The last few weeks of carnage and hubbub in London
left me with both a shudder and a sigh of relief: "At least here in Macedonia,
we don't live in the 'real world,'" I thought to myself. "Hey, who
cares about the shoddy infrastructure, sluggish economy, and all-around backwater
nature of the place? At least the terrorists, like everyone else, have forgotten
Then, however, I realized that, if not by name then by implication Macedonia
must have been included on al-Qaeda's new list of all the "other"
European countries that have troops in Iraq – unnamed states that have been
put on notice
for attack, somewhere down the line after
Italy and Denmark. Please, Osama, we don't have a subway or important buildings!
But before I could get too worried about the inherent risks of living in a
small country that vigorously supports the war on terror, I learned that the
on terror is now officially over. Hooray!
And so in retrospect, the optimism of the very
first Get Your War On (Oct. 9, 2001) now seems totally justified:
"Oh my God, this war on terrorism is gonna rule! I can't wait until
the war is over and there's no more terrorism!"
Bizarro World Redux
If you're a politician, and have been proven to
be absolutely and irredeemably wrong, the only thing to do is not apologize,
but to change course entirely, something
Alan Bock describes as the "politicians' capacity for switching policies
on a dime while claiming they haven't changed at all."
If the last four years of Bush administration terror war hysteria have resulted
in a "Bizarro World," as Justin
Raimondo has attested
on several occasions,
then their latest tactical shift could actually be called Bizarro World Redux:
now, they're not trying to tell us that night is day, they're trying to say
that night is night, except for when it was day, but nobody said that anyway…
So despite President Bush's declaration of July 11, right after the bombings
in London, that "the
war on terror goes on," we now have Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announcing the
end of the "war on terror": According to the N.Y. Times,
he "told the National Press Club that if something is a war 'then you think
of people in uniform as being the solution.'" Rummy himself has rechristened
the campaign as G-SAVE, "The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism."
Uh… Afghanistan? Iraq? What about all that "smoke
them out of their holes" stuff? "Bring
'em on?" Anyone?
No Wars, No Terrorists
Actually, these armed invasions were never declared
"wars" – though of course in reality they were – because of all those
messy legal and constitutional details about who has the authority to declare
war and what are the ramifications if such a course of action is undertaken.
But nowhere in the Constitution, I guess, is it specifically stated that Congress
alone has the power to declare war over abstract nouns.
The equally unreal inversion of the original Get Your War On sarcasm
cited above was pointed out by CBS'
"Well, the War In Iraq is a war. But, does this mean these guys are
admitting that when they started it, it really wasn't a war on terror because
there weren't any terrorists in the first place?
"Google this when you get home tonight. It sounds to me like the administration
is trying, in the words of a marketer, to 'reposition a brand.' Americans were
more than happy to support the war in Iraq because they believed, and old polls
bare this out, that it was part of the greater war on terrorism.
"Support for that war has plummeted. So do we change its name and assume
that no one will notice or that it doesn't matter? How about we go back and
call the war in Iraq 'The Perilously Dangerous Mission To Unseat Saddam Hussein
And Install Democracy In A Country Full Of People Who Really Hate And Distrust
Indeed. With the Bush administration, the denial of reality has been perfected.
Encouraging constitutional democracy in other countries requires first nullifying
our own, with bills like the PATRIOT
Act, and reaches its grand culmination in pushing
Iraq to constitute itself as an Islamic state run by government intimidation.
To avoid being permanently divided by civil war, the new Iraq will have to become
Iran, or find itself a new Saddam, in which case we would be morally obliged
to invade again, if only
we had never actually left. Verily, day is night is day is night is day
And you can be sure that the media, with an institutional memory only as long
as the previous 24-hour news "cycle," will be there to breathlessly
document all of the "news" and "developments" spinning restlessly
and remorselessly inside this vacuum of reality.
At bottom, this growing unreality of the "real
world" – that is, the U.S.-led Western world of technological leadership
and consumer comfort – owes just as much to the bona
fide insanity of the neocons now running the show as it does to political
face-saving. The now
infamous quote provided to Ron Suskind by one White House official, that
the U.S. "creates its own reality" as it lumbers along, cuts to the
very heart of the problem.
When the world is being run by people – and above all, by
a president – who believe in their own infallibility and divinely
ordained mission, no event or development can escape being swept into the
black hole of a self-assured teleology. Any deviation from the plan, any apparent
contradiction, any seeming mistake or disaster, is seamlessly sucked back in
by the devouring mass. There is no need to apologize, because chance or the
accidental do not exist, except for in the misled minds of the "historicists"
and other naïve, reality-based sorts. For our fearless leaders, marching
in lockstep toward a future of "all for freedom and freedom for all,"
there is but one unique path: theirs.
It is symptomatic of nationalism to construct grand historical narratives long
after the dust has settled. But the Bush administration's narrative, like that
of Lenin, is of another order; it is being celebrated victoriously long before
it has succeeded. And, just like with the Communist experiment, it won't. The
only question is what the world will look like after American hegemony implodes.
The scene probably won't be pretty, but at least it will be more real.
In Praise of Communist Dictatorships
The one great advantage of a Communist or other
totalitarian dictatorship is that the line between true and false, real and
unreal, is very clear: whatever the state says is bound to be a lie. This dependable
propensity for state falsification was pointed out long ago by dissident writers,
for example by the Czech
Milan Kundera. In a totalitarian state of whatever stripe, contrary opinions
and explanations are stifled; thus they exist as absent, glittering truths.
