02/13/2007 12:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The End is Nigh

If we step back a moment from the inhumane and criminal debacle that
is the Iraq war and look at it as a logic problem, we can see that the
aspirations of its architects are, well, absurd, and if there is
something to be grateful for with regard to the Iraq war, then perhaps it is that the absurdity of nearly everything Bush, Cheney, Feith, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Bolton, et al. represent is now apparent to almost everyone besides themselves.

1. Modern war is pointless. Since the end of the Second World War, the
US has put a lot of its economic eggs in the war machine basket, and
bet on the idea that wars can be fought with more and more
sophisticated technology. The basic principle of this technology is
that of the gun--I can stand farther and farther away from you, but
kill you anyway with some sort of explosion (bomb, rocket attack,
nuclear weapon, maybe some sort of star wars rain of death from space if
only the American taxpayer will pay for it). The attack on Iraq was
premised on this idea--Shock and Awe. The first plan the Pentagon
geniuses came up with was to intimidate the Iraqis into submission by
demonstrating our invincible might, kind of like a huge fireworks
display in which only very narrowly targeted, and deserving, victims
would be killed--presumably the bombs would serve as judge, jury, and
executioner only for resolute followers of Saddam, and if we could
label other victims as "collateral damage", we could get away with the
inevitable mistakes. What the geniuses were aiming for was some sort of
veneration by the Iraqis, as if the US were God-like in its power. But
the Pentagon could not pull off the plan because technological war is
by nature vast and messy. Technological war could not help killing,
wounding, and alienating civilians, missing the well-protected ruling
class and Saddam himself, and being the first demonstration for the
Iraqis and the rest of the world, of who the Americans were--heartless,
careless, murderous, robotic aliens intent on interfering in a country
that was not generally agreed to be the Americans' business, no matter
what the Americans themselves asserted. Shock and Awe did not work. The
natural plan B of modern war is more modern war--more death, more
injuries, more devastation. But we were supposed to be the Iraqis'
friends, and so--

Technological war from the air was followed by technological war on
the ground. But from the beginning, American soldiers might as well
have been wearing signs on their backs saying "shoot me". In their
desert camo uniforms, boots, and helmets with goggles, carrying all
sorts of equipment, including weapons, of course, and driving in
armored, but not sufficiently armored, vehicles, everything about their
appearance showed that they did not fit into the local culture; every
aspect of their appearance suggested to the local culture that they
were alien. The geniuses at the Pentagon would have said, probably,
that the army needs to retain its identity as a "fighting force", but
that identity only served to focus the concentration of the Iraqi
resisters more and more on resistance. Soldiers who were so markedly
different from the local culture would have had to do everything
perfectly in order to avoid arousing hostility, and we know that they
didn't. They acted as the geniuses at the Pentagon ordered them to
act--aggressively. Even apart from war crimes and other crimes that the
American soldiers committed, their demeanor has been warlike, which is
not perceived by the occupied populace as reassuring or secure, but as
frightening and dangerous. At the same time, the US has several
different "armies" in Iraq--the regular US army and the mercenaries run
by Blackwater and Halliburton. The geniuses at the Pentagon who thought
of "outsourcing " military operations for fun and profit didn't reckon
with how the subject population would experience whole different sets
of Americans doing lots of different and contradictory things, creating
chaos and sowing more and more fear. What do people do when those who
claim superiority over them don't act in a morally superior way and
then show vulnerability? They attack. It's human nature. Iraq may be a
multi-front civil war between groups with old enmities, but one thing
they have shown themselves (and said themselves) to agree on is that
the Americans ought to be attacked. Newly converted former neo-cons who
now oppose the war and want to get out because it isn't our business
should remember that even if we can't finish it, we did start it.

As a result of the Iraq war, we should thank the Bush administration
for demonstrating the futility and cruelty of war as the Pentagon and
its contractors have designed it. The Pentagon could have looked around
in the fifties and seen that insurgencies were the wave of the future,
but they didn't--they invested in something more expensive and more
risky, and now we and our children are once again paying the price.
Vietnam was fair warning more than anything else, but Rumsfeld, Cheney,
Bush, and the contractors didn't heed that warming.

