Monday, January 8, 2007

War In Iraq as Domestic Cover: The "Lightning Rod" Theory of Deliberate Disaster

Thinking people can quickly tire of "historical analysis" which ascribes complex events to simple causes.

Especially vexing is the single-cause school of "analysis". The old "Did Bush invade Iraq for Oil? Or because Saddam tried to kill his Daddy?" trick provides a perfect example.

Similarly unsatisfactory are those analysts of foreign and domestic policy who see all our troubles through the "One Lone Nut" prism; the idea that W is the problem, and that the removal of W is the solution, is dangerously ineffective and unfortunately too popular, in my estimation.

We can get farther with more sophisticated forms of analysis, in my view, and we are well advised to recognize that complex events -- such as wars -- may begin and continue for different reasons, and that these reasons may be complex and interlocking.

Early in 2003, Josh Marshall, writing in Washington Monthly, proposed the notion that the main (unstated, and in fact hidden) goal behind the invasion of Iraq was not to win the war so much as to get the country embroiled in a long and bloody conflict. Sad and strange as it seems at first blush, the congruence between this idea and the reality on the ground has been impossible to ignore, and now -- for me, anyway -- this very strange and sad idea seems to provide the best explanation for many otherwise mysterious aspects of this so-called "disaster".

I've argued as much more than once, here, for instance:
The people running this war never intended to "win" it and they still don't. Their object has always been to become entangled in a bloody mess and stay there as long as possible. Why do you think we started -- and stayed -- with too few troops? Remember "Mission Accomplished"? That was a celebration of finally being entangled, nothing more or less.

The so-called sectarian violence that's going on now is actually state-sponsored terror, and the state in question is called "USA". The situation in Iraq is steadily deteriorating thanks to a semi-secret Pentagon program which established, trained, equipped, and motivated the death squads that now wreak havoc on a daily basis.

On the home front, the propaganda war continues unabated. This administration has lied so often and the media have relayed the falisty as truth so faithfully and relentlessly that ideas full of common sense are no longer even permitted a place in the national discourse. The political climate is such that even those Senators who most vehemently oppose the war dare not vote against it. As a result, the path of action now favored by the majority of the people in this so-called democracy is deemed unworthy of discussion.
Forgive me for quoting myself; as you can see I've been laying some of the dots down side-by-side without actually connecting them.

The view from Iraq -- as expressed for example in the excellent Iraqi blog Baghdad Burning -- raises similar questions:
2006 has been, decidedly, the worst year yet. No -- really. The magnitude of this war and occupation is only now hitting the country full force. It's like having a big piece of hard, dry earth you are determined to break apart. You drive in the first stake in the form of an infrastructure damaged with missiles and the newest in arms technology, the first cracks begin to form. Several smaller stakes come in the form of politicians like Chalabi, Al Hakim, Talbani, Pachachi, Allawi and Maliki. The cracks slowly begin to multiply and stretch across the once solid piece of earth, reaching out towards its edges like so many skeletal hands. And you apply pressure. You surround it from all sides and push and pull. Slowly, but surely, it begins coming apart -- a chip here, a chunk there.

That is Iraq right now. The Americans have done a fine job of working to break it apart. This last year has nearly everyone convinced that that was the plan right from the start. There were too many blunders for them to actually have been, simply, blunders. The 'mistakes' were too catastrophic. The people the Bush administration chose to support and promote were openly and publicly terrible -- from the conman and embezzler Chalabi, to the terrorist Jaffari, to the militia man Maliki. The decisions, like disbanding the Iraqi army, abolishing the original constitution, and allowing militias to take over Iraqi security were too damaging to be anything but intentional.

The question now is, but why?
In other words, it looks more and more as if the people who have been running the war are not trying to support America's (or Iraq's) interests and failing due to incompetence, but instead they are (not so) secretly working against America's (and Iraq's) interests and doing quite well indeed.

According to this "model", from their viewpoint, the war continues not because they cannot see it is a mistake but because it serves their purposes; This course of action -- from which Bush and others refuse even to consider turning back -- has multiple motives, multiple goals, multiple useful byproducts.

