Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Food for Thought: 'Nattering Nabobs of Negativism'

As much as I hate to borrow a phrase from a Spiro Agnew speech (written by right-wing propagandist William Safire), in this case, it truly fits.

Edward Wong writes in the NYT:

Iraq’s Curse: A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory

PERHAPS no fact is more revealing about Iraq’s history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the streets.

The word is “sahel,” and it helps explain much of what I have seen in three and a half years of covering the war.

It is a word unique to Iraq, my friend Razzaq explained over tea one afternoon on my final tour. Throughout Iraq’s history, he said, power has changed hands only through extreme violence, when a leader was vanquished absolutely, and his destruction was put on display for all to see.

"Sahel" in Arabic means shore, border or coast of the Sahara desert) [and] is the boundary zone in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the more fertile region to the south, known as the Sudan (not to be confused with the country of the same name)." I wasn't able to find any online reference to it in relation to that purported Iraqi definition that Wong provides, so I guess I'll have to take him at his word.

Regardless, Wong then goes on to detail Iraq's history in a very abbreviated form to provide support for this conclusion:

“One day we’ll find that we’ve returned back to 1917,” said Sheik Muhammad Bakr Khamis al-Suhail, a respected Shiite neighborhood leader in Baghdad, referring to the installation here of a Sunni Arab monarchy by the British after World War I. “The pressure of the Arab countries on the American administration might push the Americans to choose the Sunni Arabs.”

Sitting in the cool recesses of his home, the white-robed sheik said he was a moderate, a supporter of democracy. It is for people like him that the Americans have fought this war. But the solution he proposes is not one the Americans would easily embrace.

“In the history of Iraq, more than 7,000 years, there have always been strong leaders,” he said. “We need strong rulers or dictators like Franco, Hitler, even Mubarak. We need a strong dictator, and a fair one at the same time, to kill all extremists, Sunni and Shiite.”

I was surprised to hear those words. But perhaps I was being naïve. Looking back on all I have seen of this war, it now seems that the Iraqis have been driving all along for the decisive victory, the act of sahel, the day the bodies will be dragged through the streets.

So, how do you think a blogger who labels himself as a progressive, liberal, Democrat would react to that idea?

Like this?

It gives me no pleasure to agree with this sheik. I wish it were not so that Iraq needs a ruthless leader, a Hitler or Franco or Muhbarak [sic], to restore order. But, it is either that, or it is this. And this isn't working.

And, as too many Democrats are prone to do these days, the hope falls on an imaginary scenario that is never going to happen:

We'll keep defeating politicians that support this war until there are no politicians that support this war left in office.

So, going back to the first choice which Booman thinks the Iraqis "need" : a strong-arm dictator who is supposedly going to bring order to Iraq by "killing all extremists". Well, that assumes numerous unsaid myths.

- that the Iraqis are completely incapable of fashioning their own peaceful, democratic state.
- that continued militarism is the solution.
- that Iraqis have absolutely no imagination, intelligence or hope and are people who must be ruled with an iron fist in order to be kept under control.
- that it's even possible to kill all extremists which, as we already know, is Bush's grand idea.
- that the solution to Iraq's current nightmare involves just Sunnis and Shiites. Kurds? Christians? Outside influences? What exactly would the new dictator do about them?
- that the US will actually leave Iraq at some point, physically or politically, leaving it to sort out its issues on its own. (One word: oil. The US isn't going anywhere until it bleeds the country dry.)

On it goes...

That attitude shouldn't be surprising though. Take a look at the top 3 Democrat candidates' foreign policy positions and their unflinching support of the military-industrial complex. They all prefer to see militarism as an Olympic sport: who can be better, stronger, faster.

John Edwards

Via Meet the Press, February 2007:

I had internal conflict because I was worried about what George Bush would do. I didn’t have—I didn’t have confidence about him doing the work that needed to be done with the international community, the lead-up to a potential invasion in Iraq.

I didn’t know, in fairness, that he would be as incompetent as he’s been in the administration of the war. But I had—there were at least two things going on. It wasn’t just the weapons of mass destruction I was wrong about. It’s become absolutely clear—and I’m very critical of myself for this—become absolutely clear, looking back, that I should not have given this president this authority.

Those 2 highlighted words are an extremely important clue to his thinking - not that Edwards hasn't been quite open about the fact that he supports military intervention.

