Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Quagmire? Squagmire...

Quagmire seems too clean a word for the mess that the Bush administration has made of their attempted colonisation of Iraq. Corruption, incompetence, violence conducted with impunity, gross sexual abuse - and now the almost unbelievable possibility that the whole thing was set up by Iran to get rid of an inconvenient neighbour. Meanwhile the US administration seems to be self-imploding in intercenine warfare, with the State Department, The US Army, the CIA all at loggerheads with the brainiacs at the Pentagon: which is of course why we're hearing about a lot of this stuff.

In an essay on the cultural situation in Iraq, America's Incompetent Colonialism, historian Keith Watenpaugh, in common with General Zinni, has some unkind words about a certain lack of foresight in the "post-war" administration in Iraq:

A year ago, word began to filter out of Baghdad that in addition to the National Museum, the Iraqi National Library and Archive had also been looted, and burned, not once, but twice. Like the current scandal of systematic abuses of human rights by members of the US military, the CIA and its sub-contractors, the burning evoked a host of emotions most notably shame, revulsion and anger. The anger was primarily directed against the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense who failed to heed the near-unanimous warnings of the probability of post-war instability and the vulnerability of Iraq’s cultural heritage and take appropriate preventative measures. Their failure to fully grasp the reality of the situation in Iraq was among the earliest examples of continuing gross and criminal ineptitude of which the gruesome images from Abu Ghuraib are the most recent manifestations.

The looting of the libraries and museums was, alas, only the beginning. And our little PM is "staying the distance", apparently, although he seems about three months behind on the "current political reality", as I remember one (Labor) MP memorably saying, with admirable Hawke-era pragmatism. "The lawlessness," says Howard, "(is) not indicative of a mass uprising; electricity and power (are) at higher levels than under Saddam; municipal councils (have) been formed; schools, hospitals and health clinics (are) open; and crude oil production (is) at prewar levels." Phew, thank the Lord for that. I'm sure I don't know what all the panic in the White House is about.

But the comment which has most gobsmacked me, again from Josh Marshall's blog, is from an unnamed military intelligence officer who is now working as a security contractor in Iraq. It's a devastating indictment on the US Army: he goes further even than the British, who are openly refusing to serve under US command, despite being gagged by Blair's spinners:

About the Army - Man, it hurts my heart to write this about an institution I dearly love but this army is completely dysfunctional, angry and is near losing its honor. We are back to the Army of 1968. I knew we were finished when I had a soldier point his Squad Automatic Weapons at me and my bodyguard detail for driving down the street when he decided he would cross the street in the middle of rush hour traffic (which was moving at about 70 MPH) ... He made it clear to any and all that he was preparing to shoot drivers who did not stop for his jaunt because speeding cars are "threats."

I also once had a soldier from a squad of Florida National Guard reservists raise weapons and kick the door panel of a clearly marked CPA security vehicle (big American flag in the windshield of a $150,000 armored Land Cruiser) because they wanted us to back away from them so they could change a tire ... as far as they were concerned WE (non-soldiers) were equally the enemy as any Iraqi.

Unlike the wars of the past 20 years where the Army encouraged (needed) soldiers, NGOs, allies and civil organizations to work together to resolve matters and return to normal society, the US Forces only trust themselves here and that means they set their own limits and tolerances. Abu Ghuraib are good examples of that limit. I told a Journalist the other day that these kids here are being told that they are chasing Al Qaeda in the War on Terrorism so they think everyone at Abu Ghuraib had something to do with 9/11. So they were encouraged to make them pay. These kids thought they were going to be honored for hunting terrorists.

Cheery stuff, eh? In the meantime, I am struggling with my own "noble lie": I just heard today about Leo Strauss, the philosophical hero of the neo-cons. Hard to see Rumsfeld as a "noble liar", it's not the adjective that occurs to me: but it seems that in the strange paranoid fishtank of this kind of thinking, noble lying is in. Only, according to Shadia Drury, a leading critic of Strauss, Strauss got Plato wrong:

Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls – meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

In contrast to this reading of Plato , Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one ( Natural Right and History , p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

A story whose details are fictitious, but at whose heart is a profound truth? Hey, that's what I'm trying to do. Though Plato wanted to chuck poets out of his Republic, so I'm not barracking for him, either...

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