John Buffalo and Norman Mailer: What Took Us Into Iraq?

Norman Mailer: These administration honchos are very, very intelligent with what they are intelligent at, but they're stupid as sludge when they are stupid.
11/13/2007 08:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Norman Mailer was a great writer, with an unrivaled gift of observation and a
sharp perception of the motives of power that lie hidden in plain view. Midway
through a recent book of interviews with his son, John Buffalo Mailer,
he spoke
of the calculations that went into a war the Bush administration always
knew to
be unjustified by any actual threat to the United States. Mailer had
written in
2003 that the U.S. "went to war because we very much needed a
successful war as
a species of psychic rejuvenation." He offers here a more searching
answer that
looks at the characters of the men involved, and their quest for extraordinary
powers, and the way the war could be counted on to assist their drive
for power
whether it went well or badly. --DB.

Norman and John Buffalo Mailer, from The Big Empty (Nation Books, New York, 2006).

What Took Us Into Iraq?

JBM: I know you've answered this question in a number of ways, but it just can't
be asked enough. Why are we in Iraq? I cannot believe that Bush and Company are
a gaggle of fools, not by a long shot. They are the most calculating
administration I've encountered in my life.

NM: I like that. The most calculating administration. Yes. Lots of know-how,
and no honorable ethic.

JBM: Given their intelligence, how could this administration not have
anticipated the long haul of this war? By now, they have changed their reasons
for the invasion so many times, Americans are getting hip to the fact that, at
the very least, Saddam Hussein posed no significant threat to our national
security. This war is developing into an extraordinary political cost for the
administration. Why was it worth it to them? It can't just be the oil. Oil
prices are up. How does this supposedly Christian administration justify hordes
of innocent people killed--

NM: Come on, man, save time. These administration honchos are very, very
intelligent with what they are intelligent at, but they're stupid as sludge
when they are stupid. I will say this characterizes almost all political
regimes. Take Camelot. As open and bright and quick as the Kennedy
administration proved to be, look at how wrong they were on the Bay of Pigs.
Why? Because they didn't know a lot about Cuba when they came into office, so
they listened to Allen Dulles and the CIA. It was a very painful lesson, but
they learned that the CIA wasn't always right.

OK, all I'm getting at is the Bushies in the wake of the 2000 election had
a host of problems for which war could be a pro-tem solution. The novelist in
me would even warrant that the cynics among the Bush honchos loved the idea of
selling America on bringing democracy to Iraq. They may even have known they
were not going to succeed on any real level. But they did have great faith in
the stupidity of the American people. So, they assumed they could carry it off
one way or another. With our mighty military, how could they not find something
they could paint as a positive?

JBM: I was twenty-four years old at the time, a writer/actor in LA, and I saw
what was going to happen if we invaded. How could they not have seen it? It's
hard for me to believe that they didn't know Iraq would turn into a quagmire.

NM: Listen, these are men who have been successful all their lives. They've gone
through many crises. Their feeling is, "Yes, there's going to be trouble. A lot
of shit will hit the fan, a good deal is probably going to go wrong. But we
will handle it." Not Bush, but Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld. Take a guy like Cheney.
His whole attitude is: "Can do. Will do." I would say their honcho feeling goes
like this: "We'll take the sludge that comes our way, but it will be a lot
better than chasing bin Laden all over Afghanistan and Pakistan. That won't do
it. The Democrats will be too ready to carp about everything that's going wrong
in America. So let's shift the war to Iraq. This country is so patriotic. 9/11
brought us back again to operating speed and now we can coast on that
patriotism." You have to understand the depth and breadth of the cynical
optimism these guys possess. They are able to live with very bad odors,
spiritual stinks most of us can't endure. Their strength is in their ability to
avoid bad conscience. Immoral is not even a word to apply to these guys. Amoral
is no better. They have a God-given or diabolically driven capacity to live
with bad conscience. They really don't give a damn. "Hey," goes their credo,
"I'm tough. So I can live with this. Others couldn't, but I can take it. I will
endure. And even if it doesn't work, it will work anyway, because we will always
be able to find a new slew of spokesmen, even intelligent people, who will claim
that democracy is beginning to work in Iraq. All those neocons. They keep saying
that the Middle East is ready for democracy. Well, I think they are a bunch of
Israel-serving, self-serving sons of bitches myself, but if they are right,
then we get the oil, and if they're wrong, we'll yet be able to blame them for
the consequences." So, yes, John, to speak for myself again, I take them
seriously. As they saw it in 2001, the country was in bad shape and they needed
a tool big-time to clear it up, especially when they were bound and determined
to send all that tax money upstairs to the rich.

JBM: So, instead, they send the poor to die in Iraq.

NM: Don't you think that is one of the themes of history, which repeats itself
over and over?

JBM: My question is, Why is the chain never broken?

NM: The reason may be that there are too many strong and skilled people who
spend their lives working to keep the chain intact. They labor at it
reverently. So they succeed in keeping the majority stupid, even if in a
democracy it's just fifty-two percent of the voting populace. They know so well
that stupidity is their greatest asset, their political mojo. They work,
systematically, to enhance it. They take pride in generating more and more
stupidity even as advertising men take pride in selling a piece of crap. After
all, anyone can market a Rolls Royce. But try palming off sleaze on a big
scale. Hell, yeah! "Bring 'em on."