Quote of the half-century: Senator J. William Fulbright, 1966: "Power has a way of undermining judgment, of planting delusions of grandeur in the minds of otherwise sensible people and otherwise sensible nations."
Quote of the day: "'We have children, we have families and we need to live,' said Yusuf, sitting with the others [in an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps squad] on a stack of railroad ties, as a brisk wind blew over them. 'We don't love the Americans, but we need the money. It's very difficult, but there's no alternative.'"
Quote of the day (2): "'Their destiny will be the same as it was in
The ritualistic presidential trips abroad of this administration were all flipped on their head yesterday when the President visited "
Phil Reeves of the British Independent commented in an aptly titled piece, "The turkey has landed," (Nov. 28):
"The administration will be hoping that the video images will help erase memories of a not dissimilar staged event on 1 May in which the President landed on an American aircraft carrier to announce that the war in
I have no doubt - based on watching TV last night - that this political coup de theater will briefly pump up support here for the President (or at least that ephemeral category of presidential existence, his "job approval rating"), but since the stealth visit was phantasmagoric and changed nothing in Iraq -- as opposed to "Iraq" -- I'm ready to make a small wager of my own. Some months down the line these triumphant propaganda photos, meant to replace "Mission Accomplished," will look no better than the strutting-the-flight-deck ones do now, and will be no less useful to the other side in the presidential race. (Keep these photos Democrats!) It was perhaps typical of the event that Bush strode out from behind some curtains on the introduction of L. Paul Bremer, saying, "I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere," but evidently never ate a bite.
His rallying speech to the troops was surprisingly retread-Vietnam in tone -- all that talk about them "testing our will," us not "retreating" ("we will prevail"), not "running" ("They hope we will run") and especially that classic Vietnam line, "You are defeating the terrorists [it would, of course, have been "communists" back then] here in Iraq, so that we don't have to face them in our own country."
It would be interesting to see what Lyndon Johnson said on his surprise visit to Cam Ranh Bay back in October 1966. I'll bet some of the lines and phrases would have been almost exact duplicates. (Johnson, after all, used to talk about fighting the communists in
I don't know whether there were any of "our" Vietnamese present when Johnson arrived, but there were evidently members of our appointed Iraqi Governing Council locked in with the troops when Bush appeared because the President mentioned them and commented that he was "pleased you are joining us on our nation's great holiday. It's a chance to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings we receive." (I doubt he was referring to Allah.)
And then, he assured the troops, just before boarding his stealth jet back to Crawford, "We will stay until the job is done." They, of course, will have to stay. Need I say more, except that such words are soon likely to feel sour indeed. There are, after all, other realities creeping up on this administration. Just a few days ago, for instance, the widow of a soldier slain in Iraq refused to join other relatives of those who had died at a Fort Carson (Colorado) meeting with the President ). "I have a lot of harsh feelings for the president right now," [Johnna] Loia told The Pueblo Chieftain. "I contemplated going, but right now I think I'd find it hard to be respectfulâ€¦ I would want to know why he decided to go to
Actually, this "unmarked," "blacked out" visit to
Another problem for the administration: In our world, propaganda can't just be confined to your own side. The President may get a bump in the polls here, but the very nature of his trip, his inability to visit
"News of the visit only broke in the
And, of course, another American died from a roadside bomb this morning.
The folly that lurks in imperial arrogance is that it naturally walls you off from other realities, even in a sense from the existence of other places beyond your particular vision of them. This has taken a particularly striking form in
Who woulda thunk it: Iraqis actually live in
The president certainly spoke of the "will" ("those who attack our coalition forces and kill innocent Iraqis are testing our will"), but he didn't have Iraqi wills in mind. So it's interesting to discover that the whole occupation enterprise has unexpectedly run up against the will of a single Iraqi, Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. To see how the attempt to mold an Iraq to our imperial will ran aground on the will of an unseen other, check out a Nov. 26 Washington Post piece, "How Cleric Trumped U.S. Plan for Iraq," by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in which a Governing Council member says succinctly, "The Americans were in denial." Put more imperially, "'[Bremer] didn't want a Shiite cleric dictating the terms of
"The unraveling of the Bush administration's script for political transition in
"His pronouncement, underestimated at first by the Bush administration, doomed an elaborate transition plan crafted by
Or, if you want to find out just what a complex process it is to shape wills to our own desires, consider the revealing piece in the same paper by Anthony Shadid (cited above) on our attempt to create civil defense and police forces that will take some of the load of the occupation off our military shoulders.
Back in October 1966, when Lyndon Johnson was visiting Cam Ranh Bay, there was another establishment voice abroad in the land and it was oppositional -- that of Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. His words were powerful then and remain no less so now. A former close ally of the president, he wrote a book against the Vietnam War, published in 1966, with the title The Arrogance of Power in which he considered the "folly of empire." He grasped what we were and where we were going 37 years ago.
Fourteen months ago, Jim Lobe, who writes for Inter Press News Service and whose reporting, to my mind, is consistently the best to come out of Washington on the ins and outs of the Bush administration, chose some of those words and published them at Tompaine.com (also on ZNet). The Fulbright passages read then as if they had been written the previous night. Another 14 months up the line (and with excerpts tacked on from a speech the senator gave on the "Price of Empire" the following year), they prove even more apt, the evergreen of evergreens. Most of them on the lures of and folly of imperial ambitions could have been written as our President was landing at Baghdad International.
In addition, you might check out Boston Globe columnist James Carroll's latest, "Of Thanks and Mercy," 11/23. ("Yet Americans know that there are empty places at Thanksgiving tables this week, and the end of Ramadan for untold Muslim families in two nations is equally a time of grief. And for what? Last week, George W. Bush and Tony Blair offered justifications for their war - 'democracy' -- that had nothing to do with justifications offered last March - 'prevention.' Are we not supposed to notice that? And what of months from now, when the purpose of democracy, too, will have failed and faded? What then? We went to war for the fun of it?")
Unfortunately, while Lobe's pieces are regularly published around the world, they have been hard to find here. It's a case of too-good-to-be-published in the mainstream, I'm afraid. Fortunately, the libertarian site antiwar.com, with the best eye(s) around for the latest in global news, is now publishing Lobe almost daily. His particular expertise is the world of and history of the neocons of this administration and his invaluable writings on them are archived. If you want to check out an example of his recent work, read Foreign Policy Realists Rally where he considers whether the unilateralist hawks are losing clout in the administration (yes, they are), whether this is a permanent change or an election-year adjustment (open to question), and what the appointment of Robert Blackwill to preside over Iraq policy-making in Washington may mean:
"The recent announcement that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which is officially controlled by Rumsfeld, is doubling the number of foreign-service officers to 110 - most of them from the State Department's Near East bureau - marks a major defeat for the Pentagon's neo-cons, who had vetoed virtually all of the State Department's Arabists for top CPA positions before the occupation due to suspicions that they were too pro-Sunni or elite-oriented.
"Worse, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer appears to be working directly with Blackwill in the White House, effectively circumventing Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative aides."
As Lobe pointed out to me in a phone call last week, what makes Senator Fulbright's opposition to the Vietnam War so striking today is that he had been the floor manager of the
If you compare Fulbright with his modern day equivalent, another Southern Senator with a checkered past (the man I call "the last Roman Senator"), Robert Byrd of
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]