Friday, September 23, 2005

Icarus on Crack

When the history of these viral years is written, preferably not by the Reader’s Digest’s benefactors, a few chapters will have to be devoted to the frequency with which the obvious so easily managed to stupefy the most savvy editors in charge of our national press, the frequency (and urgency) with which they headlined revelations that appear to have the granite boldness of a Delphic oracle but turn out to be old news any half-wit observer kvetching in a Yukon shop-and-go figured out years ago. The papers are carrying a story today about a Saudi of the Faisal clan, or Klan, as the Wahhabite case may be, warning that Iraq is heading for disintegration. The little declaration was made by the Saudi foreign minister in Washington, presumably between two gulps of eighteen year old Glenlivet and two licks of the nearest tits of the same age (a trip to the West for any Saudi klansman who can afford the excursion being a chance to salute Caligula’s tumescent memory indeed, and of course in deed). Played up as it was by the New York Times and the Washington Post, the klansman’s “news” is designed to have that ring of a wake-up call. But like so much in these newspapers that, when it comes to anything attached to the word war, so ably report the news as if they were writing the first draft of two-year-old by-the-ways, the bugle was blaring at the wrong ears. Put aside the fact that these oily Wahhabite have more in common with the Taliban than the twins I know next door. Put aside the fact that these Wahhabites are half the reason we’ve been at war in the Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military presence (no matter how much President Bush’s moronic but convenient GOPhallic-centered world view wants to pretend that the terrorist attacks were exclusively about evil men wanting to destroy western civilization) in the sands of Saud was not having been exactly a mirage in these blithering fanatics’ shades. Put aside the fact that we’re still treating them like the royalty they pretend to be, and that we would drop Rita’s and Katrina’s salvaging operation in a second to save these Wahhabites from a coup, should one occur. Put aside all these ironies. Shouldn’t whatever wake-up call may finally be happening at least have been home-grown and thought out, say, a year ago? Shouldn’t the Times’ editors have learned by now that their uncritical deference to establishment news releases—the White House’s ad campaign about WMDs, the CIA’s slam-dunk case for same, the Pentagon’s promise to Vegas bookies of a Baghdad cakewalk, the State Department’s vial-and-pony show, courtesy of Colin-the-Absurd, at the United Nations—is part of the reason why we’ve reached this bog of I-told-you-sos? Must we still depend, as we do for so much else, on oily Saudis to feed us the obvious? Some of us not-so oily Arabs, but Arabs nonetheless (and to be fair not a few non-Arabs either, including here in the lands of seas to shining seas), had pegged the American-inspired Balkan disintegration of Iraq way back when the first American soldiers slated for cannon fodder were still wanking their anxieties away in last-desert training on the outskirts of Joshua National Park and emailing home that what the fuck it’ll be as easy as the last one and hasn’t our very own oily one, the one who just greased his way to the World Bank, been telling us that it’d be a cakewalk all the way? Look ma, they even sent us cake as a joke. Funny how the delivery man made sure it landed on our faces. Some of us laughed so hard we busted a gut.

So in the spirit of golden oldies tragically proven right as they should never have been (golden oldies that should never have had a reason to be written in the first place) here’s the column I wrote on March 26, 2003, five days after Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, a 22-year-old immigrant from Guatemala City, where he’d been orphaned before making his way to foster homes in California, became Operation-Screw-Another-Generation-of-Young-Americans’  first casualty in the sands of southern Iraq.

