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19 February 2007


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While it is a nice thesis, and undoubtedly drives some part of the Amercian machine, quaint concepts such as 'enlightenment' are thought of as sops for the masses (if at all), by the industrialist plutocrats who have historically driven this country's military/industrial agenda.

If this is in the 'American DNA,' it was inserted there by years and years of mass media propaganda, which, more than anything, has been the instrument of attributing these superlatives to what is really a base grab for natural resources--at the expense of whatever people that happen to be sitting on top of 'our' gold, oil, etc.


Got A Watch,
well, Britain would be just fine.

It could be much worse -- imagine Russian style turmoil. I have the impression the US would not be much less violent. Considering phenomena like working poor, soldiers on food stamps and a large 'service economy' the US IMO is, like a 3rd Gen fighter jet, stably unstable. Look at New Orleans' governing structure dissolving under the pressure of crisis - cops deserting their posts, looting, failure and dysfunction on the federal level. Internal stability is different.
Economic collapse as a result of overreach could be quite painful for the US, with internal unrest along the lines of Watts Riots on a regular basis. The US would IMO turn autoritarian in response.
I vividly remember how New Orleans' mayor said: 'We have called in the troops to restore order. They've been in Iraq and they shoot to kill!' Huh, and that to 'citizens' that ought to be helped and protected by the state and in my understanding not be held at bay, at gunpoint if neccessary.

Getting off topic somewhat, the people who tipped the scales by overreaching will of course take none of the blame for their contribution. Just listen to Frank Gaffney's orgy in 'blaming the backstabing traitors' who embolden the enemies and lose the war. Sais Gaffney:

"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.
— President Abraham Lincoln

It is, of course, unimaginable that the penalties (...) for the crime of dividing America in the face of the enemy would be contemplated — let alone applied — today.

Still (...) it is time to reflect on what constitutes inappropriate behavior in time of war (...) the talk is not about whether such behavior is appropriate in time of war — or consistent with the national interest. "


Below the link with mp3's of Gaffney on radio explaining what he meant.


The Lincoln quote is fake. The discussion is not so good, but Gaffney pretty much demolishes himself, taking none of the critique, and insisting on his point while refusing to speak it out directly.

W. Patrick Lang


You folks are, of course, entitled to your opinions but you ought to think about how empty the economic determinist and marxist oil theory of the origins of the Iraq War really are.

There are so many things in human behavior that are not economically driven... The Cheney oily crowd are really so much more sophisticated than you are crediting them with being. pl


IMO the reasons for Iraq are a stew, in which oil is but one ingredience.

The case made for war -- and what struck me throughout all the drumbeat for war on Iraq was that it was basically an advocacy position, nothing else, just like Alberto Gonzales' statements are pro-Bush advocacy decisions -- offered something for everyone. Access to cheap oil for the cynics and economists, freedom for the idealists, the looming mushroom cloud for the fearful, expanding the US footprint and proving military might for the hard power believers and re-shaping the Greater Middle East for the neo-cons and so forth.

I agree that slogans like 'no blood for oil' are stupid because they are simplicistic and easily refuted. They have emotional appeal, sure. But they weaken an important case that has to be made.

And as for human behaviour not being economically driven, I also agree. Robert A. Pape makes an important case in his important book 'Dying to win', where he argues that most suicide terrorists, much like a soldier sacrificing himself, are in fact acting out of an altruistic impulse, and not, say, out of frustration over viable economic perspectives or a pathological death wish.

Without wanting to stretch the analogy, IMO the neo-cons are also in the belief to act altruistic in the sense that they think the whole stew is good for America, maybe even without liking in every single ingredience. The neo-con 'idealism' is IMO pretty much real. They ought to be taken serious in what they say about it.

anna missed

One important point that has been missed in the discussion, is one that would confirm Dr. Cantori's position -- at least in the puplic forum. And that argument would be the very liberal argument the administration has used ad infinitum to disarm liberal opinion and critique against the "bringing democracy to the Middle East" policy. That goes to the heart of the question and remains the fundamental presupposition supporting it. Being of course, the abhorrent inherently anti-liberal notion that the Middle East is not capable of democracy, does not desire democracy, and consequently would prefer some form of tyranny instead. This argument, with its implied racism has served to silence criticism (from especially the left) from the get go. And to this day remains largely unchallenged in the public forum. The failure to win another war of choice predicated upon this folly, is license to do it again, but more competently next time, or so they would hpoe.

Chris Marlowe

Colonel Lang:

You are right; the Cheney crowd are sophisticated. They have to balance off a lot of interests, and create a general trend which is in their favor. Unfortunately for them, they have failed.

The American political system is determined by individual votes; what I call retail politics. The interests combined by oil, the Israel lobby, Wall Street and Christian fundamentalist organizations, the mainstream corporate media, major donors and other business interests are what I call wholesale politics.

