The mongers among us
March 5, 2005—While he extended his appreciation to the Iraqi people for voting in the recent election, the Grand Ayatollah received no recorded thanks from the Bush administration for whipping up the Sistani Tsunami.
The likely installation of his Iran-leaning brother-in-law, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, as prime minister is sure to increase Iranian influence in Iraq (not to mention Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan). The prospect of Iraq hybridizing with Iran and producing a new strain (Iraqnids?) may work for some. But it only steels the Bush administration's resolve to shun France, Britain, and Germany's negotiations with Iran over nuclear arms.
In fact, as a government consultant close to the Pentagon told Seymour Hersh, "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible." This sentiment is seconded by a document issued by the Iran Policy Committee, "U.S. Policy Options for Iran," which, in urging military attack (not to mention regime change), appears to reflect the views of the Pentagon's civilian leadership and the vice president's office.
Another civilian, Edward Luttwak of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, warns that, "Unless European diplomacy obtains real guarantees from Iran, President Bush will soon have to decide to do to Iran what the Israelis did to Iraq. If he decides to attack, he will not announce it in advance: just a television broadcast the following morning announcing a job done." No muss, no fuss—just like Iraq.
The notorious civilian military strategist Michael Ledeen, whose most recent hobbyhorse is the Center for Democracy in Iran, also holds forth: "The sparing of civilian lives cannot be the total war's first priority . . . The purpose of total war is to permanently force your will onto another people."
Once again, as before the Iraq invasion, we're subjected to a display, as unsavory to the hilt as always, of civilian sabre rattling. Most prominent are the infamous chicken hawks—public figures who lobby for and plan attacks despite dodging service during the Vietnam War. In fact, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, and Rove approach war as if they're still toy chest generals playing Risk in their pajamas.
Meanwhile, there has never been a shortage of commentators to goad them on. The usual cast of characters aside, listen to National Review's Rich Lowry on attacking Iraq: "If they [the Joint Chiefs of Staff] can't come up with a plausible plan for invading Iraq, they should think harder. If they can't contemplate the risks involved . . . they should get over it." His impersonation of a sports fan exhorting his favorite football team to air out the offense comes off as puerile as the chicken hawks.
More troubling are those commentators—and the organs to which they're donors—who fancy themselves sober or moderate, yet still called for war in Iraq. From September 2002 to February 2003, The Washington Post not only editorialized 26 times in favor of the war, but ran twice as many op-ed columns for as against. These included "liberal" commentator Richard Cohen, who called Dennis Kucinich a "fool" because he dared to suggest oil was a driving force behind the proposed war. The liberal hawk phenomenon also swooped down on The New York Times, where nested the likes of Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Michael Ignatieff, Bill Keller, George Packer, and Kenneth Pollack.
Mike Leonard, the president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, was asked to comment. "Everyone has the right to whatever opinion they hold," he blandly responded. Though he added that it can be troubling when "people who were never in the military themselves are pushing us into war."
Can we, in fact, identify the psychic process that enables an ostensibly analytical citizen to skate around any qualms he might have about his status as a war virgin and instead offer advice on the war-torn? (How to create them, that is.) Between the commentator and the policy maker, the former is more transparent. On the most elemental level, the commentator fears that if his views are at odds with his employer, he'll lose his job. Beyond that, as has been much documented, he fears losing access to official sources. Excluded from the official dialogue, he feels stripped of his credibility like an exile of his citizenship. In his eagerness to embrace realpolitik, though, he resembles the leading man, who, inadequate over play-acting his way through life, overcompensates with action roles and hard living.
However, it's rare for a commentator to be afforded the opportunity to serve as a policy maker. The twain meets, though, when both believe that they've been endowed with the intellect and knowledge to act like gods and decide which means are justified by what ends.
On a deeper level, the policy maker is authorized to plan and call for war by, ironically, the two forces you would think most likely to mitigate against it:
1. Predictably, upbringing. Elbowing aside Freud, George Lakoff has come swooping in from another discipline (linguistics) and staked his claim as to why bad politicians happen to good people. In one of his ubiquitous, but valuable, pre-election interviews, Lakoff said, "In foreign policy the Bush administration uses a strict father model, and it says that only force works." In other words, as most men intuitively know, a guy becomes a hard-ass when his father rides his ass. "Moreover," Lakoff continues, "it says that the strict father—in this case, Bush—is the moral authority." And if a policy maker needs help in silencing any lingering pangs of conscience about calling for war, there's always that other moral authority . . .
2. The church. While a religious leader, such as Shaykh Abdul-Azeez Ibn Baz, may advise bin Laden "to leave alone this disastrous path, and to fear [and] repent to Allah," most Muslims lack either the will or the wherewithal to speak out. And while neither any objection to Shariah becoming the law of their land, the credo of an influential and deep-pocketed branch of Christianity foresees the day the Ten Commandments becomes the law of all lands.
