Hermits Rock

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I know it’s silly to expect plain-dealing or honesty in a stump speech, but sometimes it freaks me out when the president speaks and his words are so far removed from reality that you might think him a fantasy novelist, if what he were speaking about weren’t in fact incredibly serious. Fine, then. Set up and attack a straw man of your opposition’s position, say they want to “cut and run from Iraq”—it’s tiresome, a favorite in contemporary politics, but it’s a classic rhetorical move, and there are equally classic ways to expose the pol who hacks away at straw. But set up and attack a straw man of your own position? In his own words,

Leaving before we complete our mission would create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a country with huge oil reserves that the terrorist network would be willing to use to extract economic pain from those of us who believe in freedom…. If we were to leave before the mission is complete, it would hurt U.S. credibility. Who would want to stand with the United States of America if we didn’t complete the mission in a mission that can be completed, and will be completed?.... If we leave before the mission is complete, if we withdraw, the enemy will follow us home…. And so we’ve got to use new tactics, new efforts, new assets to protect ourselves against an enemy that will strike us at any moment. This war on terror is more than just chasing down people hiding in caves or preventing people from getting on airplanes to blow them up.

Whereas Iraq is now a terrorist state that demonstrates in support of Hezbollah, whereas for years the U.S. has had no credibility to undermine, whereas the enemy doesn’t need Iraq to follow us home, and whereas new tactics, new efforts, new assets look every bit like old tactics, old efforts, and old assets, the difference is no longer (if it ever was) between who cuts and runs and who stays and fights, but rather it’s between who seeks real solutions to very difficult problems and who repeats, again and again every two years, tired slogans that, because they represent bad policies, have the unfortunate side effect of killing others.



Five million years ago, George Steiner wrote the following, it was then collected two million years ago into Language and Silence:

With respect to the sciences, [Oppenheimer’s] somber view [that you cannot translate technical knowledge into a populist language] seems unassailable. And perhaps it dooms most knowledge to fragmentation. But we should not readily accede to it in history, ethics, economics, or the analysis and formulation of social and political conduct. Here literacy must reaffirm its authority against jargon. I do not know whether this can be done; but the stakes are high. In our time, the language of politics has become infected with obscurity and madnesss. No lie is too gross for strenous expression, no cruelty too abject to find apologia in the verbiage of historicism. Unless we can restore to words in our newspapers, laws, and political acts some measure of clarity and stringency of meaning, our lives will yet draw nearer to choas.

The Retreat from the Word

So what’s up with that “the enemy will follow us home”? Are terrorist stray kittens, now?

It’s just another version of “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” If the alternative to having a war over there is that I’m going to be in danger here in the heartland, then I guess I’d better support that war over there…

Yeah, I get that, it’s just the image I get of those poor widdle t’rr’sts mewling for a place to live…

I guess I don’t have a refined enough fear of gun-toting thugs waiting in the dark to conk me in the head and steal my stuff. That’s the real myth he’s alluding to. Perhaps my unrefined nonfear is also why I didn’t like Crash?

You’ve never lived in a city.

Neither have half the persons who cower about having their heads conked and their stuff robbed, but does that stop them? Nooooo.

More: even as effective police work seems to do more terrorism-foiling than wars, the effective police can be wrong and have to press charges sometime. (via LB)

I’ve read that many of the suspects did not even have passports. I’d be very interested in knowing how they were supposed to carry out the plan without passports. I don’t know yet if what I read was true.

With regards to GWB, it’s more or less uselss to expect anything resembling the truth out of him anymore. It’s like wondering if the begging heroin addict you’ve passed by nearly every day for a year really does in fact need change for the bus today. He’s best just ignored, as much as you can.

Good analogy. I know it’s pointless, but every once in a while (about as often as I write about straightup politics around here) he just surprises me by how incredibly unsurprising he is. I know, he’s an easy target—not nearly as scary as Cheney, per se, although because he’s not as scary, he’s all the scarier….

He’s the quintessential bullshitter, in the academic sense of the word. Cheney is more the straight-up lier.

Today, the Times reports that in July there were more roadside bombs in Iraq than at any other time in the war. This is precisely the kind of thing that will make America safer, you bet!

Another variation on this theme struck me after Scotland Yard disupted the recent liquid-bomb plot. As soon as the Brits released information about the ethnicity of the perps, GWB goes on the air to declare this a reminder that we are at war with “Islamic facists.” Apparently, he derived their religion and politics based solely on their Pakistani descent. Not only is this presumptuous, it’s racist. Even the Brits, who investigated and arrested them, would not comment on their motive or their religion before they had more fully investigated the suspects. If he wasn’t racist and reckless, GWB was being naive, at best, to think that, if they are brown and from Asia, they must be Islamic facists, because who else would want to hurt “us” like that?

I think JH & I had this conversation not long ago, but is an Islamic fascist the same as a fascistic Moslem?

What would the latter be? A Muslim who happens to support a fascist (and therefore atheistic?) regime?