Cheney and Bush have made clear that they are not going to let voters' votes affect their decisions, even after the Nov. 2006 elections became a referendum on the Iraq war. If the Bush/Cheney presidency has stood for anything; domestically, it is for the unchallenged power of the executive. Internationally, it is for unilateral American power, unfettered by international institutions.

Sure, oil is just one factor. But if it is not that important, why did Cheney choose to go to court rather than to reveal the minutes of his meetings with energy executives in 2001, including Kenneth Lay, in the formulation of US energy policy?

And if the rationale for invading Iraq was not so flimsy, why did Cheney and his office spend so much of his valuable time going after Joe Wilson, revealing the identity of his wife as a CIA operative, and even sacrificing his assistant Scooter Libby?

And why has this administration spent so much of its legal efforts on passing the Patriot Act, which codifies the changes in the "war on terror" in direct violation of the constitution?

Sure they are much more sophisticated. But you can tell a lot about people by the battles they choose; it reveals their priorities.

Lately, the Great Decider has grown fond of comparing himself to Truman, another unpopular president. I think that it is much more appropriate to compare him to Nixon. This is not surprising when you think that Karl Rove was a strong supporter of Nixon, who was once known as "Tricky Dick". And Rove has inherited the love of dirty tricks to get the retail vote at any cost, while showing contempt for public opinion after getting elected.

This domestic politics has been the politics of polarization, forcing the left and right against the middle, and making rational dialogue, something Americans were proud of, all but impossible. This breakdown of the middle is what has made the rise of the Bush/Cheney administration possible. This politics has made American weaker, just at a time when the global international situation has become more challenging for the country and general trends are no longer in favor of the US. At a time when the US needs clear leadership, direction and vision, this administration has failed. They have nothing to sell except fear itself.

It's time to bring this second Nixon administration to an end, and to create a new American narrative which is more honest, realistic and humble than American exceptionalism. This is something even the Republicans in congress understand.



“…the natural assumption of a prosperous and privileged class, whose members have a dominant voice in the community and are therefore naturally prone to identify its interest with their own. In virtue of this identification, any assailant of the interests of the dominant group is made to incur the odium of assailing the alleged common interest of the whole community, and is told that in making this assault he is attacking his own higher interests. The doctrine of the harmony of interests thus serves as an ingenious moral device invoked, in perfect sincerity, by privileged groups in order to justify and maintain their dominant position.”

Isn't it interesting to note that the question of whether American world hegemony is in the interest of Americans, and not just the top layer of American society, is never asked? It's not difficult to argue the fruits of empire do not necessarily trickle down to most people, but may perversely actually weaken their negotiating position with the topmost folk. But that reasoning is taboo across the board -- not even the most radical leftists will advance such a concept.

A simple current example is Washington DC. As the center of American administration, it has a huge inflow of wealth from the nation as a whole, resulting in nice museums, monuments, etc; but a majority of the population live in execrable conditions, compared to the nation as a whole. If true for the relatively egalitarian conditions internally, could not the same hold true internationally?


Frank Durkee--

The article by Michael Vlahos is in the American Conservative and can be seen at http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_02_12/feature.html. I tried your link and it didn't work--at least for me. And the article is quite good, you're right.


The discussion has been very interesting and informative to this "lurker." thanks for giving me plenty to think about.


I'm the kind of academic geek who likes this kind of analysis. But I wonder, wrt to the Iraq war, whether simpler explanations are better for why it could happen in political terms. I was always against the Iraq invasion. I was surpirised that many liberals in my family and circle of friends, in a very liberal area of the country, were for it. As far as I can tell, it was a kind of panic from 9/11, and the feeling that something "had to be done" My opinion was that something had already been done (invasion of Afghanistan) and we had better get that one right before worrying about more remote threats. But people were in a sort of panic. I don't think the average US voter was thinking about sophisticated versions of Wilsonian doctrine of spreading Democracy, or that Iraqis were just like us. The leadership had said that there was lotta bad stuff there and something had to be done, and people trusted the leadership. So, here I was, the moderate, suddenly become the knee jerk pacifist liberal among my formerly quite liberal circle. I think ear and trust in the US administration explains it, at least for the average American voter.

I can't believe that these high falutin' theories were behind the original idea, because, historically, Bush/Cheney trotted it out rather late in the game (correct me if I'm wrong). Alarms about terrorist connections and nukes were what I do remember.

