Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The architects of delusion

Seeing as today marks the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, there will be no shortage of discussion and debate about what went wrong, who's to blame and -- most vexing of all -- what to do now.

(While I have answers for the first two, I have to admit that the third one still escapes me. However, since there are supposed experts with large budgets and administrative staffs who don't seem to be doing any better than I am at figuring that out, I don't feel so bad.)

Amidst all that noisy discourse, I suggest it is well worth your while to take a look at Peter Beaumont's two-part article in the Observer on changes within Iraq, where he -- poetically enough -- finds that the country's horizons have 'collapsed in on upon themselves like an imploding star, super-heavy with the weight of communal, insurgent and terrorist violence.'

There are those articles which can be scanned perfectly well on-screen, but I recommend printing out Beaumont's piece and paying close attention to it, as it's in details like the following that it really excels:

The relentless fragmentation and steadily constricting freedom of movement.

The futile but moving efforts of the city's orchestra to keep going, inspired by an old Soviet propaganda film about Leningrad.

The descriptions of the various species of barriers -- the 'concretes' -- that have become 'a defining physcial feature of the new Iraq'.

The surreal scenes from a half-deserted amusement park.

The enormity of a disaster brought home in the necessary changes in millions of ordinary lives:

So Baghdad merchants lock up their Karrada stores at 3pm to avoid the kidnap gangs linked to the militias who would trade them for the money that feeds the war. Women stay indoors with their children or close by the neighbourhoods where they are known. Weddings are deferred, mixed marriages break up and educations are left unfinished. Names are changed by deed poll to hide sectarian identities, while Sunnis place religious pictures on walls in Shia areas for dissimulation.

And, not least, this succinct conclusion:

But the simplest explanation for this disaster is that the invasion unpicked a complex and brutal state, invested with powerful competitions and contradictions. And having done it, none of its architects had a plan for putting it back together.

Ah, yes, the architects. No doubt, you must be thinking, they are certainly haunted by at least some regrets, and -- in reflecting on the way things have gone to hell in the reality-based community we call the world-as-it-is -- their own grandiose Weltanschauung just has to be be tempered today by a certain ...well, humility and willingness acknowledge the mistakes they have made.

Yes. You might think that. But you would be wrong.

As Jacob Weisberg writes, at Slate, the American Enterprise Institute recently hosted a gala evening which suggests that some neo-cons are not only willing to see but also to raise their geopolitical bets, with Bernard Lewis putting in a good -- and apparently well-received -- word for the Crusades.

As Weisberg notes:

Were you to start counting the ironies here, where would you stop? Here was a Jewish scholar criticizing the pope for apologizing to Muslims for a holy war against Muslims, which was also a massacre of the Jews. Here were the theorists of the invasion of Iraq, many of them also Jewish, applauding the notion that the Crusades were not so terrible and embracing a time horizon that makes it impossible to judge them wrong. And here was the clubhouse of the neocons throwing itself a lavish 'do, when the biggest question in American politics is how to escape the hole they've dug. Reality seemed to have taken up residence elsewhere for the evening.

Yes, it has.

But what is really sad is that such delusion has become such a normal part of life for this administration -- and for its friends and allies -- that it no longer has the power to surprise.

Waiting for reason to return to them is turning out to be rather like waiting for Godot.

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