What are the motives? What are the goals? What are the useful byproducts? They may be too numerous to list; some may be too obvious to list; perhaps the best we can hope for is to pick the others apart one at a time.

Lately I can't shake the impression that the disaster in Iraq, as bad as it is (and as bad as it's going to get -- i.e. much worse!), is also serving as domestic cover. Whether it's intended that way is a difficult call, in my view. In other words, it may be tough to see motive here, but there's no questioning the byproduct: The war in Iraq is a lightning rod, attracting the bulk of what little domestic opposition there happens to be, and diverting attention from other disasters that may be even worse.

What could be worse? Relentless attacks on our "way of life", from many different angles: a war on science, a war on freedom of information, "normalization" of torture, a class war against all but the extremely wealthy, and attacks against our constitutional form of government, among others. To highlight the latter two items on this short but representative list, a couple of recent pieces from the New York Times:

Tax Cuts Offer Most for Very Rich, Study Says
Families earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush’s tax cuts, according to a new Congressional study.

The study, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, also shows that tax rates for middle-income earners edged up in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available, while rates for people at the very top continued to decline.

Based on an exhaustive analysis of tax records and census data, the study reinforced the sense that while Mr. Bush’s tax cuts reduced rates for people at every income level, they offered the biggest benefits by far to people at the very top — especially the top 1 percent of income earners.

Though tax cuts for the rich were bigger than those for other groups, the wealthiest families paid a bigger share of total taxes. That is because their incomes have climbed far more rapidly...
The wealthiest sliver of America suffers in the most grotesque way: their income is rising faster than their tax rates are falling.

But the rest of us are still stuck with the bill. And meanwhile our government grows more tyrannical all the time.

Some would like to see it stay that way.

New Majority’s Choice: Should G.O.P. Policies Be Reversed?
Republicans are waiting to see what develops, uncertain if Democrats sincerely want to join hands and produce some consensus on public policy. Or, as one senior Republican asked, will Democrats hostile to the Bush administration be more like the scorpion in the fable with the frog, unable to resist the urge to sting even if they hurt themselves?

Democrats acknowledge that with their minuscule majority in the Senate and one in the House that is not much larger, they lack the political muscle to go too far in reversing Bush policy even if that was their chief goal. And they already have their hands full with delivering on their own ambitious legislative agenda, following through on their pledges of bipartisanship and ethics overhaul and avoiding anything that costs the party its chance at the White House in 2008.

Leading Democrats say their best direction is forward, concentrating on establishing a new party legacy rather than obsessing with the perceived failings of Republican rule. The test for the party’s newly empowered leadership and the Congressional membership will be whether they can stick to that path.
Others are not yet prepared to surrender.

The Imperial Presidency 2.0
The Democratic majority in Congress has a moral responsibility to address all these issues: fixing the profound flaws in the military tribunals act, restoring the rule of law over Mr. Bush’s rogue intelligence operations and restoring the balance of powers between Congress and the executive branch. So far, key Democrats, including Mr. Leahy and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, chairman of a new subcommittee on human rights, have said these issues are high priorities for them.

We would lend such efforts our enthusiastic backing and hope Mr. Leahy, Mr. Durbin and other Democratic leaders are not swayed by the absurd notion circulating in Washington that the Democrats should now “look ahead” rather than use their new majority to right the dangerous wrongs of the last six years of Mr. Bush’s one-party rule.

This is a false choice. Dealing with these issues is not about the past. The administration’s assault on some of the nation’s founding principles continues unabated.
So as we rail about the war -- understandably, inevitably -- as we consider important questions in connection with the way it is being fought, and the fact that it is being fought at all, as we read bloggers such as Riverbend and try to wrap our minds around the enormity of the crimes committed against the Iraqi people ... in the midst of all this, it does behoove us, I believe, to consider the even more vexing question:

Is this horrible war also serving as cover for crimes that in the long run may be almost as bad -- or even worse?