Col Lang: As for the oil theory of the invasion, I think many people wonder exactly what Bush/Cheney were really trying to accomplish with the invasion. I, as I think manhy others do, periocically entertainn possible theories of why, even if any theory, or any combination of theories, seem inadequate. I don't like the Cheney crowd at all, and a stupid and crude geopolitical oil grab theory makes me feel good because it verifies my contempt for them. Only problem is that I cannot really believe it is true, because I can't believe even they would act on such a crude rationale, where any kind of cost-benefit analysis made it a very bad bet. So I reluctantly drop it until Bush/Cheney really makes me angry again. Then I pick it up and play with awhile until it again loses its attraction.

If you can explain anyting about the 'sophisticated' thinking of Cheney and his bunch that would explain their actions, I would really appreciate it. I am not being snarky. Those people are truly a mystery to me, I thik they are either stupid or crazy or both. I can't see anything sophisticated about Cheney, or PNAC or any of that bunch. I would appreciate any light you can shine on hidden their sophistication. Again, that is a sincere request, not snark.


Sorry for typos of last post, trying to get out of office quick. You can make fun or scold me if you want.

Jim Schmidt

I've read all of the posts and some do make a reductionist argument of oil as the only cause of the Iraq war. However, others view oil (or the strategic importance of gulf) as one cause among many, and I think that view is correct.

The intensity for and inevitable certainty of the 2003 war is still puzzling to me. The war fever reflected, I think, an amalgam of righteousness, idealism, exceptionalism, provincial indignation, irritation and genuine anger over 9/11 coupled with confidence in the military, political opportunism and a fantastical optimism for small costs and large success.

In short, I believe this war didn't have a single cause or root, but that still leaves unanswered why it occurred at all. What was the larger plan or was there a larger plan? Did the war have a reason?

Like many Americans, I was appalled by 9/11. Unlike some, I didn't feel the invasion of Iraq rectified this assault. So, I opposed this war from the beginning. I wrote letters, contacted my representatives, argued with friends and strangers, but I never once thought the war wouldn't occur. Such was the lust, at the time, for action.

Perhaps it is a reflection of my age, but I do believe the opportunity missed is the moment now passed for charting a new course in resolving international conflict, or better put, the opportunity to push away from the easy barbarism of the preceding millennia. Not so much a yen for pacifism as a hunger for civilization.

So, mark me as pragmatically naive, but I don't see the gain here, either economically, politically or, if we can agree on the term, morally.

The war opposition now (again puzzling) can be viewed as a growing sensitivity to losing. Which is strange, because the perception of losing is more an impatience of not winning fast enough, winning in this case being an instantly peaceful, compliant and westernized Iraq, ala, the Ahmed Chalabi solution, then any real discomfort with the human and economic cost.

At base, regardless of motive, I do believe our great adventure in Iraq is both a wealthy indulgence and a refusal to confront the costs. Not strictly economically determinant, but a strange fellow traveler where minimizing cost greased the action.

So, I understand the scolding about Marxism, but the struggle (not necessary class based) to understand the current politics continues and I encourage more debate.

Specifically, please discuss the point you made regarding Cheney's "best and brightest" crowd.



"From the publicly available information it’s either oil and empire or the world liberal democratic revolution."

It's both at the same time, and more. Oil and empire are simultaneously the goal and the deserved spoils of war. Democratic revolution is a blessing that also generates payback for the US in securing a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. In a war-proponents' view the entire stew, to repeat my previous analogy, is an exercise in synergy.

- War is good for the economy (Johnson's military Keynesianism).
- the attrition of existing equipment not only will contribute to the previous point but push forward modernisation and transformation.
- Secured access to cheap oil is good for the global economy, not only the US economy -- it's seen as a shame Iraqs resources were underutilised due to Saddam's rule and the embargo.
- the war would be cheap as Iraq would pay for the reconstruction with the oil revenues.
- US control of fossile fuels from the Middle East will help contain China and control Europe in long term.
- Considering the volatility of the region a footprint there is seen as inevitable, and an improvement there away from Saudi Arabia which was increasingly seen as a nuisance good -- especially as Bin Laden esplicitly took issue with the 'occupatio of the holy sites'. Wolfowitz explained the why Iraq once with Iraq has no holy sites.
- Global benevolent hegemony (aka empire) is America's destination and brithright.
- Global democratic revolution is mankinds inevitable destiny. History has ended.
- A massive demonstration of military might would deter rogue states and terrorists and force them to fall into line.
- the imperial role would invigorate America, away from the hedonistic frollicking of the Clinton years.

That incomplete and arbitrary list should demonstrate two things:
(a) Why current and ex-administration folks are angry about singling out reasons. They have indeed looked at the whole picture, and blaming them for wanting the oil or empire or global democratic revolution alone simply falls short.
(b) It explains why the war on Iraq was so attractive and was so broadly supported. It offered the presumably easiest way out of a dilemma the US caught themselves in: The US fell prey to their own demonisations. After Saddam attacked Israel, probably no US politico would have politically survived normalisation of relations with Saddam. After casting Saddam as the second Hitler, and isolating him, the US were unable to break their self-imposed ideological corset. Worse still, containing bore a heavy cost to the US in terms of the regular airstrikes and the appaling price the Iraqi civilians had to pay, not to mention the neccessity of the US presence in Saudi Arabia.
To simply change the regime by force of arms, quickly and cleanly, must have been an irresistible impulse considering the listed and unmentioned, real and presumed benefits and payoffs.

