Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ritual of not seeing iraq

I have a bad habit of dropping issues where I simply get crazier and crazier in response to the mirages manufactured by our governors. I had to get off the subject of Iraq the way some men have to get off the booze.

But occasionally I return. Returning, I see that the same mirages, shabby at the edges and full of bullet holes, are still floated by the ever clueless American press. The foreign correspondents for the NYT, the Washington Post, and the tv media (from what I can tell from the blogs – I’m not dumb enough to actually watch tv news) have, since 2003, been searching the length and breadth of Iraq, trying to assemble a picture of public opinion – as long as that public opinion spoke English, was pro-American, and had a proper appreciation of free enterprise. Now, it so happens that there were two class features of the Iraq war.

1. The professional class, being heavily Sunni or involved in one way or another with the Ba’ath regime that ruled the country for fifty years, fled. They didn’t have a lot of choice. As the professional class in all third world countries forms the natural constituency for free enterprising pro-Americanism, at the very onset of the war, Bush and Co. destroyed its natural allies – and, such was their ignorance, did not understand what they were doing.
2. The majority of Iraqis are poor, and the vast majority speak no English. They live in areas that are shirked by the newsman who wants to preserve his life. And when he meets their spokesmen, they repulse him. They aren’t at all the kind of starry eyed exile type that make the newsman feel like a liberator.

In the Iraqi elections of 2005, as I pointed out countless times on Limited Inc., these two factors came in to utterly confound the news coverage received in America. Thus, I counted up, at one point, some vast number of references to Chalabi via Factiva – was it 20,000? – and an almost comic number of references to Maliki – maybe 100. Chalabi, as it turned out, received something like .01 percent of the vote. The NYT, on the eve of the 2005 election, published a confident news story about the three men most likely to be prime minister of Iraq. In fact, none of the men even came close.

Because the news model of today is based on Love Story’s definition of love – news is never having to say you’re sorry – the NYT learned precisely nothing from this prestigatator’s debacle. Thus, once again, as the Iraqis prepared to vote, the reporters gave us starry eyed portraits of Allawi and such. So, when the vote came, they reacted as though some sudden earthquake had opened up under their feet. In fact, the vote was predictable: poor shi’ites support, and have supported, Sadr.

“The followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a radical cleric who led the Shiite insurgency against the American occupation, have emerged as Iraq’s equivalent of Lazarus in elections last week, defying ritual predictions of their demise and now threatening to realign the nation’s balance of power.”

The unspecified “ritual predictions of their demise” is, I suppose, a way of saying, we fucked up again, and we always fuck up. Anthony Shadid has covered Iraq long enough to shake hands with the class composition of Iraqi politics. Myself, I have never been to Iraq, but have absorbed the pertinent facts about the place long ago. Of course, I am not equipped with the upper class American innocence that keeps away any fact that does not align with current status quo in America – one in which newsmen routinely show that they think the median income in the U.S. is 100,000 per year.

The uppercrust has compromised with the irreality of ‘meritocracy’ by pretending it is all true. That upward social mobility in the U.S. is trending towards the Mexican model is not something they can either accept or even see. The predator class spawned by Reaganism has, like any predator class, made itself a media bubble in which it gets all the facts that are fit to think – and not a fact more.

Shadid continues:

“Their apparent success in the March 7 vote for Parliament — perhaps second only to the followers of Prime MinisterNuri Kamal al-Maliki as the largest Shiite bloc — underscores a striking trend in Iraqi politics: a collapse in support for many former exiles who collaborated with the United States after the 2003 invasion.
Although rivals disparaged the Sadrists’ election campaign, documents and interviews show an unprecedented discipline that has thrust the group to the brink of perhaps its greatest political influence in Iraq.”

Unprecedented discipline? Rather, the predictable result of the polling booth. Unprecedented discipline will have to be applied in the next year or two, as Maliki joins with the Sunnis and the Iranians to death squad Sadr’s groups into inexistence.


For the sake of contrast - oh, that there were the least bit of contrast! - here is what I wrote on Dec. 19, 2005 about the last election:

To understand what is happening in Iraq through the medium of the American press is much like estimating the height of a distant mountain through a heavy fog. But sometimes the fog lifts. This election, for instance, has thrown a startling, and no doubt ephemeral, contrast between the agencies of projection – the media, the D.C. clique, and the Snopes cocoon - and reality. The NYT today, which had based its delusional reporting on John Burns’ paen to the latent Americophilia in the Baghdad streets on election day and an account, echoing an account in the WP, of an obscure secularist candidate in Basra to which reporters had been herded, no doubt, by U.S. army spokesman, now gives us this hilarious phrase:

“What was also apparent was the staunchly religious nature of the electorate, in a country that many experts had proclaimed before the American-led invasion to have a large secular middle class.”

Ah, the passivity of experts, and the coyness of reporters. The machine has written, and having written, passes on.

Still, for that vast, vast minority that actually pays attention, a few things to note.

