Secousse et Crainte

First we showed the Afghanis who's boss, and now Iraq. Who's next on the hit list? My sources say France.

Peut-être, after seeing what has happened to Iraq, Chirac and his minions will surrender peacefully and seek asylum in, say, the Ivory Coast. But don't count on it: France is a proud, arrogant country, and we know it possesses weapons of mass destruction. Frog-eaters, prepare for Opération Secousse et Crainte.

The reasons are obvious. For one, targetting our Tomahawks and bombs against the Quai d'Orsay, Nôtre-Dame, and other monuments of high symbolic and strategic value will demonstrate the United States' even-handedness: It's not just Muslim-majority countries that should fear to defy the U.S. Secondly, it will eliminate that country's pretensions to dominate its European neighbors and any dreams it may still have of an independent force de frappe. Third, it will open up wonderful reconstruction opportunities for Haliburton and other U.S. firms, thus boosting the U.S. economy. Fourth, by taking out France we also knock out any potential insolence from Germany, and thereby liberate the vibrant New Europe of Estonia, Bulgaria, and all those other little countries with brand-new democracies from the dead hand of Old Europe and its obsolete values of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. It will also be a most gracious gesture to repay Tony Blair for his support. Finally, and most importantly, is the moral imperative. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta, plus Ashford, is dedicated to stamping out the reactionary doctrine France announced more than two centuries ago and has never formally disowned: its Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme.

Remember, you read it here first.


Evil of banality
A friend forwarded this column by Jimmy Breslin, where he quotes Adolf Hitler's 1939 speech explaining why Germany was obliged to go to war on Poland. Breslin compares the banality of Hitler's phrasing (a very dull speech masking a very dramatic aggression) to the similar banality of GWB's explanation of why we have to bomb Iraq.

Therein lies the evil of banality. Combined with the banality of evil -- the readiness of the unthinking to do what they are told by those who lull them from thinking -- and you have a doubly potent weapon.



The magazine I saw a man reading last night on the subway was titled History Today.

The duplicating shop across the street is called "Unique Copy."

Last night as bombs burst in Baghdad, GWB declared: "The people of the United States and their friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."

"Preventive war."


Sane paranoia
A friend writes that she is scared. I can only reply:
Of course you're scared. Our government is trying to kill us, doing everything it can to provoke terrorism. If you weren't paranoid, you'd be nuts.

Maybe, though, it'll be like the last time: a remote television spectacle for the American public, mayhem only for distant foreigners. That's the optimistic view (unless you happen to be among the distant foreigners). I don't think those foreigners will let us get away with it scot free this time, though.


Messianic democracy
Bush's ultimatum to Saddam last night, followed by PBS's review of its own reports over the years on Iraq & the U.S., followed by Bill Moyer's interviews, first of Kinan Makiyah and then of Simon Schama and Walter Isaacson, was more TV than I normally watch in a month, and it was fascinating. It made me appreciate more keenly two things: the complicity of U.S. foreign policy in creating the monster Saddam (beginning back in 1963, when he was a would-be assassin), and the Messianic impulse of those in Washington who now want to eliminate him.

It was the latter that most surprised me; I'd underestimated it. Sure, there are lots of grubby, self-interested motives behind the rush to war, including control of oil fields and the promise of juicy "reconstruction" contracts for Cheney's Haliburton. But there is also a nobler, stupider principle at work: noble because it is disinterested, and stupid for that same reason -- it benefits nobody among those pursuing it, and it can't possibly work. This stupidly noble idea is imposing "democracy" on people who don't want it.

Makiya dismisses as "paternalist" the argument that the Iraqis (or any other people) aren't ready for democracy, because (he insists) all people yearn to be "free." This is ridiculous. That could be true only if we are willing to call "freedom" whatever men and women yearn for. We can say that those who answered Osama bin Laden's calls on September 11 or in Afghanistan died for a kind of freedom, and in their minds they probably did, but not a kind that has any connection to Paul Wolfowitz's vision of Arab democracy.

When they say "democracy," Americans always assume something like our own system (naturally!), with guarantees of private property and of personal liberties as well as a vote. Separation of church & state, respect for minority rights, and several other specifics are part of the mental package. But people cannot yearn for what they have never experienced nor even suspected of existing. What Makiyah and American democratic evangelists like Paul Wolfowitz assume is self-evident and innate is in fact learned behavior, learned in specific historical conditions not easy to reproduce. It takes time, patience, and each people's unique historical experience for them to reach a stability that works for them. If left to their own, I think the educated cadres among all peoples would tend toward something not exactly like, but more like, what we call democracy -- but with their own quirks growing out of each people's particular historical traditions. But the United States keeps bumbling forward blindly, forcing people with tanks, bombs and money to accept systems that make no sense to them, and thus creates more monsters.