The two options you offer also fail to explain the US outrage about those ingrates in Europe who dared resisting and the utter fury over those who dared question US motives. The obvious pro-Bush hatchet job men aside, the war proponents were IMO mostly honest and genuinely outraged.

And I have to change my comment on Gaffney a bit. Gaffney above makes the correct observation that dissent at home indeed weakens 'national resolve', and increases the zeal of an enemy. Enemy propaganda of course tells US troops just that: "Your cause is lost! At home politicos don't care!"
The interviewers were hostile and wanted to nail Gaffney, with yes or no questions. There is no simple answer to the question asked. Gaffney's annoyance is actually understandable, and he indeed is right in that the answer is more complex than yes or no.
It's at the very least a 'yes, but ...' Where Gaffney stumbles is the causation between enemy successes and the discussion at home, and its impact. While having a technically correct point, he uses the argument as a means to deflect criticism from Administration policies.

David E. Solomon

Colonel Lang,

I gather that you are not particularly fond of Robert Fisk, and this piece is completely off topic, I think it is gentle and well worth the time spent reading it.

If you disagree please feel free not to post it.

Anyway, it is from the Independent.

This is the link:


This is the article:

Robert Fisk: A legacy that will haunt us for years

Arthur walked into our garden and hurled the farthings on to the flower beds
Published: 17 February 2007

This is the story of Arthur's farthings. Arthur was my maternal grandfather, a small baker who married above his station - the family of my grandmother Phyllis strongly objected to the match - but who, with his new wife, bought up and ran a very profitable string of cafés across Kent in the 1920s. Arthur Rose was passionate about bowls - he was a member of the English bowls team (chief qualification: lots of money) - and was playing his favourite game in Australia when what our local Maidstone doctor had claimed was arthritis forced him to fly back to England. Wrong diagnosis. Arthur had cancer of the bone.

The farthing - about the same size of a euro cent - was a quarter of an old penny. There were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. Today, I reckon the farthing would be worth about 1,000th of a pound. Old British coins seemed very warlike to me; they appeared to be obsessed with crowns and portcullises and warships. I always preferred the Irish equivalent; the currency of "Eire" was embossed with birds and pigs and horses and harps. The Empire of Power versus the Empire of the Farmyard. But the friendly old British farthing - perhaps because it had so little value - carried the image of a diminutive wren.

Back to Arthur. Phyllis was "Nana" to me but Arthur - through a two-year-old Robert's misunderstanding of "Grandpa" - became "Gabba". He was a canny man, devoted to Phyllis but reputedly stingy. After family lunch on Boxing Day, Phyllis would always secretly press a £20 note into my hand, an enormous amount of money for which I had to promise her that I would never tell "Gabba". Then Arthur would appear, flourish a £5 note in front of the entire family and with great publicity hand it to me. "Gosh, thank you Gabba," crafty little Robert would say loudly, ensuring a total of £25 next Christmas. Phyllis died of cancer when I was about 10 but when Arthur died some four years later, my mother Peggy and her sister found dozens of cheques in Arthur's drawer, all signed by Phyllis as gifts to her husband, all uncashed. They thought this was a sign of his refusal to spend money. I suspected it was a gesture of love.

Only when he was dying did I really come to like Arthur. He encouraged me to be a journalist - my father was against it - and loved listening to my classical records as he lay in bed. He would sing the Volga Boatmen and, before he became too ill, he taught me to chop down trees. He treated me as a grown-up, which is what all small boys want. He loved his daughters and he admired my dad, Bill, and heard me many times telling Peggy that I was bored or saw me interrupting Bill's television viewing of the Test match. "Robert needs something to do," he said. So he ordered 3,000 farthings from the bank; they arrived at our home in Rectory Lane in currency sacks. Arthur walked into our large garden on his crutches and hurled them by the hundred on to the flower beds, behind bushes, around trees, over the long grass in the apple orchard. "Now, if you find them all," he announced to his acquisitive grandson, "I'll give you three pound notes."

In heavy rain or blistering sun, I spent weeks during Arthur's dying years searching through the long grass and the flower beds for his farthings. At first, I collected them daily, by the cupful; then weekly, by the handful. A moment of boredom and Bill and Peggy would send me back into the garden to search again. I might find three or four a week.

But of course, as the years went by and the rains swept across Kent, some of the coins slipped deeper into the soil to poison the roots of my mother's flowers. Others were washed into the flower borders and then moved gently across the flooded lawns. Years after Arthur's death, my father would be pushing the hand-mower over the lawn and there would be a metallic crack and Peggy and I would arrive to find Bill standing beside the machine with its broken blade. "It must have been another of Arthur's damned farthings," he'd say. Peggy even found one, around 1996, buried in the thick branch of a tree, six feet above the ground. After her death, I sold Rectory Lane and when I passed by recently, I noticed that the new owners have built an extension over the lawn; I have no doubt that somewhere beneath its concrete foundations, those little brass wrens are rotting quietly away.

But I wonder now whether those farthings don't symbolise the legacy of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, the man who allowed New Labour to give Britain new dreams to occupy itself with. It all seemed quite harmless. Originally, many believed in him. Parliament even sanctioned the illegal war in Iraq because it trusted him, a decision that has cost more than half a million lives. No, unlike Blair, Arthur never lied. He once announced that he would refuse to pay his local taxes on the grounds that he would rather keep the money for himself (a decision he changed after discovering that Maidstone's borough treasurer - who happened to be my father Bill - would have to take him to court). But Arthur happily sowed his money around our garden, little realising that for years after his demise, his legacy would rise up to break our mower blades and blight my mother's flowers and embed itself in the bark of trees.

Lord Blair's legacy, I fear, will be the same. Long after he has written his self-serving memoirs - indeed, long after he has himself gone to the great White House in the sky - we will find that his political legacy continues to haunt and poison the Middle East and the governance of the United Kingdom.

I never did get to cash in Arthur's coins, of course. He died, in terrible agony, in Maidstone's West Kent Hospital - "I wish I could drink something that would send me to sleep for ever," he told a weeping Peggy - long before I had even collected 500 of his "damned" farthings. I wouldn't wish such a fate on Lord Blair. But I wonder what our fate has to be.


Frimble asks:
Isn't it interesting to note that the question of whether American world hegemony is in the interest of Americans, and not just the top layer of American society, is never asked?

This is something that I’ve often wondered about; it’s not as if the Bush Administration is setting aside land in Iraq for veterans to colonize, or raising an Iraqi Civil Service from the middle class to administer the Empire, in fact nothing seems to trickle down. I think part of the answer resides in the very power of normalization that Carr refers to, where he argues what is in effect Gramsci’e concept of cultural hegemony, which in terms of the current discussion would include American Exceptionalism. I doubt that many Americans are keen on having an Empire, especially if they won’t get much more than relatively cheap gasoline out of the deal. But couched in simple concepts that depend on repeating ‘words of power’ like Freedom, Fascism, Terror and Democracy, the process of cultural hegemony kicks in and we end up believing not just that all these things are clear, obvious and elementary ideas but that their successful implementation depends on our support.
The best presentation of this, in my opinion, comes from Chapter 13 of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, in which Dick Diver explains why the Europeans will never fight again as they did in the Great War:

This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.

Alistair Horne used this quote as a prelude to his book on Verdun – somehow it was the only way to understand the inexplicable. It could easily be re-written, updated to include our own cherished memories, figures and concepts that make the current nightmare understandable. Diver’s friend Abe says: “General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.” Diver answers:

No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.

You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,” said Abe.

All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” Dick mourned persistently. “Isn’t that true, Rosemary?”

“I don’t know,” she answered with a grave face. “You know everything.”

I’m tempted to write a parody of this with George Bush as Dick Diver, Dick Cheney as Rosemary and Colin Powell as Abe.

Chris Marlowe

I believe that a lot hangs on the Bush/Cheney administration's definition of "sophisticated".

Col. Lang's article "What Iraq Tells Us About Ourselves" mentions how Americans' general lack of understanding hurts how well America can perform in a much more complicated and multilateral world.

It is worth noting that in the preparation for the war, the State Dept. (then under Colin Powell) had many experienced diplomatic and civil affairs personnel, fluent in Arabic, prepared to help in the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq. However, Rumsfeld wanted to take over the whole Iraq project, along with his advisers led by Feith and Wolfowitz, throwing out all the State people. The Great Decider (Bush/Cheney) supported Rumsfeld's power grab, which largely accounts for the current mess we are in in Iraq.As a result, to this day, there is a severe shortage of Arabic-language personnel in the Army in Iraq. The whole affair has been well-documented in several books and also by Seymour Hersh. The failure in Iraq, and the war on terror, can be traced directly to decisions made by the VP's office. Rumsfeld was a loud-mouthed proxy, and later, after the November 2006 elections, a fall guy for Cheney's decisions.

Most reasonably well-educated Americans know that it is increasingly important to have some understanding of other countries and other languages. However, if you look at the staff and assistants who surround Bush/Cheney, not much value is attached to people who have an international background. Most are promoted on the basis of their connections to Republican party donors, i.e. loyalty. This accounts for the government's general inefficiency in handling emergencies, such as the aftermath of Katrina. Bush, in particular, is more interested in being able to communicate (sic) with the people of Texas, than the rest of the country and the rest of the world. His worldview has never evolved outside the borders of Texas. On repeated occasions he has said that he wants somebody in Lubbock to understand his decisions.

He does not appreciate that most of us are a little more sophisticated than someone who has lived in Lubbock, Texas their whole lives.

This very blinkered view of the power and influence of the rest of the world on the US has a hugely negative impact on the quality of their decisions, which affect all of us. Their view is one of unilateral American power, just as overall (economic, diplomatic and cultural, as well as military) influence are on the decline. Their view of American power is very narrow, and is based solely on military power. Now in Iraq, we are seeing the limits of American military power. The weaknesses of American military power have been exposed for all, especially al-Qaeda, to see, study and learn from.

The decisions and actions of this administration have accelerated the decline of American influence globally.

David Habakkuk

Brent Wiggins:

Re: the Tory MP who recommended a ‘respect for the reasonable self-interest of others’ as basic to foreign policy. A characteristic one used to find not uncommonly among old Tories was a certain cynicism – a cynicism applied not only to others, but also to themselves. Also, though they could cut many corners, there were commonly some depths to which they would not sink. Confronted by Blair's combination of unshakeable confidence in his own rectitude with acute deviousness I feel a certain nostalgia for that largely vanished style of conservatism.

A larger point is that, although there are situations when one is entitled to think that one is on the side of the angels and one’s enemies are wicked, there are many more when what are involved are differences of interest, and belief, which are not profitably treated in Manichean terms, as simple clashes of good and evil. Where conflicts of interest are at issue, ‘respect for the reasonable self-interest of others’ is often only common prudence. In diplomacy, as in business deals, people have a sense of what is fair – and a corollary of driving too hard a bargain can be that one creates resentment, which can come back to haunt you. This does not mean that it is not important to bring to bargaining the strongest hand one can – which very often includes military power. But velvet gloves are often helpful, as well as iron hands.

Another advantage of ‘respect for the reasonable self-interest of others’ is that it is possible actually to try and understand what those others are doing. A corollary of a belief in one’s virtue is liable to be an indiscriminate demonisation which makes understanding difficult, and sometimes most difficult when one is dealing with people who are very unpleasant. It can easily lead to a kind of narcissism, where one assumes that the adversary's sole concern is to do one harm. The Iraqi WMD is a case in point – it was simply assumed that Saddam’s principal concern was scheming against the U.S., rather than trying to avoid showing weakness before the Iranians and the Iraqi Shia.

Without getting too theological, Babak Makkinejad’s quotation – “No man is justified in the eye of the Lord” – is I think also very much to the point. It is always wise to be aware of the dangers of antinomianism: the slippery slope leading from confidence that one represents the will of God (or ‘history’ or ‘the people’) to the assumption that one’s will should be treated as though it were the will of God.

Confused ponderer:

As far as one of those ‘ingrates in Europe’ can judge, your argument that all kinds of considerations are inextricably mixed up seems persuasive.

As to the suggestion that somehow economic motivations must be the ‘real’ underlying motivations: if one looks at the historiography of the major catastrophes of European history in the twentieth century, German National Socialism and Soviet Communism, a major strand in recent work has involved arguments about ‘political religions’ – that is, the transference onto a putatively secular politics of patterns of thought, feeling and expectation rooted in Christian eschatology.

Certainly, when I come across ‘rational choice theories’ – the extreme example of this imperialism of economics – I do feel that if they are to be cogent they should be able to provide an explanation of why, with the Red Army coming into Europe, the Nazi regime was diverting invaluable resources to killing Jews.

Confronted by the problems of interpreting the role of actual religion in political action, meanwhile, such overly rationalistic patterns of interpretation are liable to lead both to incomprehension and to panic.


Thank you for the elaboration, confusedponderer,

You reminded me, I forgot. One more critical thing: it can be looked at as an outcome or as a reason in its own right. And that is the domestic situation. This brings us to the criticism of the masses. There are two related strands of this criticism: one revolves around idol worship of Socrates, remember the ancient Greek who, according to some, practiced sedition and decided to die as, although very very elderly, nonetheless a martyr. Here’s an interview with IF Stone about what Socrates was up to: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/socrates/ifstoneinterview.html.