2. The "free market" is actually just colonialism by another name. What
is the mantra of the "free market"? It is "buy low, sell high". It aims
at all times to externalize costs and keep the profits. In the "free
market', there is always a sucker. Taxpayer, go look in the mirror! We
can thank Bush and Cheney for demonstrating in a kind of absolute way
the selfish inhumanity of that model of human existence. We know for a
fact, no matter what the PR of the Bush administration says, that
Cheney wanted to secure the Iraqi oil fields for the use of western
corporations, with the possible byproduct of enabling American car
buyers to keep buying SUVs and pickup trucks with impunity. He would
externalize the costs of securing the oil fields by charging it to the
American taxpayer in a multitude of different ways--stealing from us
through the Pentagon, Halliburton, KBR. Even if Bremer and his bosses
hadn't actually looted the accounts, the war itself would have been
stealing, but Cheney and his gang piled stealing upon stealing. "Waste
and fraud" are the mildest and kindest terms for how they have taken us
to the cleaners. But what they stole from us is chickenfeed compared to
what they planned to steal form the Iraqis, through securing the oil
but keeping the profits for American companies.

Bush and Cheney could have accepted the science of global climate
change seven years ago and saved us a hell of a lot of trouble. In not
doing so, they demonstrated another failure of capitalism--protecting
investments is much more important than innovation, and old,
established industries will kill and destroy in order to not do the
obvious new thing. What if ExxonMobil had said, "The solar panel is the
wave of the future, or the electric car is where we are putting our
money?" They did not. In order to preserve their investments, the
machine that is made up of automakers, war contractors, oil companies,
agribusinesses, and their financial enablers doubled down their bets on
the old industries, and now, because they have spent so much of our
money to so little purpose, it is ever more clear to everyone that they
have nowhere to go except the place they could have gone seven years
ago at less expense--toward less reliance on oil. Selfish inhumanity
compounded with blind stupidity--that's Bush/Cheney.

3. White men are nothing special. Those of us who marvel at the
unprecedented stupidity and arrogance of the Iraq war often wonder what
it is that sets Bush and Cheney and Libby and Feith and Wolfowitz and
Kristol etc apart from the rest of humanity. How is it that they
arrogate to themselves the right to visit such destruction on Iraq, and
then Iran? Clearly, the Christian religious impulse accounts for part
of it, in some of these people, and Zionist fear accounts for part of
it in others. But the biggest lesson we see when we watch them walk and
talk is that just being white men is enough for them. In fact, it is
the basic long term premise of conservatism as we know it that white
men of power ought to do and can do whatever they feel like because
they are white men of power. If there were anything special about Bush,
Cheney, and the others--if they were talented or handsome or articulate
or had charisma or were wise or extra moral, those qualities would
confuse the issue. It is because Bush and his pals are so entirely and
unrepentently ordinary (although white and well-connected) that we can
clearly see that they don't deserve and have never deserved the power
that they claim. Having nothing else, only power, to solve their
existential dilemma, they try to use it and fail to achieve any results.

