October 19, 2006

The Coming Sparagmos?

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:36 am

These are not normal times.  It would be a mistake, I think, to see the Democrats gaining a majority in the House or Senate as the standard, people-punishing-the-President’s-party-in-the-sixth-year-of-his Presidency.  The Democrats offer nothing–indeed, claim to offer nothing–other than a ritualistic tearing apart and devouring of the Bush Administration and all of its works.  This will not merely be a question of more aggressive oversight, or a rolling back of some more “extreme” initiatives, or “teaching Republicans a lesson”–it will be non-stop subpoenas, impeachment, dismantling key elements of the War on Terror, an abandonment of Iraq, and a signal sent throughout the world to allies and enemies alike that the US cannot be relied upon, everyone should make their own accommodations in this “Final Conflict.”  The Democrats are a deeply pathological party, representing broader global forces absolutely inimical to constitutional government, free market economics, Christianity, Jews and Israel and any assertion of cultural boundaries set by a presumed common human origin.  Any idea that power will make them more responsible is as reasonable here as it has turned out to be with the Palestinians–there is no way Democrats in power would be able to resist the forces that have placed them there–the anti-war “netroots,” funded by George Soros and crazed by years of flailing against what they see as dark, conspiratorial forces. 

I am certainly not predicting such a Democratic victory–in fact, we will learn a lot about how completely the “mainstream media” has “jumped the shark” if, as I suspect, the poll results showing decisive, even overwhelming, Democratic gains are heavily and deliberately skewed for the purpose of demoralizing Republicans and depressing turnout.  But we will know about that soon enough–for now, it might be useful to reflect upon what such an upheaval would mean. 

First of all, it is a very strange time for such ominous clouds to be gathering over the Republican majority.  After all, what’s wrong, exactly?  The economy seems to be in excellent shape–here in Connecticut, one of the Democratic congressional candidates is running against “Bush’s disastrous economic policies” but has yet to specify wherein the disaster lies.  There was the Abramoff scandal, which tainted the Republicans, but, really, how much can that explain?  Mark Foley?–you must be kidding.  There have been no terrorist attacks on American soil which, for the nutroots, might suggest that the Bush Administration has frabricated the entire terrorist issue to implement its plans to install a fascist theocracy, but one would assume that for most Americans that would be an indication to leave well enough alone.  And issues like immigration and out of control spending generates significant resentment among conservatives, but how many people well enough informed to be focused on such issues would take their grievances to the point of wanting to see Speaker Pelosi wielding the gavel in January?

It must really be all about Iraq, it seems to me, and even here the source and logic of the complaint is not very clear.  Can one really doubt that it’s better for Saddam Hussein to be out and us to be in in Iraq?  That some 3,000 deaths is a remarkably low number of casualties?  That counter-insurgency wars are inherently unpredictable and require patience and an ability to improvise, and hence can’t be referred back to some “plan”?  That this is a long struggle and even the worst case scenarios in Iraq might contain a range of silver linings which, if we keep our heads, we should be able to exploit?

Obviously these are far from rhetorical questions–many, if not most people are doubting these things.  And if we look at the form the doubts take, I think we find something rather interesting.  Those who complain about the number of dead in Iraq will not consider themselves obliged to tell you how many dead they think would be “worth” obtaining our goal there–to some extent this is because those generating such resentments think that America asserting its power inevitably makes things worse so that it wouldn’t be worth a single death and they are simply manipulating the fears and compassion of others; but that wouldn’t explain why the argument seems effective beyond a small circle of the ideologically committed anti-Americans.  Nor does anyone feel obliged to tell you how long it should take to win (much less how they have “done the math” on these questions); or, to get into some of the more specific complaints, if we had tried to keep the Iraqi army in place after the invasion, what negative consequences might have flowed from our apparent identification with that oppressive force; or if we had not invaded Iraq, how would the sanctions regime we were previously enforcing be doing by this point; or… or…. in fact, hardly anyone seems obliged to construct an alternative scene predicated upon their complaint.  Almost everyone, as Victor Davis Hanson has repeatedly pointed out, seems immediately attuned to the “pulse of the battlefield,” reacting to the last crisis, the newly revealed vulnerable point in those actually responsible for making and implementing decisions. 

In other words, the threat to the Republican majority is more of a generalized resentment towards reality–the Republicans represent everything messy, sordid and compromised in our preliminary attempts to create a new world while (inevitably) steeped in the old one.  The Bush Doctrine has initiated a process which genuinely threatens established understandings of world order and the U.S. role in that order; for those transnational progressivists who saw history going their way during the 90s, this is all profoundly upsetting, almost a violation of natural law:  hence the bizarre alliance between those would would like to reconstruct the whole world order in accord with their own idealized, post-soveriegn, version of international law and the kind of old style “realist” who practically prides himself on his amorality. 

None of these alternatives has any answers to totalitarian Islam, which we would lose little understanding of (and gain much) were we to operate under the assumption that it is tailored from top to bottom to exploit each and every weakness, fantasy and vanity of the transnational progressives and realists alike.  And yet the Bush Doctrine has not imposed itself–far from it.  Bush’s own hesitations (which, for reasons I hope this post has made clear, I do not remark on with any sense of self-righteousness), especially in the area of personnel, and especially in uprooting the liberal and “realist” cultures in what should be two of our most engaged institutions (the CIA and State Department), are partly responsible; but so is the enormous resistance his initiatives has produced (the insurgency Bush really failed to anticipate is that of the transnational progressive elite) and the paradoxes and unintended consequences intrinsic to those intiatives.  What happens when a democratic election brings a totalitarian Islamic party, a devoted practioner of the worst kind of terror, to power?  I find it hard to even understand the moral emptiness it takes to pose such questions with a sneer, to discredit democratic transformation–in the name of what, exactly?  But it’s a real question, and a practical answer to it requires a more coherent response than the current divisions in our society and throughout the world seem to allow for. 

Perhaps the best way to put it is to note that, as yet, we simply have no measure for the effectivity, even meaning, of what we are doing.  We don’t have the necessary yardsticks for measuring success, because those yardsticks must be generated by events themselves in any new situation.  We are still applying yardsticks from the past:  WWII for supporters of the war, Vietnam for opponents (and these yardsticks, and many others, can be applied in various ways, producing varying degrees of real insight).  But the further along we go, the less these yardsticks will measure.  Whoever wins a couple of weeks from now, we will need to devise such measures, which is to say, we will need to participate in emitting a new sign, a new mode of deferral that can actually be tried out on the ground.  It may be that we will have to wait until the passion of the sparagmos–which, once it starts, will not remain limited to partisan Democrats–runs its course.  We’ll see what’s left.

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