“So what do you make of these omissions?
The accuser had charged that Socrates used certain passages from Homer to teach his young aristocratic followers to be violent and tyrannical. In dealing with this mutinous episode, Xenophon omitted what the Athenian democrats would have regarded as the most subversive part of it: the four lines on the divine right of kings, and Odysseus’s use of violence to suppress free speech in the assembly.
Homer was saying that the common people had no right to be heard. There could be no more sensitive point with the Athenian democrats. The right to speak freely in the assembly was the foundation stone of Athenian democracy. Until the reforms of Solon, two centuries before the trial of Socrates, the common people of Athens could neither speak nor vote in the assembly. And again, just five years before the trial of Socrates, they had been forcibly deprived of this precious right by the dictatorship of Critias. In their eyes, this episode in Homer would seem to justify the violent tyranny they had so recently overthrown. I think that is why Xenophon omitted it from his defense of Socrates. They were too damaging a part of the prosecution’s case.”

Stone was a journalist, not a historian or a philosopher. You can go to amazon.com to read comments of some pissed-off intellectuals indoctrinated into bowing to the authority of Socrates (BTW, Greeks made a distinction between what we would call now intellectuals and true philosophers: the former were led (taught) to light with various degree of success, the former appeared out of nowhere in any social or territorial strata; while the former owed everything to their educator, the latter were spontaneous bursts of light).

The second related strand is that of fickleness and impressionability of the masses. In Plato’s monologs Socrates says somewhere that the multitude (masses) is incapable of neither great evil nor great good because all its decisions were random. This point is then further reinforced through meditations on the decision by the ancient Greeks to launch the Peloponnesian War. The Greek citizenry under direct democracy voted to start a war; why? The promoted answer here is that they gave in to silver tough charlatans. Thus the conclusion becomes: a democratic society is susceptible to charismatic demagogues and prone to erratic moods swings.

Read then “The plot against America” by P Roth:
“What if" scenarios are often suspect. They are sometimes thinly veiled tales of the gospel according to the author, taking on the claustrophobic air of a personal fantasia that can't be shared. Such is not the case with Philip Roth's tour de force, The Plot Against America. It is a credible, fully-realized picture of what could happen anywhere, at any time, if the right people and circumstances come together.
The Plot Against America explores a wholly imagined thesis and sees it through to the end: Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR for the Presidency in 1940. Lindbergh, the "Lone Eagle," captured the country's imagination by his solo Atlantic crossing in 1927 in the monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, then had the country's sympathy upon the kidnapping and murder of his young son. He was a true American hero: brave, modest, handsome, a patriot. According to some reliable sources, he was also a rabid isolationist, Nazi sympathizer, and a crypto-fascist. It is these latter attributes of Lindbergh that inform the novel.”

W. Patrick Lang


"Sophisticated" in their ability to understand that there was more than one justification for their war and "sophisticated" in their very successful campaign of propaganda against the American People.

This campaign was successful because the American People are rendered vulnerable to such campaigns by their cultural predelictions and the gullibility that flows from it.

I never said that the neocon/Vader/Bush crowd were "the best and the brightest." One of you did that. pl

Chris Marlowe

Here is a link to an article by James Fallows, who writes for the Atlantic Monthly. He talks about the possibility of war with Iran, something which he finds disturbingly real.


FYI, Fallows lives and writes from Shanghai. I haven't figured if he is posted there by Atlantic Monthly, or if he is a refugee from Bush/Cheney's America.

In case any of you are considering becoming refugees, I can vouch from personal experience that Fallows has made a good choice.


There is no greater fantasy than American exceptionalism. It's a central part of the American creed and part of what makes America great but its utterly implausible to those that don't live between the shining seas. Most of the time America is very obviously concerned with its own advancement. In this it differs little from other sensibly selfish states whose main duty of care is after all to their corporations/populations.

Say if DC invaded a strategically placed middleweight Arab country on the basis that it was about to give nuclear weapons to terrorists. It then secured all the oil infrastructure and left the supposedly WMD crammed arms dumps to the looters. Then these self anointed Olympians Import a bumbling kleptocracy of carpetbaggers who set de-constructing the place as it slipped into a Hobbesian state. After two years of chaos they change stories and claim the real reason for the invasion was an insane quest to install in 40 months a free market economy by bombing.

Now what are the natives to think? This does not appear to be benign hegemony at work. DC can't even trouble itself to present a plausible motivation. Being empathetic rational men they will look on bewildered. Surely a DC that can effortlessly put men on the moon cannot be in the hands of unchecked fools like their former ruler? Clearly DC is a grasping energy security crazed Imperialist in the British mold and/or a nest of fiendishly complex Zionist conspiracies. Iraqis tend to favor the latter slightly over the former.

America in truth does occasionally behave in an exceptional way. The Marshall plan is an example were it worked and that was rooted in realpolitik, realism, genuine vision and political courage.

In contrast the plainly reckless Iraq war was a very popular confused strategic move that achieved bipartisan support and maintained it until very recently in part because of a messianic belief in America's Wilsonian mission to the world.

