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Posts from December 2003

Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great

(Minor updates to fix typos)

photo: Saddam Hussein at the height of his power

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God

photo: Saddam Hussein brought low

Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Beyond all hope—what a joy it is to see Saddam Hussein, one of recent history’s most ghastly tyrants, captured and awaiting punishment for his crimes. What is, perhaps, most appropriate is that this self-styled King of Babylon was found out and captured in stuck in a hole he had dug in the ground in his efforts to flee. If a bit of Scripture is in order, I would like to suggest:

  1. That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!
  2. The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.
  3. He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.
  4. The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. …
  5. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
  6. For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
  7. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
  8. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

(Isaiah 14, King James Version)

For the people of Iraq — who are wary of claims from The Officials but celebrating in the streets in the hope that it’s true — I can only offer my hope that it is true, and add my voice to the celebration.

But like the Iraqi people, I am wary. Not so much that what the officials are saying about the capture is false. Although I’m sure that a predictable cast of conspiracy theorists will trot out a predictable micro-analysis of one crucial photograph that they are sure must be fake, I don’t think there is that much reason to doubt the reports. It’s not that I don’t think the people presently in power aren’t capable of just making shit up for their own political ends, but rather that the consistent body of evidence here seems to be pretty clear.

But what we will no doubt see, thundering down the echoing halls of television punditry, and coming forth from the bully pulpit that the President is going to assume in an hour or so, is very likely to be a threefold disaster.

First, we are likely to see the same sort of hollow triumphalism with which Caesar celebrated his defeat of Pompey. If any man is prepared to gloat over the stench of carrion that his putative victory cost, it is this man.

Second, and closely connected, we are likely to be told that the capture of Saddam Hussein is proof positive that we were justified in this gruesome joke of a war. Of course it doesn’t — but unfortunately this tacitc may go over well for a while. If there’s anything that the American people love, it’s a winner — and sometimes this blanks out important truths.

Third, the warhawks have already begun to take this (as the neo-conservatives, in particular, take everything) as proof positive of their fanciful dreams. That’s what happens when you confuse your own PR echo chamber for reality; and it’s already on display. For example, consider the fanciful dreams of the U.S. military establishment and their sympathetic commentariat:

Hussein’s capture will be an immediate and devastating body blow to the anti-American resistance in Iraq. …

Within Iraq, the American commanders and their allies hope that the capture of Hussein will break the back of the anti-American resistance. Most of that resistance has come from former forces of Hussein located in the so-called Sunni Triangle in the middle of Iraq, around Baghdad.

So let’s take a moment to review the facts as we know them.

In spite of the Defense Department spin, the insurgency against American troops is not all burned-out Ba’athists. Ordinary Iraqis are mad as hell at the increasingly draconian occupation. And as renewed terrorist activity all around the world indicates, international jihadis have taken up Mr. Bush’s war on Arabs as their own cause celebre. Ba’athist remnants may have reason to be discouraged, but those who revile both Saddam and the Americans (whether from the just aspirations of the Iraqi people, or from the insane fantasies of radical Islamism) are still going strong. As General Sanchez admits (even military commanders have to have more contact with reality than chickenhawk commentators), the deaths will continue – indeed, retaliation may even increase.

Further, Saddam’s capture does not invalidate a single one of the many arguments against the war. No-one doubted that the war would mean a dramatic end to the Ba’athist reign of terror, and that Iraq would be better off for that. What we doubted was that the ends could justify the means–that it was likely or even possible for a U.S. bombing, invasion, and occupation to bring peace and freedom to Iraq. We pointed out that the administration’s evidence for WMD and connections to terrorism was awfully flimsy at best; we predicted massacres of civilians; we predicted a humanitarian and cultural catastrophe; we predicted a hopeless and bloody occupation; we predicted gruesome urban warfare with guerillas. The warhawks said the administration was telling us the Gospel truth, predicted a bloodless victory, where American troops would be greeted with flowers. And here are the facts as we know them: the administration distorted and knowingly lied about pre-war intelligence; civilians were needlessly murdered during the war; the infrastructure and historical heritage of Iraq suffered appalling destruction; the anger and hatred of the occupation is not about to go away; and terrorist attacks continue to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

Be that as it may, realism is no excuse for cynicism. Take some time today to be at peace, and to to sing with the people of Iraq. Then take some time to think about how we can make this day sweeter for them. The whole world should rejoice that Saddam Hussein, like the old kings of Babylon the Great, has fallen into ruin. But we also should not forget that Babylon was conquered by the Persians — in the course of creating a mighty empire that was no less tyrannical and no less bloodsoaked than old Chaldaea. It might profit us a bit if we said to ourselves: Rejoice that Balshazzar has fallen! … Now what are we going to do about Cyrus?

Bush the Dirty Lying Sneak

Photo of President Bush's Photo-Op with a fake turkey

This turkey is fake.

If you believe the corporate newsmedia, we are supposed to feel warm fuzzies about President Bush’s surprise visit to Baghdad. Why are we supposed to feel good about it? Because he made a very public and very scripted show of supporting the troops which consisted of a whopping three hours with 600 (no doubt carefully selected) troops? Or perhaps because his conduct of a bloody, senseless war and a bloody, pointless occupation has turned the Iraqi people against him so much that he has to sneak into Baghdad like a thief in the night?

Or, perhaps, that it turns out that the White House lied about it in an attempt to spice up the story – and when called on it, they lied about it again?

You might think that my cynicism about George Bush’s personality is getting the better of me: these lies, for example, are ultimately quite inconsequential bits of venality on the White House story-tellers. Isn’t it kind of petty to harp on them, especially when Bush’s bigger lies led us into an unjustified and illegal war?

Well, in one sense this sort of thing is venal and inconsequential. But in another sense, it goes right to the rotten heart of the Bush administration—that is, a man who is essentially petty and venal at his own core. Bush is, after all, the same man who evidently delights in hollow Caesarian triumphs like the landing on the U.S.S. Lincoln back in May, parades around in the bomber jacket that he earned by going AWOL on a cushy Air National Guard post during Vietnam, and who continues to set new standards for contemptuous official secrecy and scripting of press conferences. It has become common on the Left to see George Bush as the diabolical figurehead of a neferious Right-wing conspiracy against truth, justice, and the American way, with resources bordering on the limitless and motives bordering on the Satanic. But he is nowhere near as grandiose in his wickedness as all that (very few evil people actually are — Dante was closer to the truth about the Devil than Milton). Bush is, ultimately, a sad little man with sad little pretensions to the alleged glory of power. If the Bush administration seems like a political Leviathan at the moment, it’s only because it is bloated up with a lot of gas: the best way to deal with it is not to assail it with apocalyptic rhetoric but rather to deflate it, and show it up for the sorry mistake that it is.

Roderick’s New Argument

Roderick has a new argument for anarchism. Here’s how it goes:

  1. If anybody should rule, philosophers should.
  2. But philosophers should not rule.
  3. Therefore, nobody should rule.

Any philosopher who denies (1) is excessively timid; any philosopher who denies (2) is excessively bold. Hence moderation demands assent to the conclusion.

It’s worth noting that Roderick’s argument also succeeds in combining the thesis embodied in uncritical democracy (2) with the antithesis embodied in Platonic totalitarianism (1). Thus anarchism is the dialectical synthesis of two genuine insights which are disastrous when taken out of context. Maybe this will convince Chris Sciabarra to be an anarchist again…

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