1. The election was proceeded by the publication of a poll, conducted by the Oxford Research Institute and supported by the BBC, ABC, etc. The poll was much discussed on the blogs. LI thought that the poll vastly overcounted one segment of the Iraqi population – that “large secular middle class.” Well, LI can gleefully say we were right. The ORI poll isn’t even within shooting distance of the results. While that seems a small and parochial thing, it indicates a large and non-parochial matter – the American press, and the American political establishment, simply can’t penetrate to or establish any relationship to an Iraqi populace that, at the moment, is undergoing incipient civil war plus incipient Great Depression. If Iraq really is suffering a rate of unemployment of 60%, the underlying and real American policy towards Iraq – privatize the oil – is a pipe dream. It is not only a pipe dream, but it is being pursued by means that are blowing up in our face.
2. The neurotic pattern for discussing this war is to ignore these moments of clarity and delve, infinitely, into the American cocoon. That is why the hot issue remains the invasion itself, instead of the occupation. LI was opposed to the invasion, but our opposition was not based on what was good for Iraq. It was based on what was good for America. It was good for Iraq that Saddam Hussein fall – that was obvious, and has been obvious. It would have been good for Iraq that Saddam Hussein be captured by Iraqi partisans and be given the Mussolini treatment.
3. However, what was bad for Iraq from the getgo, and is now a disaster for America, was acceding to the imperialist impulse and occupying a country that could handle its own affairs better than any foreign proconsul could. Immediate elections, a cancellation of Iraqi debt and war reparations, and withdrawal of the Coalition forces by the end of 2003 – that would have been the wisest course for both parties.
4. We know how Iraq has suffered due to American incompetence and war crimes. But take a look, for a second, at how American interest has suffered. American interest can’t be to liberalize and seize the oil sources in the Middle East – that will lead to less oil, for one thing, as oil becomes a victim to violence. American interest should be to stabilize the Middle East to the extent that two of the region’s main players, Iran and Israel, come to some non-hostile accord. Instead, this happened: just as the Iranian revolution led to a surge in Islamic fundamentalist violence throughout the region, the American incubation of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq has been the predictor of the hard line victory in Iran. First Basra, then Teheran – that is the structural logic here. It is, of course, not even seen by Americans who think the world is watching American Idol with breathless anticipation. The world isn’t.
5. To those who think that it is good that America loses in the Middle East, I would ask who bears the cost of that loss. True, American prestige is probably fated to either diminish or transform as time goes on – this is what happens to debt-ridden empires. But American power is a wild card, and simply baiting it is a game in which other people – millions of people – are hurt. And, frankly, living inside the Behemoth, I have no desire for the Behemoth to be scattered to the winds. Jeremiah was ascetic enough to like living in the well into which he’d been thrown – but yours truly likes his trips to Whole Foods. The idea that American losses under Bush give us room to jibe at Bush is, well, a contagious infantile disorder. There is more going on here than sticking it to the retarded Texan. American narcissism knows no ideological boundaries.

PS - those who like their news from Iraq to be all happy and pro-war might be interested in this column in the New York Sun -- which is somewhat to the right of the NYPost -- written by one of those adorable Iraqi bloggers cultivated by the Neocon crowd. Lovely stuff like this:

"Iran's mullahs, who are increasingly getting belligerent across the board, pulled off a coup in Baghdad right under the very noses of the United States."

We also liked the comment about Sistani being a communist. Wow, and I thought the Iraqi communists, solidly supporting Allawi, were proof positive of the new, democratic wave sweeping through the Middle East! I guess it is time for the old switcheroo, and bringing out the commie menace card. We are menaced by the commies that we are fighting for... A little confusing, no? I'm just so... surprised that Chalabi has a constituency of 0.00001 percent in Iraq, when it comes down to it. Gee, besides having guessed it in almost every post I've ever written about Iraq, I gotta say: who coulda guessed it? Especially as the NYT and the Washington Post have featured him with a monomaniacal intensity every time they talk about the political leadership of Iraq. How to put the whole ridiculousness of that? It is as if one were to include a discussion of Jerry Brown in every article about the political leadership of the U.S.


Anonymous said...

Roger, I thought you would post on this article. It is simply too rich, if it wasn't so tragicomic. I keep expecting purple-stained fingers to be proudly held aloft in the DC beltway. I have a feeling that I will be kept waiting. As you know, you go to war with the imperial state that you have.


Roger Gathmann said...

Phil, let me assure you that I almost didn't post on this article, as I hate simply showing my own hopelessness and helplessness before the beast. But what can I do? The power of the weak is, at least partly, the power of the little boy in Anderson's the emperor's new clothes - with the difference that nobody in the crowd pays any attention, even if a million little boys point out the lack of clothing a million times for a million years. Unless the little boy has barricades and guillotines behind him, apparently.

But I can only stifle so much.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I suppose we citizens who opposed the war and continuing occupation live with an unhappy consciousness, or, perhaps better, bad faith.


Roger Gathmann said...

And with the sense of failure. I sort of think I know why the anti-war movement failed - but I don't know how it could have succeeded. This humbles me down to my toes.

Anonymous said...

Roger, I'd be very interested in your analysis of the failures of the anti-war movement. I'd suspect that this analysis would be applicable to many of the social movements today. US society appears to have what I would call "imperial entropy". Our powers of resistance are weak. I suppose I carry on due to Sisyphean impulses. Lately, though, I've felt this ethical compulsion to demand more of myself --there is simply to much suffering (in this case the destruction and needless suffering of immigrant families through detention and deportation) -- but I also realize that compulsive actionism might make me feel better without fundamentally changing the situation for those who are most at risk. OK. End of confession. In any case, it is strange that social movements should be so weak at the same moment where academic studies of them have exploded. Or that "civil society" should become such a popular concept of analysis after the end of the Cold War, but at the same moment when it seems most incapable of resisting market hegemony.

I predict, if you were to write your analysis, that it would connect with your musings on the destruction of "organic solidarities" (for lack of a better word at the moment; problematic for sure)and the processes of exchange and commodification that you have been writing about in your Marx post (of which, thank you).

In any case, excuse the ramblings.