While rank-and-file Christians gone 'gelical think they're enlisting in a campaign to overthrow secular/liberal humanism, their leadership seeks to assert dominion over other nations. As R.J. Rushdoony, Reconstructionism's self-appointed scripturalist, saw it, "The word and men must be brought into captivity to Christ."
To what extent, however, do policy makers embrace Reconstructionism? It can't be gauged, but the Council for National Policy has been set up for the elite Neocons and Recons to meet and eat. The late Rushdoony himself, Falwell, Robertson, Ralph Reed, Tom De Lay, Trent Lott, Du Ponts and Coorses—you get the idea. Not to mention that before the 2000 election, George W. Bush treated the CNP to a confidential speech.
When one of the elect is thus elected, there is no need for him to feel remorse if his quest to bring the Kingdom of God to earth results in lives lost through executions, assassinations, and invasions. A glimpse into this rationale was provided when, after a disclaimer that the president brushed off his warning about casualties in Iraq, Pat Robertson nevertheless maintained that, "the blessing of heaven is on Bush."
Other clergymen saw fit to actually join civilian policy makers and commentators in the call to war. When Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, drafted a letter proclaiming Iraq a just war, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and D. James Kennedy, the Coral Ridge Ministries-Evangelism Explosion magnate, made a beeline for the dotted line.
Meanwhile, it's not as if a military career bestows automatic authority on a chief of staff or the CentCom commander to call for war. A citizen, however, whether compelled by God's will, his upbringing, or concerns about credibility or job security, is far less likely than a military man to comprehend the consequences of his actions. For implicit in the call to war is acknowledgment that you and yours may be struck down by the forces you've helped unleash.
Let's set aside for a moment suspicions that to the civilians in question, the rich are society's most vital cogs and it's only natural the poor die for them. Disregard, as well, that element of evangelism that courts blowback as a means to expedite the Apocalypse. The threat of retaliation is of little concern to strict-father nation, which doesn't let an enemy dictate the terms of the fight. To them the argument US policies create terrorism or that torture begets torture is speaking truth to cowards.
One can be forgiven, however, for succumbing to a vision of civilian warmongers facing the countdown to a forewarned nuclear-suitcase detonation. Their terror will be no different from that of an Iraqi child whose parents an American recruit, with the human decency deflowered out of him by the occupation experience, has just lit up.
What's lacking in moral authority types is the capacity to foresee incoming retribution. And if foresight is just imagination trained on the horizon, empathy is imagination focused on the intimate. In fact, imagining the indignities of daily existence to the impoverished on the other side of the world is the only known antidote to our fear of their otherness.
Meanwhile, the wars civilians plot plow a swath through our respective citizenries, since twentieth-century warfare designated them fair game and penalties for poaching were reduced to a slap on the wrist. But it doesn't matter whether it's a state designating a belief system as the enemy or vice versa. No matter how many civilians are killed, our respective civilian leaders will likely survive bunkered away in their mutual halls of the mountain king, whether its Balochistan, Pakistan or "Alternate Joint Communications Center" Raven Rock in Pennsylvania.
 As it was called by Sharif Ali bin-Hussein of the UK-backed Constitutional Monarchist Movement. Kia, Mehdi, "Will Iran be next?" Weekly Worker, February 10, 2005.
 Hersh, Seymour, "The Coming Wars," The New Yorker, January 24, 2005.
 Lobe, Jim, "Iran War Drums Beat Harder," antiwar.com , February 11, 2005.
 Luttwak, Edward "The scariest prospect of all: Iran with the bomb," The Daily Telegraph, January 23, 2005
 "Neoconservative Guru Sets Sights on Iran," khilafah.com, May 9, 2003.
 Lowry, Rich, "Catastrophe: If Bush doesn't invade," National Review Online, May 28, 2002.
 Mokhiber, Russell and Weissman, Robert, "The Unbalanced Hawks at the Washington Post," www.essential.org/ color="#0000ff" , March 4, 2003.
 The subject of: Falk, Richard and Friel, Howard, The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy, Verso, 2004.
 Astor, Dave, "War Is Fare for Commentators," Editor & Publisher, January 30, 2003.
 Lakoff, George Buzzflash interview
 Shaykh Abdul-Azeez Ibn Baz is the former head of the Council of Scholars of Saudi Arabia. From Oliver, Haneef James, The 'Wahhabi' Myth: Dispelling Prevalent Fallacies and the Fictitious Link with bin Laden, published by the author, 2002.
 Yurica, Katherine, " The Despoiling of America: How George W. Bush became the head of the new American Dominionist Church/State ."
 Miller, Mark Crispin, Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order, Norton, 2004.
 Because of its conspiricist connotation, the author prefers to avoid the term "Dominionism."
 Cooperman, Alan, "Bush Predicted No Iraq Casualties, Robertson Says," The Washington Post, October 21, 2004.
 "Land Letter," Wikipedia.
 "Clearly, Bush/Cheney are not bothered by apocalyptic prospects, in part because they are unable to imagine them—or, concerning those catastrophes that have already taken place, unable even to perceive them." Cruel and Unusual, p. 50.