Of course, the other half of the "white men are special" conservative
argument is that western civilization is so special as to require of
all other people "shock and awe". As an independent-minded woman, of
course, I naturally prefer secular western civilization, but the Iraq
war has failed to demonstrate the superiority of western civilization,
and has in fact done just the opposite--it has demonstrated all the bad
things about western civilization, beginning with its willingness to
accept "collateral damage" to other people when its convenience
(driving, selling cars, retooling factories) is endangered by their
personal and property rights. George W. Bush was exactly the sort of
person who should have taken a course in political correctness. Then,
perhaps, he would not have framed the war on terror and the Iraq war in
such a stupid and ignorant way, as a "crusade", as bringing "democracy"
to the unenlightened masses of the Middle East. Secular western
civilization, in my view, is valuable and worth preserving, but when we
"fight for it" in Bush's terms, with contravention of such legal
protections as habeas corpus, breaking down the separation of church
and state, interference in scientific research for the sake of
ideology, or torture, we wreck it ourselves, and what we have to sell
to others looks like more of what they already have, or worse (just as
lots of Iraqis feel that what we have brought them is worse than what
they had under Saddam). One of the powers of secular western
civilization used to be its allure; what Bush and Cheney have done to
our country as well has to Iraq has tainted that allure, perhaps
fatally. Do the Russians want to be like us? The Chinese? The
Canadians? Anyone? Perhaps there would eventually have been a natural
balancing around the world of what various nations and peoples aspired
to, but Bush and Cheney and the American war machine have accelerated
that rebalancing in a very dangerous way, one that threatens the
secular and reasonable fabric of western civilization. The very best
thing about the separation of church and state is that all religions
know that they have a place, but only a place, among others. This is
practical. Since it is in the nature of religions to claim ever more
power and to back up their claims with shootings, bombs, violence, and
war, then the separation of church and state is our only hope. Bush and
Cheney have put this already-resolved question back into play for their
own purposes, taking away yet another reason for anyone in the world to
accept the superiority of western civilization.

4. The end of the world as we knew it was inevitable. In the future,
and not so far in the future, the idea that burning fossil fuels would
alter the atmosphere in unpredictable and probably dangerous ways,
along with the idea that eating chemicals in our food might harm us,
and the idea that the effect of antibiotics would be to engender
populations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be seen as
no-brainers. The foot-dragging and resistance on the part of our ruling
class to accepting these ideas will be seen as yet another example of
raw human idiocy, on the level of using all your manpower to raise one
last Easter Island head before everyone dies in the attempt. As a child
of the fifties, I was taught to revere the fruits of American
knowhow--refrigerators, automobiles, superhighways, atom bombs, air
conditioners, pesticides, television. We all lived in a bubble of
self-congratulation that promised a technological solution to every
dilemma--even to things that were manufactured dilemmas--remember
vaginal sprays and Minipoo and nuclear submarines? It is now clear that
capitalism plus ingenuity plus materialism does not add up to "wealth
creation", but to wealth transfer--what was once sitting in the ground,
for example, becomes something else because capitalists want to make
money off it, whether or not it is safe, necessary, or desirable. It is
also abundantly clear that the side-effects of all this wealth creation
are not always happy or pleasant, mostly because greed trumps care
every time. If one in 166 of our children is autistic, if more than a
quarter of the population is obese, if cancer is on the rise, if the
variety of the ecosystem is diminishing by the day, if parts of the
ocean are filled with plastic bags and other parts of the ocean are
dead, if Earth's orbit is filled with junk, if we have to go to war in
order to profit the military industrial complex, who did that? Men like
Cheney and Bush. It is exactly analogous: an extra proportion of Iraqi
children are dead or wounded because of Cheney and Bush. Soldiers
return from Iraq with uncontrollable infections because of Cheney and
Bush. Iraq is filled with the weapons, poisons, and detritus of war,
because of Cheney and Bush. The Iraq that existed in 2000, with its
wealth of artifacts and sites and ecosystems and human variety is sadly
diminished because of Cheney and Bush.

Perhaps the end of the world as we knew it didn't have to be abrupt
and violent, but it has been, because ordinary men with no
imaginations, men who are entirely representative or their class, white
and well-connected, for their own selfish purposes and the
short-sighted purposes of their class have made it so.

What is the good news? It is that non-white and/or non-privileged men
and women are rising to power here and there--Germany, France, even the
US. Coalitions of people are forming that extend across ethnic, gender,
and socioeconomic lines that work with new ideas and new paradigms to
try and undo the damage the old paradigms have wrought--one of these
coalitions, in the South Bronx, literally picks up and reuses
trash--there's an innovative idea! But we all know that white men do
not give up power easily, and in this case they just might decide to
blow everything up rather than change their way of looking at things.
Is attacking Iran the beginning of the end? If so, and if Bush and
Cheney order the attack, then history will say that those of us who
didn't stop them deserved what we got.