David B.




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December 7, 2005
Denying the Obvious: Our Defeats, Our Making

What a long way we've come from "Mission Accomplished" aboard the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.


Three years into George Bush's Iraq folly, the rabid bravado that marked the first phase of U.S. war policy has been eclipsed by a new strategy at least partly grounded in realpolitik: Universal denial. As might be expected from Bush's administration, a complex problem is met with a simple solution, in execution if not effectiveness. As the ugly realities of this senseless exercise in neocolonialism begin to become visible to both the American public and the world at large in the form of videos of children's corpses incinerated with white phosphorous in Falluja and U.S. "contractors" randomly raking civilian Iraqi vehicles with bullets to the strains of Elvis, it becomes clear that the "isolated incidents" of murder, torture and atrocity are far from rare exceptions in terms of American conduct.


And what is the official response? Deny it. Whatever the evidence, deny it. Deny that prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib amounted to anything more that an isolated incident perpetrated by �rogue� guards. Deny that white phosphorous was used for anything more than illumination in Fallujah, despite the countless photos of burned bodies. When soldiers post "trophy photos" of people being tortured and bodies being desecrated to blogs and websites, mumble something about the strain of war and quickly move on. When video surfaces of contractors randomly strafing civilian vehicles, first deny that it exists, then suggest the possibility of an investigation, then change the subject.


In the eyes of much of the world, there is nothing to investigate. The evidence is in; the bodies of the mutilated dead, the testimony of the tortured, the photos of charred and bullet-riddled cars at checkpoints with the corpses of children still inside, the memos urging the bombing of civilian media outlets - all are available to see. Even the U.S. Iraqi puppet prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is decrying conditions in Iraq that are worse than they were under Saddam Hussein - Hussein, the man currently on trial in a kangaroo court for crimes against humanity.


This is the point at which a thoughtful nation might ask itself what it had become. Fortunately for Bush, the United States is far from a thoughtful nation; a wider world exists only as an abstraction to be bunted about like a baseball on the low-rent pundit TV circuit, with no genuine conclusions drawn and no judgments made as to our rightful role in it. That American might makes right is taken as a given; even if the tallies of dead and tortured we're racking up are neck in neck with those of Saddam, there simply must be extenuating circumstances working in our favor. Mustn't there? These aren't atrocities; these are just unfortunate incidents. Deny it.


It doesn't work that way elsewhere. To much of the world, our role in Iraq seems simply to kill people. Who, where, when, or how doesn't matter: "Kill 'em all and let God sort them out," the cynical USMC T-shirt motto, is the message that is communicated to Somalia, to the West Bank, to South America. The second tacit message: If the Yankees will do it there, they'd just as soon do it here. So Venezuela stocks up on Kalazhnikovs; North Korea races to perfect its atomic bombs; and outside the ranks of a small in-club of favored-trading-status nations, the smaller and weaker countries of the world gird themselves against being trod upon by a blind, stumbling, brutal giant.


The triumphalism of the flight deck days might be behind us, but that is scarcely likely to be a source of much comfort in Caracas or Tehran. Deprived of the victory it craved, America is sure to be foundering around for something else: Someone to blame. And with each murmured bit of nonsense issuing from Washington about Iranian supply lines to Iraqi insurgents, or streams of terrorists pouring over the border towards Baghdad, the choosing of the next scapegoat, and thus the next recipient of American wrath, seems to draw closer.


Such is the way of the stumbling giant. Blind to its own imperfections, deathly afraid of being called to account for its own conduct, and most of all horrified at the idea that it could ever be just plain wrong, a Bush-led America will continue to run from self-awareness - and thus headlong into the next disaster, waiting for us just around the corner. All of this rather than recognizing that our defeats, whether on the battlefield or in the court of global opinion, are of our making and our choosing.


2005 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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