dienstag said...

montag, you beat me on making the Islamic Fascism connection. and i guess i needed ignatius's help to get it.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous daphne said...

It's been my experience that the neo-conservatives are not the only group who does not look at reality at all. MOST PEOPLE do not look at reality very much or very clearly. Looking at reality can be painful, tragic, and difficult. Who was it who said, (I'm paraphrasing here) "Mankind cannot stand too much reality" Was it T.S. Eliot? Looking at reality means one must give up one's preconceived notions and look at what's really there, to paraphrase William Wordsworth.

Idealogies tilt all our perceptions. Perhaps that's why meditation is meant to empty the mind.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

To Daphne,

This "MOST PEOPLE" is a bit off kilter. "MOST PEOPLE" are unclear of what is reality and what is a propaganda mirage when it comes to the Middle East. Hence the public is moldable to the ideological gamesmanship of the neo-conservative daydreamers. George Bush does well in one area, salesmanship.

His relentless campaigning and clear ease at stump speaking make him a fine example of a used car salesman turned politician. Have you ever noticed that in formal speaking, Bush falls down? Note now that when explanations are due for failures, Bush is left looking like a stammering fool.

America has gone on an ideological fool's errand. The public is waking up to it. Making a meld of this would require a Fellini to figure out, but I would offer "Elmer Gantry" meets "The Emperor Jones." Fast talking rainmaker hears the drums of failure coming closer and closer.

5:37 AM  
Anonymous Max Sitting said...

Do we really need another brilliant analysis from another brilliant intellectual to tell us that the fantasy addicted mind of human beings cannot have a direct understanding of reality? In 1781 Kant spelled that out in his Kritik der Reinen Vernunft.

Ideological thinking avoids any nitty gritty sociological content or bends the sociological content to its ideological preferences. What else is new? And it's not particular to any one ideological way of thinking.

Jean Paul Sartre and Irving Kristol sleep in the same bed.

5:53 AM  
Blogger cognitorex said...

One of the results of excessive alcohol intake over many years is the "Desires Equal Expectations Psychosis (D.E.E.P.)," also known as "Simply Hoping isn't Truth (S.H.I.T.)" or 'wishful thinking.' Imagine a corporation where the marketing division has co-opted all the power. Hopeful fancy pronouncements of success and glory issue forth daily while the industrial (or in this case political) entity hemorrhages cash, loses customers and is an irreversible decline.
There exists under these conditions an eery but somehow not unexpected similarity between the Bush White House and the Enron fantasy structure.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Dienstag said...

To Max,

more relevant than Kant is Kerkegaard's notion of (leap of) faith as the resolution of a belief dilemma (like Kant's anomalies). So Bush and the faith based approach to foreign policy. Shouldn't we have policies that are based at least on phenomena and evidence.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Dienstag said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:40 AM  
Blogger John Koch said...

Some neocons really did think the US might install a new democratic model in Iraq that might spread elsewhere. This was a charitable "once upon a time" story--nice if true--but not essential to the objective.

Perle never once pretended Iraqi construction would be pluralistic or easy. His formula was to hand power swiftly over to an exile group to rebuild the country under an enlightened despotism in the Ataturk fashion. His errors were simply to overestimate Chalabi's support in Iraq and to underestimate the idealism of other neocons. Iraq may still have an authoritarian outcome, altough not of the secularist type he would have preferred.

That said, Iraq still not count as an absolute failure. Two things still manage to explain and "justify" the removal of Saddam. First, after he shot SCUDS as Israel in 1991, there was every reason to think he would do so again. Second, Israel could never allow that next time be be one where even a single warhead were nuclear.

Paul Wolfowitz spent the 1990s crusading for missile defense systems. Absent a US intervention to remove Saddam, such systems were the only hope. With Saddam gone, now there is a reprieve.

Something else. Look at Wolfowitz's review of the Cold War in a 2000 issue of The National Interest. His constaint obsession was that people will go wobbly and abandon commitments. They need some powerful threat to keep from sinking into isolation or pacifism. Europe had already abandoned Israel. Would the US be next? Even Israelis appeared on the verge of succumbing to the craven depths of appeasement.

Now that fear is gone. The US is stuck, irremediably in the region and must deal with precisely the same threats--indefinitely. Now Americans are told they face dire, unimaginable catastrophe if they abandon Iraq or the Mideast at large to "Islamofascists" or the Hitler of Tehran. Two Lieberman Demos portray the threat frighteningly in their WAPO Outlook article, “What Next?”

The Iraq venture was only half fantasy. One half has come true and, for whatever its shortcomings, shields Israel from abandonment for the next 15 years.

Now, if you think there is any other way out of this, quite a few 2008 presidential contenders could use your advice! The current WH occupant might still try to expand the show to Iran, but is more than likely to pass off the situtaion, as is, to his successor.

Message: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thing of Israel 20 years from today. 30% of the population arab, perhaps 40% orthodox. Do something creative with that stew. Arnold

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Dienstag said...

to john koch,

i was in Tel Aviv during the first Gulf War. Both the SCUDs and the Patriots were overhyped. but Wolfie's make believe was creating a first rate military threat out of a third-rate tyrant. The Iraqi heartland was damn well overflown during the 1990s by NATO and the US, and it was common knowledge in Israel MI that Saddam did not have anything like the A of ABC. Also, no delivery for the B or C, since the SCUDs were never in Western Iraq, during the decade. Check out the testimony of the head of Israel MI to the Knesset a few weeks before the second Gulf war. Seems like you're backing the evaluation of Wolfowitz as the "stupidest f-ing person who ever lived."

7:24 PM  
Blogger james_speaks said...

My Hero, Douglas "Let's Bomb Paraguay" Feith is the dumbest motherfucker who ever lived.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous B,A, said...

A very interesting first post in this discussion: battles over ideas suffocate efforts to grasp reality. I like it, but...

Not much mention of "oil" in the follow-ups, which grabbed my attention, as well spoken as each of you may be.

The United States, in deep debt, found a way to pay a good deal of its debts simply by claiming and taking oil from a battered, helpless (in the face of the U.S., that is), bombed-to-pieces Iraq.

How to justify such a blatant theft of the world's most coveted resource? Stoke up ethnic hatred globally, against "all Arabs" (how many "nuke 'em all" comments have we all seen on the Internet?).

How to fuel such a raging, blind hatred of Arabs? Promptly (8 months into Bush's first term) destroy office towers and part of the U.S. Pentagon building, using Kamikaze aircraft and simply claim "Arabs did it" sufficiently often to appear sincere. To this day that claim is repeated.

It's a tale of two claims: claiming another nation's oil militarily, after claiming "Arabs" (many of whom happen to be in Iraq) used electronically hijack-able commercial aircraft as flying bombs -- planes that any fool at N.O.R.A.D. could have taken off-course, not just away from their targets but away from entire cities. How Americans forgot about this technology remains baffling, but a global cessation of in-flight aircraft hijackings tells me the "terrorists" didn't forget about it.

But most important of all was the Neocons standing by their claims, come what may, as absurd as each were. Note the cost of the Iraq invasion was an unknown back in 2001, not likely to make the oil theft sufficiently profitable to solve U.S. debt problems which, in any case, have completely unrelated forces inflating them.

I've changed my mind from alleged Neocon concerns about U.S. debts, which I originally thought would be a final pretext for stealing another nation's oil. Paying off U.S. debt (private, public) now appears to have been merely a fall-back pretext -- an excuse held in reserve if needed politically, much like Flight 93 was held in reserve lest the first three planes hadn't created their atrocious spectacles.

Now that I see no one of status claiming 9-11 was an arranged pretext for war, 9-11 -- incredibly, unbelievably -- still behaves as a valid pretext (via White House claims) for stealing oil, if only for revenge. Bush's indifference to his nation's soaring debt truly wiped any "cost analysis" out of the 9-11/Iraq saga for me.

Instead, something very boring emerged as the motive for all the mayhem: personal profit. I once called Iraq the "greatest bank robbery ever," but I didn't listen to myself because the bank robber's reward was so banal (mere money). Was it really all about amassing personal fortunes?

How cruel reality is. It reveals itself so plainly, and ultimately is so incredibly dull. "Yet another war for wealth" with staged slaughter as the war's pretext didn't fit my faulty preconceptions of "the 21st century." I at least thought the U.S. debt problem -- which might quickly become a global problem -- had something to do with all of this death.

But no, time is not moving; history is merely being stolen from previous centuries and mortared onto this new one. How boring indeed, leading me to finally see why no one cares whenever I object that the 9-11 crime (the catalyst for the great robbery) was mass murder! No one cares because history offers nothing else but such banal exploits, at least none of any core significance. And never in such short time frames such as the 8 years allowed for a U.S. presidency does "the world change."

Superficial things progress (or regress, depending on one's point of view), of course. The weapons are more nasty than ever, the art of the big lie we have seen refined in (arguably) brilliant fashion, cruelty plummets to new depths, and as a musician recently added: "human life has never been so cheap."

So what does the future hold? For now I am resigned to answer: "yet more history." We can all dance around this dire truth, even inventing new names for our villains along the way (i.e., "Neocons"). But we can't run from ourselves. New centuries offer nothing new. History is our history, not some other planet's history, and we cannot escape what we are. Wars are declared, the rich get richer, everyone else pays dearly and learns not a thing.

Which leads me to one final puzzling thing: what is it (vanity?) which allows only a few like me to acknowledge all what I just typed? Or is it more commonly acknowledged than I'm presuming, and only lied about on U.S. and U.K. television screens?

And a final compliment: George W. Bush deserves at least one Lifetime Achievement award for the best acting (more like "performance art") ever done by a charlatan. No serious, coherent man, no one like Al Gore, could have pulled this act off. Bush plays the helpless victim, paranoid, "duped" by his own C.I.A., and is generally viewed as far too challenged to be President -- except it is all an act. A brilliant act, by a brilliant man.

So, to wrap this back on-topic, I say no, it's all "I Claudius" meets "hi-tech military gadgets." Guided bombs, guided passenger planes, and a TV in every room to conceal everything from everyone.

My worst fear now is that Bush badly blunders one of his performances or forgets that his role is to forever be seen (not just temporarily seen) as an overwhelmed, simple, stuttering fool.

The fiction he weaves almost makes it all worth it. At its core it is a scathing, horrid joke and a comedy, so please allow a final revision:

"I Claudius" meets "hi-tech weapons" meets "schizophrenia." There, I think that juxtaposing covers all the bases. Take this post to heart, for I am a schizophrenic too, and was untreated for decades, but I don't pretend to be insane. I can tell who is pretending where you may suspect no pretenders be. The fatal flaw in mass propaganda is that it is engineered to cover the norms, not us true outsiders. My only misstep was wrongly speculating motives, which I now have corrected. This article took time, so please see that I am as sincere as anyone can be. About every claim I've made.

You'll remember this post if something goes awry with the grand Neocon plan. No, this "stall" in Iraq isn't that event, and history says much greater things will happen before, and if, such an event occurs. Frankly I'm still undecided whether to wish for such an upheaval or not. Can this republic cope with the wounds truth will inflict? History's only lesson is the sooner the truth is revealed the less painful things will be.

So, perhaps Bush's "once upon a time" place ain't such a bad place, eh?

All I ask is everyone think about these things. As a schizophrenic I truly know this: no matter how much smoke and how many mirrors, raw logic (defined as "logic devoid not only of preconception but conceptualization") weathers every storm, rendering such storms trivial except that they do rob, from us all, our only true precious resource: time. Nothing angers me like the waste of time.

And so, you've read this. Now please use it. Add it to your galaxy of life experiences that some schizoid loner (me) was not fooled even for a second. Even before the South Tower's unforgettable fireball, my mind said "something is not right here," and just as the second tower began its rapid disintegration the words "staged event" came to mind. By evening I was fixated on Saddam's Iraq while the networks blathered on about Afghanistan.

In fact I have a December, 2000 collage poking fun at the Bush Cabinet picks, and the largest feature is an Iraqi flag, with "Iraq" overlaid in (by far) the largest font. My mistake was a mere detail: placing Powell's photo between those layered items instead of Wolfowitz's. I'd never heard of the "Neocons" until after 9-11. Did you?

The propaganda blitz, for whatever reason (oh, possibly not enough pretty ladies were employed for it) didn't work on me. "Propaganda" met "schizophrenia" and propaganda (and every tangential tall tale) could not storm the gates. I was, and still am, as "Neocon" as the rest of them (which is not bragging, just observation).

This world, or perhaps the U.S., painfully lacks thought. Thought is a lifetime crusade against deception. It's not supposed to be easy, fun, or even good for you. I hope this attempt of mine to widen your scope of thinking serves each of you well.

Whether you and I agree or not about recent histories discussed here matters little to me in comparison. May paranoia guide us all in the times ahead. May there never again be a staged attack which leads to a war, no matter how hopelessly foolish that wish may be. May my insanity replace yours, so that we may all have both life and peace. We are all Neocons, meaning we will never be reasonable, but that does not mean we should choose death every single time.

And long live the American traditions which permit us to convey whatever we deem critical. The U.K., as I type this, is "cracking down" on freedoms. It has me already wondering: is the U.K. a test case, assuming someone will try similar crackdowns here, in the United States? I'll close on that point, noting that one must pursue every lane of thought, even asking questions like what I just asked, lest we cease to think and cease to be.


9:35 AM  

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