Congress wakes from its post 9/11 trance After five months of unthinking unanimity, deluded triumphalism, and self-righteous posturing, some in Congress appear to be awakening from the war trance that gripped the nation after 9/11– and not a moment too soon. Republicans went ballistic when Senator Tom Daschle stated the obvious: that the war won’t be a success until and unless Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants are caught or killed. Senator Trent Lott huffed "how dare he!" and pronounced Daschle’s muted dissent "disgusting." But the Republicans had no answer to Senator Robert Byrd’s much more substantial critique, which went right to the hear to the matter: "Instead of concentrating on completing our operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seems to be looking for opportunities to stay longer and expand our presence in the region. We seem to be good at developing entrance strategies but not on developing exit strategies. ... There's no end in sight in our mission in Afghanistan." That’s right, Senator, it’s a war without end, extending into Yemen, the Philippines, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, fer chrissakes – and all without the consent or even the knowledge of Congress, except after the fact. The President and his advisors are openly planning an all-out attack on Iraq, including a "regime change," and now even Iran is within Bush’s sights. The President consults with Tony Blair, but doesn’t bother with a mere US Senator. When and where will it all end? A MYSTERY SOLVED What is baffling is that the Senator, who never saw a government spending program he didn’t like – especially if the beneficiaries reside in West Virginia – finds the Pentagon’s behavior mysterious. It ought to be perfectly explicable to a Big Government Democrat like Byrd, who has been a major cause of the federal gigantism that infects the body politic. Just like any government program, military activities and institutions take on a dynamic all their own, not only surviving but expanding exponentially long after their initial purpose has been nearly forgotten or rendered irrelevant. Overseas intervention works much the same way as federal intervention in the economic and social life of our nation: once the machinery is built and turned on, no one can find the off button. The rent controls imposed on New York City during World War II as an "emergency" measure are still extant – as is the US military occupation of Japan. THE MORE THINGS CHANGE … Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz was the target of Byrd’s oratorical onslaught in a Senate subcommittee hearing on the Pentagon budget, and the Senator’s jeremiad was a response to Wolfowitz’s refusal to be pinned down on the cost or the length of this war. As Reuters reported it: "Wolfowitz said the Pentagon has no clear view of how long U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan or how much the operation might eventually cost. That's because ‘things change and they change rapidly,’ Wolfowitz said. ‘Everything has gone in ways that are unpredictable…." THE WOLF Unusually visible for a deputy secretary, Wolfowitz is the foreign policy poster boy of the neoconservatives, whose most grandiose foreign policy fulminations he wrote up, in 1992, in the form of a policy memorandum. This remarkable document, a forty-six page manifesto of unabashed neo-imperialism, envisions America dominant on every continent, pressing the Russians in the Caucasus, moving to secure hegemony in the Pacific, and crushing any show of resistance without hesitation or remorse. According to the Wolfowitz Doctrine – which is now the de facto Bush Doctrine -- we must be willing to go to war with the Russians if they give us undue trouble over NATO expansion. With US troops headed for Georgia, and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze’s application for NATO membership on file, it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which such a confrontation with Russia comes to pass. What Reagan thought he abolished – the threat of nuclear war with the Russians – Wolfowitz and this administration would revive. According to the Wolfowitzian vision – now the dominant foreign policy vision in Washington – the goal of the US must be to prevent the emergence of any possible rival on a regional level: US troops and "vital interests" must occupy – even dominate – every continent. Warning about the possible foreign policy consequences of a Bush victory in the 2000 election, I wrote in this space on September 20, 1999: "The [Wolfowitz] memo purports to be a foreign policy blueprint for the next century. If so, it will be a century of endless wars…. The great goal of the Wolfowitzian vision is to prevent the emergence of any regional powers as possible rivals to American world hegemony. All must be reduced to the status of small and militarily impotent states, lest they challenge the imperial dominance of the One and Only Superpower. Was a madder, more megalomaniac