Saturday, June 19, 2004

Rhetoric, the Iraq War, and the War On Terrorism

i have to say, this is an impressive accomplishment. the author of the article doesn't gloss over the enormous obstacles facing those in charge of reconstruction projects in iraq. it's a sobering glimpse into the reality of managing complex engineering tasks in what is now one of the most dangerous areas of the world. again, i am speechless at the bravery and talent of some of the americans working in iraq. despite the bush administration's appalling failure to provide adequate security, the servicemen and women are doing their jobs as best they can.

our failure to prevent the looting and destruction of iraq's already crumbling civil infrastructure set the stage for the quagmire the iraq war has become. simply put, the security failure is the failure of the bush administration's handling of the war. how tragic that these people would lie their way into war on iraq under the banner of the war on terrorism. there was no link between saddam and 9/11 and no link between saddam and bin laden or al queda, yet the war has transformed iraq into a terrorism hot zone.

acts of terrorism have become the chief challenge facing american forces in iraq today. the resentment against americans has reached the boiling in iraq, especially in the wake of the torture scandal. more horrifying is the wave of terrorist attacks aimed at westerners in saudi arabia -- birthplace of the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers. another american, an engineer, was beheaded in retaliation for the refusal of the saudi government to release al queda members held in their custody.

terrorists in saudi arabia have targeted employees of western companies. they have gone on rampages to kill non-muslims and their families. the saudi royal family's relationship with the us is a frequent target of anger, and it has been declared by some of the perpetrators as a motivation for the attacks. one terrorist expressed deep contempt for the saudi government for selling oil to the us to prevent the collapse of the us economy.

we are hurtling into a clash of civilizations that could shake the entire planet. i often feel like i'm trapped in a train accelerating towards a massive concrete wall. the bush administration's simple-minded, rationally deficient monologues categorizing the war on terrorism as a struggle between good and evil and a mission to save freedom, democracy, mom, and apple pie doesn't do much to soothe my rising panic. neither do the psychotic ramblings of bushbots who have bought into the 'Bush Message.'

when i think about this war and why it turned to shit so quickly, i recognize the crass disregard for the consequences of military carpet bagging on ordinary people. this disaster is loaded with corporate pork. my cynicism does not allow me to be surprised. it's the undercurrent of ideological idealism, wishful thinking, and a dangerous sense of invulnerability that frightens me. the bush administration appears intellectually weak and bumbling when compared to their sworn enemies, the terrorists.

the terrorists know how to foment civil rebellion against an occupying force. unfortunately, they also know how to take advantages of this country's weaknesses. they understand the impact of a highly publicized, very personalized murder. americans live in a culture of death denial. we spend billions of dollars on cosmetics and plastic surgery to 'keep ourselves looking young.' at the end of life, we pour billions of dollars into futile, last ditch efforts to hold the grim reaper at bay.

the videos of beheadings tend to drive some americans into frothing, gibbering, panic attacks. we also live in a relatively peaceful society, even if our crime rates are higher than other countries with a similar standard of living. it's almost as if americans believe that americans just aren't supposed to die. the bush administration, to give them credit, does understand this about americans. after all, they tried to hide the returning coffins of dead american soldiers from view.

the republican party has been learning how to touch people's psychological buttons for thirty years. they devote billions of dollars into conservative think tanks that hire people to work full-time honing 'The Message.' i've often wondered if the really sly republicans are better deconstructionists than the liberals they revile. jay severin, a conservative radio wingnut recently declared gay marriage would symbolize the triumph of the feminist, liberal, deconstructionist plot to undermine the very basis of human reality. yet, the wingnuts spend massive sums of money learning creative ways to manipulate language for maximum political effect.

deconstructionist liberals are content to slave away at PhDs for the increasingly dim hope of quality academic employment. most of them are doomed to be paid lecturers if they want to remain in the liberals' think tank, academia. liberals don't devote a lot of money to 'honing' their message. most of the really smart radical liberals are not possessed of the kind of financial resources or power that are available to conservative intellectuals. how deconstructionist of conservatives to employ a smart rhetorical tool of liberal thinkers to advance their agenda while decrying that very tool as a symbol of the triviality of 'decadent liberalism.'