But what exactly is the former?? I think the proponents of the term are not completely without basis, though I think it is an inaccurate choice of words.

I don’t know, but my wife gets a kick out of saying “islamofacist.” She just walks around saying it; it’s her new “awesome,” I think.

And why must human motivation be essentialized to political and/or religious value? We all know they hate freedom Is jealousy, or revenge, or justice, or nationalist pride simply passe? Is it nessa to inscribe in our policies and our reasoning a belief that nobody but Americans can feel put-upon or oppressed by other peoples or nations? Seymour Hersh’s recent New Yorker article, “Watching Lebanon,” picks up on a downright remarkable incredulity on the part of the upper-levels of our gov’t that some peoples don’t submit when other peoples drop bombs on them, laser guided or not. Since when did Americans be such poor, poor judges of others’ characters?

14: I suppose it’s question of where one’s motivation lies? I mean, if you want most to set up a state, founded on Islamic virtues, then one could say that you were most interested in the fascism, and Islam was just a means to get there. Saddam Hussein was kind of like this, though he was way more publically secular than, say, the Taliban. On the other hand, those who were more interested in holding the tenets of Islam, and who allowed that a state was the best way to do that, would be Islamic fundamentalists? fascists? Is the reason the conservatives have abandoned fundamentalism as a good name because fundamentalists are less concerned with statehood—or because they want to treat fundamentalist Christains well?

That’s easy. Facists are bad. Hitler was bad. Mussolini was bad. Since that was our last “just war,” then maybe, just maybe, if we’re fighting facism, then this one is, too, maybe.

D’oh! I actually took the nomenclature seriously for a minute. Pwnd by JRB!

Classical Islam, as far as I know, is inseperable from the idea of a regime, in stark contrast to early Christianity. It is only (again as far as I know) with the rise of the modern Middle Eastern state that it was thought of as something pietistic and personal. Up until the collapse of the Ottoman empire there was an unbroken continuity of powerful Islamic empires.

To call them fundamentalists, as they were from the time of the Iranian revolution up to recently, is no longer sufficient because, as you said, it does not necessarily include the geopolitical designs that our emergent Islamic “whatever” contains. Fascism is a poor attempt at conveying this new ambition.

As JRB said, the fascism of the term is largely a symbolic code for just war. I think it’s a false analogy, because it’s not an analogy at all, to the real fascists from Italy.

That said, our use of the term fascist (John Ashcroft is a fascist!) in general is more historical metaphor than it is analogy. It’s shorthand for bad people who seek to curtail liberality.

Ditto. More specifically, it’s a symbolic code for WWII, the ideal just-war in American mythology. You can hardly read three paragraphs of anything emmanating from the intellectual right these days without seeing a WWII analogy, or at least a Cold War one.

Do you you find the analogy as bogus as I do?

Yes. It’s especially suspect that, in those years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and September 11, these same right-wing intellectuals were using the same analogies, only with China in the enemy’s role, with a good heap of Saddam as well.

Wait, I just assumed you thought it was completely bogus, maybe you think it’s great? :)

Poor question. Rather, why does/doesn’t the analogy work? Or, why in some circles does it ring true, but in others, it doesn’t? Is it blind nationalism dictating to those who buy it, and blind cosmopolitanism dictating to those who do not?

25 before I saw 24.

Forgive me for being too lawyerly, but the metaphor/analogy doesn’t work because the facts of each case inapposite. This Admin talks incessantly about being “students of history” because they know that they should be, but they constantly demonstrate their absurd ignorance. What gives me more shame is our sophisticated citizenry who gobble it up. Don’t you think that WWII vets get fed up with the comparisons when there are none?

This situation has no historical analogy, and it wouldn’t be a war if we didn’t decide it was. I’ve railed before about our war against a method. Such a war never can be won, so now we’re allegedly fighting fascism again.

This is the Global War Against Semantics.

The first one is true enough. That sort of merging of present conflicts into the mythologized history of the past is as old as time. Or at least as old as political literature. The second one is far more complicated, and I wouldn’t hazard an answer as yet, though I think what you said about blind cosmopolitanism is one of several valid reasons.

In 28, “past” should be “nation”

(Forgive me, JRB, but I’m going to use your claim in 27 to talk to 28; I like what you say, and it suggests something else…) “Blind cosmopolitanism” wouldn’t characterize JRB, for example, whose own denial of similarity is in keeping with a recognition that similarities are difficult things to maintain, that it’s a good rule to remember that every person is different, that all peoples are different, and that analogies can work, but they must work fleetingly, to illustrate briefly, and then allowed to break apart when they get stretched too thin. I suspect there are blind cosmopolitans—I may be one of them—but knowing who they are doesn’t really speak to the inefficacy of the WW2 comparison. I think JRB does it better.

greg you are a shameless comment whore! the only reason you mentioned GW was to get a huge number of comments!

I take blind cosmopolitanism to mean, “We Believe Bush is an Ignorant Boob, and We, Being Very Non-Boobish, Oppose All Things the Boob King does.” A few are undoubtedly of this bent.