vision ever conceived outside of a loony bin?" In the post-9/11 world, which certainly resembles a loony bin in several key respects, the Wolfowitzian vision of Empire is a kind of madness that has gripped not only the pundits but the policymakers. Of course Wolfowitz can’t predict the cost, or the length of the war: how long will it take for the US to conquer the world? Ten years? Twenty? A hundred? Who knows? THE FATE OF ICARUS "Everything has gone in ways that are unpredictable," avers Wolfowitz, but you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the horrific and inevitably fatal consequences of such a course. The world is filled with the bones of empires motivated by a belief in their own invulnerability: they all met the fate as Icarus, and plunged as fast and far as they rose. Hubris is the original sin of humankind, the trademark of our species, and we are a long way indeed from the days when George W. Bush was touting the virtue of "humility" and promising us a "more humble" foreign policy. If this is "humble," then what would overweening arrogance look like? THE QUAGMIRE RETURNS As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Byrd could prove to be a large and immovable roadblock to the administration’s war plans, and hopefully he gave us a preview of what kind of fireworks we might expect if warhawks like Wolfowitz get their way. Speaking of fireworks, the declarations of "victory" trumpeted by the triumphalists who wondered "where’s the quagmire?" seem to have been a bit premature: the news that Al Qaeda has beaten back the most massive US offensive yet and our "Northern Alliance" allies are at each other’s throats should answer that question definitively. ORWELL WAS RIGHT A child could have seen this coming, but naturally our war-emboldened punditocracy missed it: of course, a quagmire, by definition, is not apparent at first, and perhaps that explains their inability to see what was coming. But I prefer George Orwell’s explanation of the reason for this peculiar blindness. In his classic essay on "James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution," Orwell tried to explain the view of many intellectuals at the time, including Burnham, that the Germans would win World War II: "One might assume that high intelligence and bad military judgement always go together," he writes. "However, it is not so simple as that": "Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. … This habit of mind leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice. The rise and fall of empires, the disappearance of cultures and religions, are expected to happen with earthquake suddenness, and processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end." Intellectuals, Orwell noted, are peculiarly vulnerable to the sin of hubris, and I recalled his insight as I sat and listened to David Brooks, of the Weekly Standard on the PBS News Hour last Friday. Brooks was responding to commentator Mark Shields, who wondered if 100,000 US troops are "going to be the western Christian pro-Israeli occupying force in Iraq": "You think the Brits in Northern Ireland had a tough time, let me tell you, that's an assignment that I think ought to be debated and ought to be determined by free debate in the country." Brooks' answer: "There are 25 new democracies in the last 20 years. What the U.S. has done is created a world order which is allowed local heroes like Cori Aquino, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa to create their own democracies. I would say that's something that's something that's possible in Iraq. That's something that's happened 25 times in the last 30 years. It is plausible to think we can happen in Iraq and think of the upside; think what happens if there is a democracy in Iraq; think what happens if we export our ideas that all human beings have inalienable rights to Iraq, to the middle of the Arab world. "It seems to me that revolutionizes the world, so the risks are tremendous but the upside is also tremendous and I think that sort of effort which Bush envisions brings out the best in the country." THE SOUL OF A NEOCON So that’s what the neoconservative vision of American foreign policy is all about: an effort to "revolutionize the world"! No wonder so many ex-Communists, ex-Trotskyists, and assorted left-wing nutballs have so effortlessly converted to the neocon creed – because it mirrors the same world-transforming power-lust that so enamored intellectuals of the left in the modern era. They told us that "everything’s changed" since 9/11, but the spectacle of so many alleged "conservatives" proclaiming their desire to "revolutionize the world" is surely a transformation of stunning irony, and one that may cause at least some on the Right to question the direction their leaders are taking them.
Since the likes of the traditional Inauguration Day in the national Capitol are likely never to be witnessed again, take this opportunity from one who has been there to relate some truth about the experience