June 25, 2006

American Narcissism: Dangerous, Deadly, Wrong and Futile

[In reviewing the archives that I've saved myself but much of which has not yet been reposted, I came across this entry, originally published on November 23, 2005. Because it is critically relevant to many of the themes I just discussed here and in other recent essays, I'm reposting it prominently, out of date order. These are issues I think we must always remember and never, ever forget.]

I offer a strong word of criticism (constructive, I hope and intend) for far too many of those in politics and the media, and also among bloggers, who are now urging a much faster withdrawal of American troops from Iraq than they were discussing even last month.

The costs to America and the deaths of Americans are not the only factors we should be discussing. They are not the only reasons we ought to get out of Iraq within six months at the outside (a timetable I first suggested about two years ago) -- or the reasons we never should have invaded Iraq in the first place.

Yes, these casualties matter a great deal. So do these [and those estimates are widely regarded as on the very conservative side, and for many good reasons].

In addition, the focus on American losses to the virtual exclusion of everything else could unleash a final wave of destruction aimed at Iraqis that will horrify the world. We've been down this road before.

Norman Solomon writes:
Murtha's statement has broken a spell. But the white magic of the USA's militarism remains a massive obstacle to bringing home the U.S. troops who should never have been sent to Iraq in the first place.

There has been no outbreak of conscience in editorial offices or on Capitol Hill. Deadly forms of opportunism are still perennial in the journalistic and political climates that dominate official Washington. The center of opportunistic gravity may have shifted in a matter of days, but the most powerful voices in U.S. media and politics are still heavily weighted toward the view reiterated by President Bush on Sunday: "An immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq will only strengthen the terrorists' hand in Iraq and in the broader war on terror."

"Immediate withdrawal" may be a misnomer -- Murtha, while calling for it, has urged complete removal of U.S. troops from Iraq within six months.


If the Pentagon had been able to subdue the Iraqi population, few in Congress or on editorial pages would be denouncing the war. As in so many other respects, this is a way that the domestic U.S. political dynamics of the war on Iraq are similar to what unfolded during the Vietnam War. With the underpinnings of war prerogatives unchallenged, a predictable response is that the war must be fought more effectively.

That's what the great journalist I. F. Stone was driving at when he wrote, a few years into the Vietnam War, in mid-February 1968: "It is time to stand back and look at where we are going. And to take a good look at ourselves. A first observation is that we can easily overestimate our national conscience. A major part of the protest against the war springs simply from the fact that we are losing it. If it were not for the heavy cost, politicians like the Kennedys [Robert and Edward] and organizations like ADA [the liberal Americans for Democratic Action] would still be as complacent about the war as they were a few years ago."

In the United States, while the lies behind the Iraq war become evermore obvious and victory seems increasingly unreachable, much of the opposition to the war has focused on the death and suffering among U.S. soldiers. That emphasis has a sharp political edge at home, but it can also cut another way -- defining the war as primarily deplorable because of what it is doing to Americans. One danger is that a process of withdrawing some U.S. troops could be accompanied by even more use of U.S. air power that terrorizes and kills with escalating bombardment (as happened in Vietnam for several years after President Nixon announced his "Guam Doctrine" of Vietnamization in mid-1969). An effective antiwar movement must challenge the jingo-narcissism that defines the war as a problem mainly to the extent that it harms Americans.
Solomon concludes his article by noting that the war "has not gone wrong" -- "It was always wrong."

That's true not only and, from a more inclusive perspective, not even primarily because of what it has done and is doing to us -- but because of what it's done and is still doing to Iraq and Iraqis.

It's not only about us. We talk and act that way a lot of the time. It's never been true, and it's not true now. But the kind of "jingo-narcissism" that Solomon accurately describes is immensely destructive, and we may not have seen its worst effects in Iraq even now. It also is futile, on every level, and it only sows the seeds for more resentment and even hatred directed at the United States.

Surely, that is the one result we should do our utmost to avoid.