Sunday, May 20, 2007

Siege of the Emerald City

President Bush is not handing a war off to the next president. He is handing him, or her, what will likely become the most humiliating defeat this nation has ever known. The first President Bush famously declared the "Vietnam syndrome" dead after the first Gulf War. If he became the nation's hubris, his hapless son now becomes the nation's unwitting nemesis. Unlike Vietnam, where the dominoes did not fall (do they ever, really?) and the specter of Soviet domination of Indochina proved an unwarranted panic, the defeat in Iraq holds the promise of untold consequences for real, that is non-ideological, American interests.

Some of us will take the dismantling of the empire any way we can get it, but it would be nice to go out on our own terms. This is probably not possible; no one will be elected president, and few will be elected to Congress, by espousing, or so much as harboring, a truly non-interventionist foreign policy. A nation can choose to acquire an empire but it cannot choose to relinquish one. Perhaps that isn't accurate; perhaps it's that empires are acquired, as the man said, "in a fit of absent-mindedness", and lost the same way. The question is, once inevitability reveals itself, will we have the wisdom to manage our return home, preserving domestic liberty, or will we give in to further militarization, spending ourselves flailing away at an increasingly hostile and resentful world, and inflicting upon ourselves the further erosion of the republic that comes with it?

The usual suspects probably already have worked up enough material for a whole wave of "Iraq wasn't a military defeat" books. They tar their opponents with the "stab in the back" libel straight out of inter-war Germany already; as the hysterics provoked by Ron Paul's assertion that our actions abroad affect terrorism recently displayed. Curious, how "conservatives" now employ that most tawdry of liberal conceits, reacting in mock (or worse, actual) outrage, sputtering that considering the consequences of our actions constitutes "blaming the victim."

President Bush promised no surrender ceremony on the deck of a destroyer,* and Lord knows he's kept his word on that one, but a familiar scene he may still manage to deliver, is the ignominious last helicopter out of Saigon. It's only a matter now of how dramatic will be the fall from control to chaos. But perhaps this is what it will look like:
In recent weeks, the Green Zone has suffered near-daily barrages of mortars and rockets, some from predominantly Shiite neighborhoods to the east. The attacks have threatened the zone’s status as the safest place in Iraq. Many officials working in the enclave have begun wearing body armor outside their offices.
You'll no doubt be relieved to know that Tony Blair's defeat lap around the Green Zone was unaffected.

*Though he certainly tried to fabricate one, with the now infamous prancing about the deck of an aircraft carrier in military uniform with strategically-placed sock.
The disastrous audacity of the ever-expanding "global war on terror" as willed into being by the Administration: there will be no clear end (we'll tell you when it's over) marked by ceremony, but there will be simulacra of such, the celebration of victory without the end of conflict, to rouse the mass in support of more conflict. For no other purpose than to strengthen the Party's hold on power, consolidating the political gains of its fictional victory, while arousing the public's appetite for more conquest.
This administration has managed to manipulate mass perception like no other, overlaying a fictional struggle atop a horrendous reality. All wars have their accompanying propaganda, but the gap between perception and reality has grown so wide, and the consequences looming are so large, that it threatens to swallow us whole.

This "no clear end" to the "global" war on terror is a grotesquery that we somehow allow to survive the light of day: war, everywhere and without end. Combine with this the use of the "authorization to use force" in place of real legislative authority, as Congress grants the president monarchical powers, surrendering responsibility to avoid responsibility, and you have enshrined in principle an absolute presidential power that was definitively rejected by the founders. Congressmen are afraid to oppose wars riding waves of popular sentiment, and afraid to bear responsibility for their failure; the "authorization to use force" exists only for that reason. Cowardice ceding power may prove to be the fatal flaw of a republic with a strong executive.

The "war" is not waged as such, that is, legally, observing long established civilizing custom, and with the restraint we've shown in past conflicts. The captured are not prisoners of war, even though we insist we are engaged in war, because the war is against "terror"; neither are they mere criminals, however. They are what we, more precisely what Bush and Cheney, say they are. The closest thing the world has seen to an all-powerful nation, we have created Limbo on Earth.

Public opinion can be counted on to show little sympathy for the rights of terrorist suspects, but the war in Iraq and the pointless nation building in Afghanistan burden us with thousands of prisoners that have nothing to do with terrorism.
The worst disgrace of the Bush years concerning the torture and abuse of prisoners would have no relationship at all to the prosecution of terrorists; Abu Ghraib was a desperate attempt to collect intelligence to halt the insurgency in Iraq (an insurgency that wasn't acknowledged). The methods justified by the threat and irrationality of terrorism are being used against many who have merely taken up arms to oppose the occupation of their country.
Imagine: war, universal, undeclared, unlimited, without end.

Well, how did I get here?