Chaos theory

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The tiny, tight-knit group of men who are running this country, largely out of the Pentagon, have rolled the dice in a way unprecedented in American memory. For them, the world turns out to be Las Vegas. Give them credit for nerve. Their dreams are global and distinctly imperial. To be against this war is to be against their militarized dreams of empire, so clearly etched in their initial plans for a coalition-of-one occupation of Iraq. Below are four provocative essays on those warrior dreams (even if the warriors are not to be them) which individually and together suggest the breadth of the dangers we now face, thanks to the neocon revolution in Washington and its imperial utopianism.

In the Washington Monthly, Joshua Marshall, who runs the weblog www.talkingpointsmemo.com, offers an exceedingly smart version of neocon chaos theory (with an emphasis on the “con” or deception in that neocon). He suggests that Wolfowitz et. al. are set on provoking a series of crises in the Middle East on the thought that every small catastrophe, every seemingly wrong turn, will lead us ever closer to their long-dreamt of goal — a remapped, reorganized, Americanized Middle East, somehow both democratic and pliant. For them, Marshall concludes, the wronger they are, the righter things will be. It’s an audacious thought from audacious men, but, as he comments, their “vision rests on a willing suspension of disbelief, in particular, on the premise that every close call will break in our favor: The guard will fall asleep next to the cell so our heroes can pluck the keys from his belt. The hail of enemy bullets will plink-plink-plink over our heroes’ heads. And the getaway car in the driveway will have the keys waiting in the ignition. Sure, the hawks’ vision could come to pass. But there are at least half a dozen equally plausible alternative scenarios that would be disastrous for us.”

The most recent Nation magazine had two pieces not to be missed, the first by George McGovern, the man who got my presidential vote in 1972. If you want to be truly utopian (and ahistorical) imagine where this country might have gone if he — and not Richard Nixon — had been president. At 80, he is bluntness itself, as he links the assault on Iraq to an assault on us. “This President and his advisers know well how to get us involved in imperial crusades abroad while pillaging the ordinary American at home.” In the same issue, Jonathan Schell points to the “Vesuvius of violence [that] has erupted from the dead center of American life” and makes similar linkages suggesting that what makes the present war in Iraq “revolutionary” is likely to lead to an imperial constitutional crises here at home, one delayed since Dick Nixon, having stomped McGovern in a campaign of widespread “dirty tricks,” managed to sink beneath the waters of Watergate..

Finally, from the exceedingly establishment Foreign Policy magazine (though found at www.warincontext.org), a piece “The American Mongols” by Husain Haqqani which lays out, from a Middle Eastern point of view, the dangers in the great dance of clashing fundamentalisms — ours and theirs — now ongoing.

(By the way, I suggest that you might also look at the transcript of a recent Bill Moyers interview with Susan Sontag. It’s smart and quite moving. She discusses, among other things, the “noise” of war from her experiences in Sarajevo, of what, in short, can’t be imagined from an afternoon in front of CNN and MSNBC; and also considers the ways in which even horrific war photos can turn us into spectators and sometimes counter-intuitively increase our sense of safety and of “innocence.”) Tom

Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks’ nightmare scenario–it’s their plan
By Joshua Micah Marshall
The Washington Monthly
April 2003

Imagine it’s six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam’s rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own.

To read more Marshall click here

Imagine it’s six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam’s rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own.

The Reason Why
by George McGovern
The Nation
April 21, 2003

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
–Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“The Charge of the Light Brigade”
(in the Crimean War)

Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation’s true greatness. Appearing to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces above all other functions of his office, and unchecked by a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court, a largely subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy, George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule.

To read more McGovern click here

Letter From Ground Zero
by Jonathan Schell
The Nation
April 21, 2003

A Vesuvius of violence has erupted from the dead center of American life, the executive branch of the government. No counterbalancing power, whether in the United States, the United Nations or elsewhere, has so far been able to contain it. Right now, it is raining destruction chiefly on one country, Iraq, half a world away from the United States. But others–Iran, Syria, North Korea–have already been named as candidates for attack. The war was launched in the name of a policy that asserts, in unusually explicit and clear language, an American claim of military dominance over all other nations on earth, which, in the words of George W. Bush, should bow to America’s unchallengeable military might, give up any “destabilizing” attempt to catch up and restrict any further “rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.” (The prospective world order that military rivalry to the United States would “destabilize” is, clearly, American global hegemony.) The pillars of this new policy of supremacy are too familiar by now to require much elaboration: American unilateralism, the replacement of the cold war policy of containment with “pre-emption” and assertion of a right, at the pleasure of the United States, to overthrow other governments.

The war, indeed, is revolutionary in at least three distinct arenas. It is aimed, of course, at the destruction of the government in Iraq. It is aimed, further, at producing a political revolution in the entire Middle East. Finally, it announces the destruction of the existing world order (such as it is) in favor of one dominated by the United States. Just how radical this latter revolution is is suggested by some recent comments by one of the architects of the new policy, Richard Perle, until recently chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. In a recent article in The Guardian, he wrote of the United Nations: “The chatterbox on the Hudson [sic] will continue to bleat.” (How the UN can chatter and bleat at the same time is not explained.) But Perle’s target is larger: “What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.”

In addition, a fourth revolution threatens–of the American constitutional order. In a culmination of the long decline of Congress’s war power, the Congressional resolution authorizing this long-considered “war of choice” almost formally abdicated that choice and gave it to the executive. All that was missing was a surrender ceremony in which the defeated legislative branch handed over the war sword, placed in its hands more than two centuries ago by the country’s founders, to the President.

Around the world, citizens and governments alike have read and absorbed these announcements of America’s global ambitions. With near-unanimity, they have reacted with alarm and dismay.
Meanwhile, the war itself has aroused widespread revulsion. In the United States, however, where public opinion polls show that seven in ten people have rallied in support of the war, the picture is different. One of the peculiarities of the scene is the refusal of many of those supporters to acknowledge the larger policy in which it is embedded (if I may use that term). In early February, for example, the Washington Post, which has consistently favored the war, stated that it must not “be seen as an exercise in Mr. Bush’s new doctrine of pre-emption, though ideologues on both sides would portray it as such.” The formulation “ideologues on both sides” was arresting. One of those ideologues, after all, was evidently the President himself, who in the plainest terms has subscribed to the pre-emption policy and then named three nations–Iraq, Iran and North Korea–that, as members of an “axis of evil,” are targets. On the other “side” are citizens and commentators–I am one–who believe that the war is indeed the first application of the policy of pre-emption, not because we are ideologues but because the President and his Cabinet have repeatedly said that it is. The core of the policy is the Administration’s resolve to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction by military force. Pre-emption is necessary, the President has explained, because containment will not work. Perhaps the most important of the debates that are necessary, therefore, is whether this policy is workable or wise.
That it is neither is strongly suggested by North Korea’s acquisition–or decision to acquire–nuclear weapons and Iran’s evident determination to do the same.

The attempt to save the war from its initiators and implementors has survived the war’s beginning. Some of the war’s supporters are upset to discover that the Administration’s explanations of its policies have been taken seriously by a horrified world. They seem to be seeking some other way of looking at the war that would be acceptable to the indignant international community. In England, for example, Guardian columnist Hugo Young has counseled Prime Minister Tony Blair to save himself from “taint” by distancing himself from certain particulars of Bush’s war policy. “What Iraqis see,” he writes, “and the world along with them, is a hegemon going about its business of domination, and barely any longer interested in why it is hated for doing so.” He advises that Blair defy Bush and support UN administration of a postwar Iraq. Here in the United States, David Remnick of The New Yorker has taken a similar position. There are, he admits, “conservative ideologues” in the Administration who “came to power with a grand, unilateralist project and a palpable distaste for international institutions and alliances”–but he calls them only a faction, as if the President himself had not, in statement after statement, embraced their agenda. He wants the war to be “rescued from the impulse to make it part of a grander imperial project.” Who will do it? Remnick, too, emerges as a Blairite. Secretary of State Colin Powell is also mentioned. But the war is not Blair’s, nor is it Powell’s. It is Rumsfeld’s war and Cheney’s war and, above all, it is Bush’s war. The world believes this, and it is right. There is no decent limited, multilateral war struggling to free itself from the brutal, unilateral, hegemonic war. The war is what its authors say it is. It cannot be interpreted into something else.

The American Mongols
To win the war against terrorism, the United States must overcome the burden of history
by Husain Haqqani
Foreign Policy Magazine
May/June 2003

An invading army is marching toward Baghdad-again. The last time infidels conquered the City of Peace was in 1258, when the Mongol horde, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulegu, defeated the Arab Abbasid caliphate that had ruled for more than five centuries. And if the ripple effects of that episode through Islam’s history are any guide, the latest invasion of Iraq will unleash a new cycle of hatred-unless the United States can find ways to bolster the credibility of moderate Islamic thinkers.

Saddam Hussein, who has led Iraq’s Baathist socialist regime for nearly 25 years, is no caliph. The U.S. military has come as self-declared liberators, not as conquerors. Yet the U.S. invasion of Iraq resonates strongly with fundamentalist Muslims because they see Saddam’s downfall-and the broader humiliation of the Arab world at the hands of the latter-day Mongols-as righteous punishment.

Husain Haqqani is a Pakistani columnist and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To read more of Haqqani click here