There are many reasons to look askance at the Global War on Terror, both as a concept and in practical execution. But, it is hard for me to feel comfortable in the crowd described above. (I will be very pleased however, if they go and vote November, in any case.)

My question is what should we do? What kind of moral obligations do we, as Americans, have to the people of Iraq? Do we have any? How do we fulfill those obligations?

Just wondering?

Bobby Valentine

If there is any thing that will unite the fractious people of Iraq, it may be the belief that they have all had enough of us fulfilling our moral obligations to them.


I do not know if we do . . . I am asking IF we do? The US did something whether or not we like it or not. If we screwed it up is the moral answer to say forget you!

I am in no way defending the invasion or occupation of Iraq. I was against the invasion long before most folks have decided they don’t like it any more. A lack of pleasantries seems to motivate a lot … I don’t like those either but obligation is not determined by those. So from a theological point of view what should we do?

How long would the government of Iraq survive if we left tomorrow? That may or may not be a valid concern one way or the other. I am just trying to understand what we ought to do.

Bobby Valentine

Sorry Bobby, my response was phrased a little dismissively; I see that it wasn’t really conducive to further discussion now that I read it again.

I am not myself necessarily a fan of immediate withdrawl, but it seems to have gotten to the point where we’ve made too many mistakes, and the relationship between our nation and theirs is unsalvagable for the present. I can’t think of any action we could do that would make things better.

To get to the point, my instinct is to say, if we’re not wanted, we should go. If we indeed are not wanted, then whatever we feel about our moral obligation is irrelevant.

If we indeed are not wanted, then whatever we feel about our moral obligation is irrelevant.

I wish I didn’t agree with this as much as I do. Because I think the US does owe Iraq a lot: it owes Iraq the security and prosperity that the American president promised would be the result of the deposing of Saddam Hussein (and his weapons). It owes Iraq the control of its oil fields. It owes Iraqis the contracts the US gave to American companies (which proceeded to import Kenyans and Filipinos—essentially to hire anybody but Iraqis to work) as the spoils of war. Any and all of these things the US owes Iraq, because any and all of these things were the right things to do if nation building had been on anybody’s minds when it was decided that bombing and invading was necessary. America’s moral obligation to Iraq is to invest in Iraq, not in Americans who might happen to work there, nor in a mythical Iraqi people that loves America and the West so much that it accepts gift-wrapped American shit and say, “Thank you kindly, sirs! May I please have some more?” America’s moral obligation to Iraq is to believe in Iraq as it really exists, to invest in Iraq as it might one day become (or might not). That’s the only way that postwar Iraq should have proceeded, but it didn’t; it’s the only way that postwar Iraq will result in something potentially positive (no guarantees, though) for all parties.

I want to take this government at its word. I want to believe that we are interested in a democratic self-sustaining Iraq. I want to believe that are serious about navigating and bringing peace among the sectarians. I want to believe that our goals are humanitarian and not profit-driven. I want to believe that this was essential to our national security and that we can still fix the mess. I want to believe that we can contain the chaos we initiated within Iraq’s sovereign borders. I want to believe that our adversaries in the region will “come around” once they see a prosperous, thriving democracy next door. I want to believe that we actually have planted a seed and that it actually will grow.

Bobby V., I want to believe these things, but I don’t. More to the point, the Iraqis, the Iranians, the Kurds, the Saudis, the Israelis, the Russians, the Brits, the Romanians, the Republicans and the Democrats and the President don’t believe it either.

You sound like you’re writing about Santa Claus, JRB. “Yes, Virginia…” :)

Seriously, though, there are points at which the whole practice, if not the idea, of democracy planting is absurd, and it’s absurd because historically, when the US engages in democracy planting, it ruffles when the planted democracy isn’t in US favor (here we are back to the value of historical analogies). J could weigh in on this at length in light of Latin America. But I note all that mostly to emphasize your point that no one ever believed it possible by linking to this discussion at CrookedTimber and to the accompanying image (below), about the “plan” for making the nation-building of Iraq work.

and j might, but not today… he’s off to memphis. and he’s got an article to finish :), yes still with that, and a grad class to finish preparing for, especially since one of his books didn’t come in.

but, i will comment on this thread and that at some point, i promise… not that it’ll be all that enlightening

Wait a weekend, and eventually somebody comes around to our discussions. Ackerman, then Yglesias, both briefly, on “Islamofascism.”

Hermits Rock: far ahead of the curve!

I think both are pretty much dead-on right.

That’s ‘cause they said the same thing we did. Except Ackerman did some interviews and reporting and stuff.

(Can I just add, in retrospect, that my first sentence in this post, the one that reads, “it’s silly to expect,” is throwaway cynicism? It’s a poor stance to have, and it doesn’t represent anything I believe. It works because I want it to be true that a stump speech is a really good place to hear what’s true, rather than what’s popular or what seems to sound good. Weekends reveal flaws in writing, too…)

No one can hold high ideals all the time. :)