Real-world states (and especially America) came out on top, however, by achieving
the Communist result through opposite tactics, chiefly through the "free
press." Here, the almost viral proliferation of contrasting opinions and
information creates a sound and fury that in the end balances itself out, so
that the only message that can rise triumphant must be the most focused, well-funded,
and aggressively pitched one – i.e., the government's – simply because it becomes
impossible to make sense of the rest.
Indeed, the Department of Defense did not know how clever they were when they
invented the Internet. Many today are of the noble opinion that it is a liberating
force for promoting democratic debate and "people power." However,
more often than not, with the Internet we merely become buried under an oppressive
overload of information heavier than any Iraqi quagmire, a fatiguing phenomenon
that works directly in favor of the government.
Ironically, in the end, the people's freedom to dissent actually helps the
government's cause. Take 9/11, for example, where a spirited debate still exists
really happened on that fateful day. Yet even before the debate,
reality itself had long been MIA, buried under the weight of images and public
Now, the existence of so many crackpot theories negates the believability of
all the other arguments questioning the government line, some of which might
actually be true, and so the whole thing dissolves back into its original state,
that is, the raw media spectacle of images and rhetoric given meaning by government
(note the irony) historicism.
This phenomenon is by no means new; it has been witnessed after every presidential
and celebrity assassination in American history. The upshot of this, of course,
is that Mr. Bush can indeed tell the dissenting citizen "Why are you complaining?
You are allowed to have your own opinion and vote!" – as if these things
ever translated into anything in terms of practical changes.
Across the Pond, an Unreal Pattern Repeats Itself
But we cannot limit these forays into unreality
to the United States, or to the neocons, for (aside from the European Union,
the fundamental unreality of which would require a whole article of its own)
there are honorary neocons such as King Tony of Britain who have also indulged
of late in a passion for Bizarro World-style insanity. Writes Andrew
Murray in The Guardian:
"Tony Blair appears to be on the brink of a Brechtian moment, in which
he will need to dissolve the people who have lost his confidence and elect another.
"Certainly, if he claims that anyone who believes there is a connection
between the government's foreign policy – above all, Iraq – and the July 7 massacre
in London is a 'fellow traveler of terrorism,' then he has his work cut out.
Fully 85% of the public do, according to a Daily Mirror/GMTV poll.
"The government's refusal to associate cause and consequence, which
would be childlike were it not so obviously self-serving, is sustained only
by hysterical warnings against the new evil of 'root-causism' from the residual
"This attempt to close down debate as to why Britain – London above
all – is now fighting the misbegotten 'war on terror' on its own streets, is
doubly dangerous. Not only does it block the necessary reevaluation of foreign
policy, it also places the onus for preventing any repetition of July 7 on the
'Muslim community,' which – in a form of collective responsibility – is accused
of breeding an 'evil ideology' in its midst."
Official denial of simple cause and effect is really unreal, and it benefits
from the Blair-sponsored sense of shock and surprise that a complicit media
has helped to spread. However, as the above poll showed, most Britons were well
aware of reality; as the
exemplary D-Squared Digest dryly put it,
"If you expect something to happen then the fact that it has, in fact,
happened, is not new news to you. Since we had all expected that London was
going to be bombed, sooner or later, it is clearly wrong to say that 'everything
has changed' as a result of the bombing. If it is a good idea now to pass laws
against 'glorifying terrorism' and to allow the police to hold terrorist subjects
for three months without charge (it isn't) then it was a good idea three weeks
ago (it wasn't).
"This makes it slightly more heartening that we introduced our shoot-to-kill
policy a long time ago, on the basis of proper planning, although I suppose
that at least if we'd introduced it in a panic this week we would have known
that we were doing it."
Weenie Blair's vision for a Britain devoid of civil liberties is of course
modeled on America's experience of Sept. 11. Intelligent people knew well in
advance that it was only a matter of time before America would be attacked,
because of its unconditional support for Israel and its military presence in
Muslim countries. It's not as if the terrorists haven't been saying this all
along. If, as it so happens, the government
was well aware of the risk many years before 2001, then why wasn't the PATRIOT
Act brought in long ago? I guess Americans had always just been in mass denial
all along, assuming that their Constitution was good enough for them.
The Resurrection of the Real
It's both horrifying and entertaining to see,
from over here in the Balkan wilds, but every day the "real world"
most of you inhabit is becoming less and less real. I suspect no one will care
too much about it until the American economy tanks under the weight of war costs
and a foreign debt owned by China. As usual, so long as the people can purchase
plasma screen TVs on credit and take pride in buying cars with the lowest possible
gas mileage, mass denial of reality can fester unchecked. When the whole thing
goes to hell, however – just imagine! race wars, martial law, marauding militias,
empty ATMs, an orgy of looting! – perhaps reality will be resurrected, if only
to mock its tormentors.
But let's not deceive ourselves further, by believing that the Iraqis are somehow
incapable of enjoying Western values; even as Americans
turn to a fictional miniseries and NFL-style
graphics to understand the war on Iraq, the arrival of reality TV in that
troubled land has kindled new hope, according
to the Times online:
"Good news in Baghdad is as rare as the electricity that has largely
failed to flow two years after the invasion. In the face of relentless grimness,
television companies have decided to conjure up their own happy endings and
have tapped into a lucrative market at the same time. …
"Unused to such tabloid fare and bored with bombs but too afraid to
leave their homes, Iraqis have turned to 'reality' in droves. Sharqiya's shows
are now carried on three satellites, beaming Iraq's meager ration of happiness
across the region."
Looks like even if universal values are hard to implant on foreign soil, reality,
at least, can be enjoyed by all. There is hope after all.