Pardon the sardonic giggle: It arises from the thought that George W. Bush, the unelected President, is going to teach democracy to the Iraqis. When it comes to rigging or stealing elections, Mr. Bush and Saddam Hussein are brothers, or at least cousins, under the skin. The difference between the two is that Saddam gets 99.9 percent of the vote and Mr. Bush gets 49 percent, but they both get the job. Election returns giving the winner 99.9 percent-especially if there is but one candidate in the race-give rise to rumor and talk. By introducing the hanging chad to American-sponsored Iraqi democracy, Mr. Bush can show future Saddams how to look good when winning while losing.
As for “regime change” (Orwellian goodspeak for overthrowing someone else’s government), ordinary Iraqis can be excused for confining themselves to scattered applause until they see if the war’s outcome is an exchange of one set of crooked politicians for another. It will be surprising should the people of that unhappy place rejoice at having their own, native-born, bloody dictator replaced by an American military dictator.
Postwar Iraq ought to be a happy place. At the top will be the American gauleiter (the Nazi title for the administrator of a geographic district), who will supervise purging the members of Mr. Hussein’s Baathist political party from the government. It will fall to him to bring the deposed dictator’s close collaborators to what is called-another sardonic giggle, please-“justice.” Doubt on this score will be smothered by the choirs of ethicists flown in to explain the difference between American justice (good) and the simple shooting of the losers by the winners (not as good). Nevertheless, hanging the losers without benefit of clergy is an act practiced since the beginning of time, and you know how Republicans like to do things the way their ancestors did.
At the conclusion of George Bush’s faith-based war, busloads of missionary camp followers will arrive on the heels of the Army to explain to the Iraqis that the one true religion is not Mohammedanism. Mr. Bush’s born-again holy rollers should have a field day in conquered Iraq, where the people-having gone without adequate food and medicine for years-should be up for anything the victorious holy-roller clergy have in mind. The opportunities to practice “rice Christianity” are unparalleled.
If the United States occupation follows the treatment meted out to their defeated foes by the Israelis, the schools, colleges and universities of Iraq will be more or less permanently shuttered. In a few short years, younger Iraqi Arabs will take on the characteristics of untermenschen everywhere, thus confirming the White House’s low opinion of what your pure Arab is.
The ancient land of Mesopotamia will be swarmed over by thieving consultants, carnival barkers, scalawags, confidence men and phony experts sent by the American government. Freelancers will arrive by the airplane load, as they did when the Soviet Union fell apart. They came to teach the disillusioned ex-Communists about the free market and departed soon after with bags of money, leaving behind a gangster society with a lower standard of living than existed under the late and not universally lamented Josef Stalin. Russia, one hastens to add, isn’t the only recent success the United States has had in nation-building. It cost us 50,000 dead, but didn’t we do a bang-up job in Vietnam? Add to the list Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. With a track record like that, the Iraqis must be breathless in anticipation of what lies in store for them.
Oil and Israel aside, is there a plan behind the step-by-step transformation of the United States from the most admired of countries into a rogue nation (to employ a term frequently used by the warmonger party)? There may not be a plan, but the White House does harbor a set of intentions, passed down for 80 years through four generations of Republicans. By luck and accident, the Iraqi situation gave these reactionaries the opportunity to try to make their dearest wish come true. That wish is the destruction of the United Nations-or, as they say, making the U.N. “irrelevant.” They hate it and long to destroy it, as they have from the day the idea of a functioning, international political body was first proposed.
Their struggle against effective international organization-a fear that membership clips national sovereignty and subjects every country to a law higher than its own-dates from the Republican Party’s resistance to American membership in the League of Nations. The battle to destroy an international organization was joined in 1920, and it has been carried on ever since.
If there were to be no U.N. and no international law, then what would replace them in an age of ever more lethal and more accessible weapons of mass destruction? In the 1920’s, the Republican answer was bilateral treaties with other nations “outlawing” war. As a foreign policy or a practical approach, the Republican substitute lasted less than a dozen years before it fell apart, even as American absence from the League of Nations doomed it. In its place, the Republicans fell back on what we call isolationism, which meant no meaningful membership in any international organization, no recognition of any outside limitations on national behavior, and the erection of what was called “Fortress America.” Through the 1930’s and 40’s, reactionary Republicanism waged political war on “one-worldism,” World Federalists and, of course, the United Nations, which was seen as another Democratic (Wilson, Roosevelt) international sellout of American independence. When the Soviet Union posed a military threat, the Republican opposition to internationalism receded somewhat, but it never went away and could always be found in organizations like the John Birch Society.
With the coming of Bush II, it is back in full force. For some, going to war without a U.N. mandate is a reckless act leading to a New World Disorder; for Mr. Bush and his fellow reactionaries, it is a heaven-sent opportunity to gut the organization and make it clear to the world that from now on, it’s the American way or the highway. As the United States, under Mr. Bush, cuts its ties to all international treaty obligations (the World Trade Organization excepted), foreign policy returns to isolationism-but a bellicose, unpredictable and inconsistent isolationism. A rogue-nation isolationism.
Isolationism begets isolationism. Other nations, seeing that no international organization can offer them protection, will accelerate arms procurement. With the Americans and the Israelis rampaging through the Middle East, it is hard to believe that the Iranians-panicked by what they see happening to their neighbors-aren’t making atomic weapons. China continues to modernize its armed forces, even as India does much the same. Can Japan be far behind? Now that Mr. Bush has all but destroyed NATO, what will Europe (where there are already plenty of weapons of mass destruction) do?
From New World Order to No World Order, Mr. Bush is making the globe a more dangerous place, one where the United States will have to fight and fight again. Such is the irony of his isolationism. And at home in Fortress America, the frightened politicians increase the size of their bodyguards, the country’s wealth is drained trying to protect every airport, water reservoir and highway culvert, phones are tapped and every aspect of life is suddenly subject to “procedures.” We have now reached the point where it is strictly forbidden to bring a family picnic to a Major League Baseball game.
Isolationism is just that: being isolated, cut off, marooned, restricted, narrowed down and regulated. In Fortress America, the watchword is keep out . Keep ’em all out, keep everything out; build up the walls and cower behind them. Looking out the window from the longest limousine in the motorcade may seem like freedom-but to the pedestrians out on the sidewalks being pushed away and patted down by security, it may begin to seem a little like life in Baghdad.