Icarus on Crack:
Bush Blueprint in Arab Heartland Is Colossal Hubris

In gothic novels the bombshell princess is typically shackled to the whims of nasty men and foul-mouthed step-mothers and suffers indignities by the bushel until she's liberated by Prince Charming. The novels always cue The End before Princess discovers that her Fabio look-alike is actually twice the bastard her tormentors had been, and a serial womanizer: He's the guy hopping between Harlequin covers while she ends up dog-eared and spineless at the secondhand bookshop.
The gothic novel has its real-life equivalent in geopolitics. Instead of a helpless, persecuted bombshell, you have a beleaguered, persecuted country that dreams of deliverance. Deliverance may come, but The End doesn't conveniently follow. The story must go on. The next chapter often reads like a morgue manifest.
I speak of experience here. When I was a boy in the early years of Lebanon's civil war, all we dreamed about was some kind of savior to liberate us from mayhem. In 1976 we got the first in a series. The Syrian army marched in to keep us Christians from being slaughtered by a coalition of Palestinians and Muslims. We welcomed the Syrians with the ritual rice-throwing, although it was probably minute rice, not something fancy like Basmati: We didn't trust the Syrians.
Sure enough, a minute later, relatively speaking, they turned their guns on us and became the occupying army they have remained ever since. So we started dreaming of new liberators, and for a time we were convinced Israel would oblige. Looking back, that was like wishing for Huns to liberate you from Visigoths, us poor beleaguered Christians being no less Vandals for wear. Between one bombardment and another I was ferreted out of the country and have kissed and licked every day's peace ever since, but obviously kept an eye on Lebanon's torments. In 1982 the Israelis did finally invade. They got the rice treatment, too, because the Palestinians had turned south Lebanon into their private little Idaho, militia-style.
Sure enough, the Israeli occupation, one of Ariel Sharon's Guernicas, proved no less grotesque than the Palestinians'. The Christian-inspired, Israeli-managed massacres of a few thousand Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Chatila camps precipitated yet more foreign interventions. This time it was the multinational force of Italians, French and Americans. For that one the Lebanese sprung for Uncle Benz.
They thought America would finally save them as no one could. Then America got in the nation-building business. And as it did, it took sides -- siding with the Israeli-backed Christian government of Amin Gemayel, a playboy with brie for brains. And then, in quick succession, those quiet Americans met the unquiet wrath of Arab savagery. The American embassy in Beirut was suicide-bombed, killing 63. On Oct. 23, 1983, the Marines' barracks south of Beirut was suicide-bombed, killing 241. A simultaneous bombing of the French barracks (remember those "surrender monkeys"?) killed 58. At the time the bombers were from a little known faction of renegade Shiite Muslims called Hezbollah. Little known no more: Hezbollah is today's al-Qaida's spiritual mistress.
Themselves defeated, the Americans left shortly after the barracks bombing. I was glad. Not because I wanted them out of there as a Lebanese chauvinist, but because by then I was reacting as an adopted American. My allegiance was wholeheartedly with those Marines, who never should have been put in such a wasteful situation in the first place. I happened to know the Lebanese -- the Arab -- mentality of the moment. It isn't worth the fight, and it is certainly not worth a drop of American blood, no matter the idealistic quest then or now.
Freedom? Liberation? Democracy? Arab nations wouldn't know what to do with any of it. As Charles Glass, once a reporter with ABC news, wrote a dozen years ago, they're not nations. They're "tribes with flags."
And it is into that mayhem, that Lebanon writ large, that President Bush is sending his army. American soldiers will probably get the rice treatment. They'll get the hugs and the roses. The pictures will be grist for a month of Bush-pumping propaganda back in the "homeland." But the gratefulness of liberation doesn't outlast the afternoon nap. Those trigger-happy Shiites the Marines last knew in Lebanon, incidentally, form Iraq's majority, and the country is crawling with Balkan-tempered minorities.
Planning the California-scale creation of a pro-American nation out of Washington Beltway blueprint in the Arab heartland is science fiction with a death wish. It is colossal hubris. It is Icarus on crack. With Afghanistan still smoldering with chaos, the Anglo-American country-hoppers don't know what gothic nightmare they're getting into in Iraq, what they're getting us all into. And it won't end well no matter the bushels of rice riddling Americans' welcome along Mesopotamia's shimmering, shifty sands.

[The Daytona Beach News-Journal, March 26, 2003]