Friday, February 23, 2007

Where are those grapes of wrath stored, anyway?

Maybe the core failure of the Iraq War: It was never, really, about Iraq at all -- it was about America, and how Americans see themselves.
It wasn't Kanan's fault that I supported the Iraq war. It was for wanting to believe so badly in the righteousness of America's terrible swift sword. I wanted to be worthy of the respect of such a brave man as Kanan that I ended up unworthy of it by abandoning rigor.
This was the one side of the coin that got talked about a lot -- America's desire to bring justice, freedom, etc. to the world. The other side of the coin, however, was the desire, as Henry Kissinger and others have said, to humiliate. 9/11 was not just a crime to the United States, it was humiliating. Just the language used to describe it -- "19 guys with box cutters bring Hyperpower to it's knees" -- was embarassing. And as much as many Americans never bought in to the direct 9/11=Saddam beguiling, I think Get Your War On struck true when it basically described the first month of the Iraq War as an antidote to 9/11. Sometimes satire really is the best history.

But both the humiliation of 9/11 and the missionary zeal of the Iraq War stem from the same root -- the illusion of omnipotence. It's probably true that any country would have reacted with murderous rage at a 9/11-style attack, and I don't begrudge the Americans their rage at all. But it was humiliating because America's "defense" budget was seen to be useless at the actual job of defense.

After the rage cooled, America could have turned humiliation to humility, but instead chose to try and create an Arab Switzerland instead -- and Tom Friedman still thinks this was possible, showing how enduring the hallucination is. For the hegemon, nothing is more threatening -- including the deaths of thousands of your own citizens -- than admitting limits to your power.

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