Ideology is often just the ever changing background music to consistent grand strategy that can stretch over centuries. The British found many reasons to be obsessed with Suez and the Dardenelles.

As a policy I think the stated reasons for the war were ephemeral. Myths that move men to action. Not entirely irrelevant but US ends in the Persian Gulf didn't really change after 9-11 just the choice of means after 50 years of offshore balancing.

Those goals won't be altered by the bloody aftermath of going to Baghdad either. Just like the British once did DC will play The Great Game hard and long if only to ensure that no other nation wins it.

Chris Marlowe

I have just seen a new spectacle of stupidity in action: the hearing over the custody of Anna Nicole Smith's body.

The judge is beyond belief; he's doing everything to stretch things out as long as possible so that he can hog the coverage. This is his moment to show his "wisdom". (Apparently he wants his own TV show.)

The thought that this man made judge is absolutely terrifying. Says a lot about Florida.

This confirms my belief that if the US can survive having Texas and Florida, states which have given us the Bushes, Cheney, Karl Rove, Katherine Harris, butterfly ballots and chads, as well as the marvelous Judge Seidlin of Broward County, we can survive anything.

Compared to Texas and Florida, al-Qaeda is nothing.


Re, Pat: "I never said that the neocon/Vader/Bush crowd were "the best and the brightest."

By god they sure seem to be the most fiendishly cleverest of the Money Party. What's really scary now, is that one wonders if their successors will be clever enough to contain, if not repair this mess.

Now I, reactively anti-war, anti-neocon, GWOT = gigantic scam, etc., have been stopped dead in my tracks by this column in the Daily Herald:

Editor’s note: Jabria Jassim, an Elgin Community College chemistry professor, recently visited Baghdad to see relatives. She left Iraq years ago. Here is an edited essay on her observations.

Baghdad in 2007


Please read Proffessor Jassim's observations and reported pleas for succor.

Then consider Riverbend's complete despair:

"Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government"

In for a penny, in for a pound. These ordinary decent people musn't be abandoned, though it seems they will be in due course. I now must support one of the purposes of the war I oppose, whilst despairing of the burgeoning dilemma's the prosecution of their rescue has bred.

I'm in a pickle. They're in an inferno. We're all in "interesting times" that demand a lot more practicality and a lotless political philosophy from all of us for the foreseeable future (which the little Mayan in my head regularly reminds me ends in 2112)

I used to be a lawyer, my "Indian name" is Paid-By-The-Word, but now I am at a complete loss. Not about how to withdraw, or "end" the war, or "win", but how to proceed, given all the actors, vectors and variables, the human complexity of which Pat reminds us.

My only comfort: twas ever thus for the human race, yet we soldier on.
Never mind political theory, but I repeat another calamitously failed theorist, Lenin's question: What Is To Be done?

I have read, reacted, chattered and protested enough, now what to DO? BESIDES a little soul searching?


Mr. Habakkuk,
I'm, too, one of these ‘ingrates in Europe’. My first reaction about the rabid op-eds against France and Germany in 2002 and 2003 was anger and then disgust. And then the babble about Europe being a near term competitor. Axis of soon-to-be-evil? When Iraq went sour, I found the tune 'Bush lied us into war' unconvincing. I had by then seen enough readily evailable evidence refuting administration claims to discount that. My instinct was that there must be more to it.

The 'stew theory' makes best sense for me, and is about the simplest explanation I found that reconciles the varying justifications for war.

The folks who say Bush first said WMD, then this and then that are wrong. It's funny, but simply wrong. Those who wanted the war, across the parties, were yelling the various reasons all at once, in a cacophonic canon. Now that it's a mere echo it's easier to hear. If you wanted a reason to be pro-war you could easily find one that fit your political inclination. Make your pick. One could call it a market-driven casus belli.

That I've never been to the US made it harder to get there, and this point is a shortcoming I am determined to correct in due time. The only Americans I know are the folks who own a passport and dare venture out into the big wide world. Nice folks, but I doubt they're representative to the population, if Walter Russel Mead's essay about the Jacksonian Tradition is any indication.


It is really not hard to understand why people go like sheep to war. Whether they live in a dictatorship, democracy, or whatever. Whether muslim, xtian, pagan, jew, or atheist.

Goering, said it best.

" We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." "

There was an exception in Nazi Germany, one Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris, who with General von Kliest was willing to kill or lock up Hitler and attempt to arrest the Nazis but first Neville Chamberlain and then later Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to deal with him.

Jim Schmidt

"I never said that the neocon/Vader/Bush crowd were "the best and the brightest." One of you did that. pl"

I did it, my fault, I thought the flip referance to "The Best and the Brightest", David Halberstem, 1993 would be clear. Differant war, differant time, same hubris. Regardless, great discussion and lots of reading.


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