i've often heard deconstruction characterized as the liberal's cultural bludgeon of psychological domination in the service of enacting their agenda to destroy all human civilization. such anti-deconstructionist rants inevitably define the 'radical' liberal deconstructionist agenda as an anarchist, feminist, homosexual, transgender, or pinko communist attack on American Values. sure there are anarchists and marxists among the radical left. many of them are academics who write impenetrable, highly theoretical tracts on rights of man and the philosophical and moral conundrums of governmental justice systems, truth systems and cultural traditions. i suppose that is a threat to people who need absolute truth.

smart conservatives have learned the lessons of deconstruction. they are keenly aware that 'truth' systems are some of the most powerful motivators for collective action. they've learned to exploit truth systems to their benefit. they've practically made 'liberal' a dirty word. they've cast 'liberals' in with terrorists, communists, and general enemies of the american way of life. a vote for john kerry is represented as a vote for al queda in slick, costly political ads.

conservative pundits bandy about the notion that people who opposed the war in iraq (who are apparently all liberals) 'blame america first', 'hate america', and 'want america to lose'. the allegedly unanimously liberal anti-war crowd is by definition 'pro-Saddam' because they opposed the war. this demonstrates a certain penetration of deconstructionist influence on the conservatives' dialogue about themselves. they are masters of framing the debate so to have the maximum appeal to the group psychology of specific portions of their base. regrettably, they are also very good at defining the debate such that their political opponents are forced to argue from a defensive position. the language war that underlies the abortion debate is a good example of this sort of verbal tussle.

i think this is one aspect of the liberal/conservative political divide where the conservatives have accomplished a singular rhetorical victory over liberals. they have demonized academia to no end while mining it mercilessly for intellectual weaponry with which to attack it.

the tragedy of the war in iraq is the sheer blindness of the men who frame themselves as the knowers and enforcers of truth and moral values. they are monstrously skilled in massaging the american consciousness to get the public to go along with an illegal war of choice with some serious consequences for national security and americans living abroad. this wealth of knowledge about how to manipulate americans is not matched by a similarly good understanding of middle eastern countries and their cultures.

i cannot say the same for the terrorists. they understand how to manipulate the public in the middle east, and they clearly know how to frighten and terrify americans into reacting foolishly. we are now drawn into a precarious situation that could have profound and devastating consequences for our country's economic health and military readiness. all the while, our response to terrorism has made american incalculably more vulnerable to it.

we are engaged in a public relations campaign. the frequent release of videotaped executions and recorded messages from various terrorists organizations is part of a concerted effort of these people to exploit the infrastructure of mass communications to spread and engender fear in the targets of their rage. they have used the torture scandal to their advantage. the people who ordered the torture were hoping to exploit the cultural taboos of devout islam to break prisoners down, but this decision has backfired on them enormously. it's a genuine example of poetic justice.

the terrorists also know all about america's greatest economic weakness -- our dependence on imported oil. they know that personalized death has more impact than battlefield causalities. because the war is not happening here, but in another country, we are not subject to its grisly consequences. they know how to use tv to terrorize us, given their penchant for videotaping the beheadings of americans and citizens of countries working with us.

they know how to sow resentment against us in the middle east. terrorists are targeting the very civil reconstruction projects that could actually engender some good will for americans. the long hot summer is upon iraq. raw sewage runs through their streets, and electricity is sporadic and unreliable. of course, they are going to view the war as a disaster. not all of this is wholly our fault. as the new york times article i linked above states, saddam did not invest much in iraq's civil infrastructure. the electrical plants, sewage systems, and water systems are not up to the task of servicing iraq's population.

nevertheless, these are the needs that the occupation will have to meet. otherwise, they will face an increasingly deadly situation, perhaps one that will worsen such that they simply cannot meet them. we all stand to lose if that happens. so, for once, this bit good news about the progress in repairing and restoring baghdad's sewage treatment system is something i can commend. i know it must have been extremely dangerous and difficult work to accomplish under the circumstances.

No comments: