Saturday, December 13, 2003

Treasonous Democrats

Victor Davis Hanson -- one of the chief purveyors of the "Brown Peril" theory -- this week transmits the "a vote for Democrats is a vote for the terrorists" meme into the mainstream, via his recent National Review piece:
So too we should expect a wave of desperate Saddamite attacks once Iraqis take control in July. October will be difficult as Baathists and al Qaedists hope to demoralize our electorate and bring in a Howard Dean or his clone and with him a quick American exit from Baghdad.

This is a nasty piece of work, of course, especially since it underscores the mounting conservative theme that all Democratic candidates and, for that matter, voters are genuine traitors. The consequences of this kind of rhetoric, I think, could be profound, at least if it continues to spread and metastacize, as so many right-wing viruses have in the past decade.

Hanson's argument is predicated on one central idea, though: That things are going swimmingly in Iraq.
From the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates, from the papers in Cairo, and from the videos of the fundamentalists, one would not believe the United States is turning the corner and on the road to a stunning victory, characterized by both competence and idealism. In the last two years our enemies have lacked not the will but the power to defeat us; we in contrast had more than enough power but not enough will. But all that is changing as we ever so slowly become angrier while they get weaker.

Reality check: There are no signs that American forces are "getting angrier" -- only that they are growing demoralized about the colossal failures of their civilian bosses to competently reconstruct Iraq, bring stability and peace to the region as promised, and get them the hell out of there. The only people who are noticeably getting angrier are the civilian populace of Iraq -- and, let's not forget, the right-wing nutballs who are now threatening their fellow citizens with violence for failing to toe the Bushco company line.

Hanson is deluded, and the source of his error is obvious: He sees the "war on terror" as a traditional war, and his review of history essentially insists that the fight in which we are now embroiled is somehow comparable to ancient wars involving large armies of respective nation-states. That it is not should be plain to even the most casual observer.

Moreover, it could not be more plain that things are not going swimmingly in Iraq -- or in Turkey, Indonesia or elsewhere. The diplomatic scene -- and particularly the need to bring our traditional allies to the table -- has been a colossal screwup. It is hard to find much reason for optimism.

Even if the Bush team decides to follow Hanson's lead and make the Nixonian declaration, this coming spring or summer, of "victory" in Iraq, and begins withdrawing U.S. troops, the reality is that any regime we create in Iraq is liable to be overturned, and probably violently, within short order. As Warbaby observed some time back:
What we are seeing is a long-building pressure towards civil war. The resistance has many centers, not one. And it's going to get worse as factions continue to mobilize resources and build organization.

The overriding problem has been the American response, to date, to the challenges raised by the Sept. 11 attacks. Robert Lifton, the pscyhologist whose work I have relied upon heavily in coming to terms with the nature of fascism, excerpted this week in The Nation a portion of his important new work, Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World, in a must-read article titled "American Apocalypse."

Unlike Hanson, Lifton has a far more insightful take on the nature of "the war on terror" that forswears simplistic historical analogies for a keen understanding of its unique nature -- especially its radical neocon vision of a global America uber alles:
The war on terrorism is apocalyptic, then, exactly because it is militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite. Implied in its approach is that every last terrorist everywhere on the earth is to be hunted down until there are no more terrorists anywhere to threaten us, and in that way the world will be rid of evil. Bush keeps what Woodward calls "his own personal scorecard for the war" in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out if killed or captured. The scorecard is always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

[It is useful at this point to remember, perhaps, that one of the identifying motifs of fascism is the idea that "life is eternal warfare."]

Most significantly, Lifton zeroes in on what this approach to warfare means to us on the home front -- that is, how it is reshaping our national identity, and not in good ways:
The amorphousness of the war on terrorism carries with it a paranoid edge, the suspicion that terrorists and their supporters are everywhere and must be "pre-emptively" attacked lest they emerge and attack us. Since such a war is limitless and infinite--extending from the farthest reaches of Indonesia or Afghanistan to Hamburg, Germany, or New York City, and from immediate combat to battles that continue into the unending future--it inevitably becomes associated with a degree of megalomania as well. As the world's greatest military power replaces the complexities of the world with its own imagined stripped-down, us-versus-them version of it, our distorted national self becomes the world.

Despite the constant invocation by the Bush Administration of the theme of "security," the war on terrorism has created the very opposite--a sense of fear and insecurity among Americans, which is then mobilized in support of further aggressive plans in the extension of the larger "war." What results is a vicious circle that engenders what we seek to destroy: Our excessive response to Islamist attacks creates more terrorists and more terrorist attacks, which in turn leads to an escalation of the war on terrorism, and so on. The projected "victory" becomes a form of aggressive longing, of sustained illusion, of an unending "Fourth World War" and a mythic cleansing--of terrorists, of evil, of our own fear. The American military apocalyptic can then be said to partner and act in concert with the Islamist apocalyptic.

Finally, it is becoming clear, as Lifton argues, that the neoconservative vision for "superpower America" and its hegemony over the rest of the world is neither tenable nor desirable. The answer to the war on terror is to build a real world community that respects cultural differences and boundaries -- not an international regime in which all bow down to the superior Americans.
To renounce the claim to total power would bring relief not only to everyone else but, soon enough, to the leaders and followers of the superpower itself. For to live out superpower syndrome is to place oneself on a treadmill that eventually has to break down. In its efforts to rule the world and to determine history, the superpower is, in fact, working against itself, subjecting itself to constant failure. It becomes a Sisyphus with bombs, able to set off explosions but unable to cope with its own burden, unable to roll its heavy stone to the top of the hill in Hades. Perhaps the crucial step in ridding ourselves of the syndrome is recognizing that history cannot be controlled, fluidly or otherwise.

The place to start, of course, is to remove Bush from office in the 2004 election. This is not, as the unAmerican rabid right would have us a think, a capitulation to the terrorists. It is in fact the first step to seriously winning the war against them.

[Thanks to reader mondo dentro for pointing me to the Lifton piece.]

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