“We will take the fight to the terrorists. We will help the Iraqi people lay the foundations of a strong democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. And by laying the foundations of freedom in Iraq, we will lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.”—G. W. Bush
“What you mean we, kemo sabe?” –Tonto
I’m looking at the four column color photo on page 1 of The New York Times. The podium graphics for “Plan for Victory” are truly impressive—the President at rigid attention in a strategically shallow pulpit, his blue tie picking up the blue of the stage set, “PLAN FOR VICTORY,” emblazoned in bright yellow block letters below in front and above behind the Commander-in-Chief, who stands between two august yellow and blue seals of the Naval Academy. “Mission Accomplished Redux,” but this time in the future tense for an audience of future officers. Is there not something profoundly moving about this reversal of time in which “Mission Accomplished” precedes “Plan of Attack”? Suicide bombers take their casualties up front in expectation of a posthumous victory. The wily Bush confronts them with the opposite strategy: take the victory first and the casualties later.
The picture goes with the article to its left, fallaciously headlined: “Bush Gives Plan for Iraq Victory and Withdrawal,” but the more informative headline goes with an article directly below the picture: “U. S. Is Said to Pay to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers: Covert Propaganda—Journalists Also Said to Get Stipends.” How do you say Armstrong Williams in Arabic?
So, the plan for victory is what we in the lit crit business call a performative; that is, a saying whose action is accomplished in the uttering. The classic example is a promise. When I promise to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today, I perform the action of obligating myself. The administration promises a plan for victory and it delivers victory as its plan. Of course the performance says nothing about whether or not the promise will be kept. If I am a liar, or if unforeseen circumstances deprive me of the means, I may, indeed, eat your hamburger today, and be nowhere to be found on Tuesday.
Underlying the administration’s darkly comic attempt to perform victory by saying so—its almost touching belief that if it can only manufacture the right news report—the news reported will, in fact, have taken place on the ground—is the intractable contradiction of material interests. In the president’s speech, these contradictions are concealed by that convenient little pronoun, “we.” Who comprises this national “we”? For whom does this president, whose conduct of the war commands the approval of fewer than one in three Americans, speak? Does he speak for the Cheney faction that apparently still desires influence over Iraq, ensured by permanent military bases and, at best, a man like Chalabi with whom the oil interests think they can deal to mutual advantage? Does he speak for the neocons, who promoted the war on the fantasy that it would lead to a western style, democratic Middle East and break the Saudi grip on the pricing and production of oil? Does he speak for those invested in the long-standing ties of clientage and patronage between the Saudi and Bush royal families and their interlocking financial interests? To speak single-mindedly, even for these factors internal to his administration, is impossible.
If the neocons desire for market driven democracies in the middle east, let alone anything resembling true popular government were to succeed in Iraq, it would quickly produce two results anathema to the Cheney-Bush interests: 1) The popularly elected and truly representative government of Iraq would expel the American military. 2) The Saudi regime would be gravely endangered. The administration has gotten itself, and unfortunately, us, into a pickle by failing to understand the complexity covered over by its cavalier evocation of a non-existent we. Until it comes to realize that in the situation it created, we can’t win unless some of us lose—that we cannot bring democracy to a region and control its natural resources at the same time—we all will go on losing.
The sudden and complete collapse of support for the war outside the reaches of the administration, its cronies and its clients suggests that the larger we, comprising the perceived interests of the various and many factions of the American electorate have come to understand the structural impossibility of success of this tragically thoughtless adventure. But the administration still speaks for those who, having succeeded in deluding themselves, if not the public at large, are convinced that victory can be achieved by saying you’ve already won and getting all the competing interests to believe we have..