Barack Obama. Just see if you can distinguish his position from Bush's.

And Hillary? Are you going to trust a politician who voted for the AUMF on Iraq when she didn't even read the NIE before she uttered her "yay" - sending over 100,000 American troops into harm's way - to be your next commander-in-chief?

Earlier this year, on the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, Clinton was confronted by a woman who had traveled from New York to ask her if she had read the intelligence report. According to Eloise Harper of ABC News, Clinton responded that she had been briefed on it.

“Did you read it?” the woman screamed.

Clinton replied that she had been briefed, though she did not say by whom.

The question of whether Clinton took the time to read the N.I.E. report is critically important. Indeed, one of Clinton’s Democratic colleagues, Bob Graham, the Florida senator who was then the chairman of the intelligence committee, said he voted against the resolution on the war, in part, because he had read the complete N.I.E. report.

Graham said he found that it did not persuade him that Iraq possessed W.M.D. As a result, he listened to Bush’s claims more skeptically. “I was able to apply caveat emptor,” Graham, who has since left the Senate, observed in 2005.

Beyond what any of these Democratic candidates might actually do to end the Iraq war (and they rarely, if ever, speak about the Afghanistan war anymore - as if that's running itself) or to bring their troops home (which will not happen for many years to come with permanent bases established in Iraq), the truth is that the current top 3 picks can ensure their supporters of one thing: continued militarism or "New & Improved Militarism Lite".

Interventionism. Exceptionalism. Continued arms sales (overt and covert). Refusals to participate in international treaties or the ICC (International Criminal Court). Plundering of "American interests" (ie. oil) around the world. Extraordinary renditions, torture and kidnappings (do you really think they're going to end covert CIA programs?). Continued, unconditional support of Israel via money and arms. Supplying weapons to whichever government of the day is an ally against some perceived American "enemy". Proudly proclaiming supremacy from the mantle of "The Leader of the Free World" while further dismantling the civil, legal and human rights of their own citizens and others around the world that they deem to be "enemy combatants" or potential threats to US security while leaving open gaping holes in domestic security by not properly funding necessary protections (which enables whoever is in power to perpetuate the fear meme endlessly, thus always necessitating the need for a mythic saviour/hero/heroine in the form of "a strong leader").

"Nattering nabobs of negativism".

I see no hope or optimism in the idea that the disease of militarism can be cured by being even more or more efficiently militaristic and violent or in believing that some strong-armed dictator is going to save Iraq by killing more people.

There's a reason that people who are antiwar are seen as being on the fringe. That lesson was learned by the illumination of the fact that most Americans turned against the Iraq war because it wasn't 'winnable' - not out of any desire to reverse the damaging affront that US military might has wrought upon the world or to stem its future ambitions. The Democrats know that and they have no reason to change their stripes. They're just trying to come across as the kindler, gentler warmongers.

If Wong's interpretation of the word "sahel" is to be taken at face value, it certainly can't be seen as a concept that is in any way foreign to the United States military or its supporters. They may not literally drag their "kills" through the streets for all to see but they certainly do so metaphorically via gung-ho speeches and the dehumanization of the victims whom they can't even bring themselves to assign anything more than numbers too. And, as far as that's concerned, they can't even be honest about just how many corpses they're really claimed except to proclaim that at some future point "victory" will be at hand and this will all have been just a blib on the radar screen. There's always collateral damage, you see. How unfortunate.

I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma...
- George W Bush

The Democrats have had their chance to storm the gates of congress. They've failed. And it's not just because they hold a "fragile" majority in the senate. The real reason is that there just isn't much difference between the two major parties on foreign policy issues. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to think long and hard about that.

And when you have a so-called progressive, liberal, self-identified Democratic blogger caving to the defeatism that says that Iraqis are too weak to understand anything but more tyranny and killings, I think it's safe to say that he is probably speaking for perhaps millions of Americans who have just given up on either party being able to provide a rational outlook on the future of a country their president illegally invaded and turned into a rotting nightmare.

But, as far as I'm concerned, no American has the right or luxury to give up at this point. This war belongs to all of you.

Get your troops home, but don't abandon the spirit and will of the Iraqi people who stand for peace and justice. They deserve far more than that.

Iraq is not cursed to have a future of "extreme violence" and neither are its people.

h/t to Marisacat for her posts on Edwards and Hillary.

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