The Bush Bunch in Babylon
Morgan Reynolds – January 8, 2005
Gene Lyons is my favorite leftist columnist down here in Arkansas and the other day he quoted a chilling account from The Economist: “…American soldiers tack [bilingual notices] to their rear bumpers in Iraq: ‘Keep 50m or deadly force will be applied’…the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching with[in] 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres.” Says one lieutenant: “If anyone gets too close to us, we [bleeping] waste them. It’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ve killed a lot of innocent people.”
Yes, kind of a shame, isn’t it? Mass quantities of deadly force expended daily and plenty of dead Iraqis, probably over 100,000 and half of them women and children, not to mention the death and severe wounding of thousands of Americans. Perhaps we have stumbled upon a quantitative metric for Bush’s compassionate conservatism as practiced in Iraq: hold your fire until 20m, that’s compassionate; waste ’em at 50m+, that’s conservatism. Whether 20m or 50m, it’s got that nice blend of liberal and conservative, moral values, appeal to women voters, R’s defeating D’s, and it’s good to have it summed up by a regular guy who is on the front lines in the march to intergalactic “preeminence,” bigger oil company profits, Israeli expansionism, making the world safe for democracy ’n all those wonderful things plotted by neocon war makers who never have to go to war “with the army we have.” In a twisted way, our liar-in-chief has fulfilled his campaign theme, although the ballyhooed “more humble foreign policy” remains MIA.
Conventional wisdom has it that the U.S. is the lone superpower and straddles the globe like a colossus. But few realize where power actually comes from. The ignorant neocons, along with most people, implicitly share Mao Tsetung’s belief that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” That’s a yes and a no: yes, sort of, in the short run, no way in the long run. In the long run, political power clearly rests on ideological might, not on firepower. That’s why the pen is mightier than the sword, after all, isn’t it? Even in the short run, violently oppressing a reluctant population rests on ideological support by a sizable group voluntarily squashing the resistant. Ultimately, it’s a numbers game: “Whether or not [a tyrant] succeeds in making his sway last depends on the numerical relation of the two groups,” Mises said, “those who support him voluntarily and those whom he beats into submission.”
Much smarter people than the neocons have long recognized this obvious fact of the political world. That’s why writers as diverse as David Hume, John Maynard Keynes, and Friedrich A. Hayek have pointed out that all governments rule by public opinion. Ideas and ideology are crucial in sustaining the legitimacy of any institution, much less government. Bromides about legitimacy and consent of the governed may be vague but they’re correct.
But no one says it better than Ludwig von Mises. First, government is the “social apparatus of compulsion and coercion,” and Mises observes that “In the long run there is no such thing as an unpopular government,” improving on Joseph de Maistre’s claim that, “Every nation has the government it deserves.”
But there’s more: “Might is thus not a physical and tangible,” wrote Mises, “but a moral and spiritual phenomenon.” Remember Stalin sarcastically asking, “How many divisions does the pope have?” If the pope was so powerless, the Soviets would never have tried to assassinate him. “Whack a pope” can’t work though because the office has “might.” Today, a “divisionless” pope carries on while the Soviet Union and all its divisions disappeared. It didn’t run out of muscle, it ran out of “power,” ideological, that is.
The foundation that underlies government and blesses rulers with the power to use violence against “minority groups is essentially ideological, moral, and spiritual.” OK, already, but Mises customizes the theory quite directly for Bush-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz: “Rulers who failed to recognize this first principle of government and, relying upon the alleged irresistibility of their armed troops, disdained the spirit and ideas, have finally been overthrown by the assault of their adversaries.” And no one disdains ideas more than the dry drunk in the White House. Get out of Iraq immediately!
The Bush bunch in Babylon implicitly disdains a scholar like Mises yet might listen to someone closer to their own ilk, like Napoleon Bonaparte, who said, “A form of government that is not the result of a long sequence of shared experiences, efforts, and endeavors can never take root.” Napoleon’s view may have exceptions but it surely applies to Iraq with its ancient culture and traditions suffering slaughter and ruin under foreign occupation and the consequent insurgency, alienating virtually everyone in Iraq. The prospects of these despised occupiers and killers imposing a compliant government on the Iraqis and re-engineering their way of life to suit neocon blueprints are negative zilch.
Last summer my wife and I went motorcycling for a week in California, which is about the size of Iraq. Even though I lived 28 years in Texas, I couldn’t help but marvel at how big California is. “Can you imagine invading this place, and then trying to control a hostile population of 25 million with 130,000 troops,” I asked my wife. “No way,” was her response. Bush knows a lot more though, right? He’s got access to superior information. Just another 10,000 troops and “progress” over there will be even faster. Give me a break.
Bush’s global project is toast; he just doesn’t realize it yet, despite all the “superior information” in the world. Instead, he is dissipating American “power” at an unprecedented rate. Full of himself, mandate in hand (from heaven or earth?), he and his fellow delusionaries don’t have a clue that U.S. power abroad rests on ideological acceptance. Maybe Colin Powell does but he’s gone. Oddly enough, Bush is acutely aware of the importance of manipulating public opinion domestically but scorns the same PR when it comes to the rest of the world. That’s for a John Kerry and other “sensitive” souls. Abroad, Bush struts, relies on hired muscle and at any cost avoids the dreaded “wimp” label hung on Poppy.
American “might” rests on an ideology that makes people “tractable and accommodating,” as Mises put it, as much outside as inside the nation. The irony is that a noninterventionist, commercial republic, as envisioned by the founding fathers, would be more “powerful” in the world than the monster we have become. The rest of the world, much less Iraq, grows less and less willing to “hut to” when the Bush syndicate snaps its fingers. The response increasingly is “no mo,” despite threatened shock and awe. Now our main job is to pull up a chair and watch the exact path of the U.S. defeat in Iraq. There is little doubt that it will have maximum pain and no gain. These ignoramuses cannot admit an error, much less learn from it.