Saturday, January 20, 2007

Five Theses on Terror

1. For most of the twentieth century, if you really wanted to kill a lot of people, you did it with the nation-state. The great evils of the century were perpetrated by governments and their leaders: Mao, Stalin, Hitler. Inversely, the hopes of millions of people lay in nation states. The response to the Holocaust? A state. The answer to colonialism? Nationalism.

I think the shift away from states began around 1970. The Biafran War and the oil crisis showed new frontiers for big business. The Cambodian genocide showed how badly states could fail. The United States didn't get the memo until September, 2001, and it's still not clear how many people have read it.

2. The logic of the surge is the idea that the "Iraqi people" must take over. Fucking idiocy – as if the institutions and actions of so many could be summed up so neatly, as if the nation state was the primary means of identification. The phrase "Iraqi people" makes unity appear where there is none. That the United States is somehow deeply respectful of the sovereignty of the so-called Iraqi people is one of the great lies of the war, and the pipe dreams of those who believe this lie are what continue the carnage. What is happening now is a predictable and logical result of U.S. policy, and the phrase "Iraqi people" little more than a scapegoat to clear the consciences of conservatives.

The United States never had any idea what it was up against, still doesn't, and continues to ask for endorsement of what can charitably be described as malign incompetence and more accurately labeled complicity in genocide. This complicity will fuel the very movements George Bush claims he is intent on destroying.

3. Democracy begets crime. It does so because the majority will inevitably insist on laws that don't make sense, and black markets will be necessary to get things done. When ethnicity is added to this mix, when gangs divide on ethnic lines and define their enemies in ethnic terms, the possibility for horror is great. Violence is then perpetuated both by the criminals and the state, which uses the gangwar (the term is from Maximum City, a very good book about Bombay) as pretext for atrocities.

The idea that democracy will save Iraq is absurd. It's as absurd as the idea that the men who have been utterly clueless for six years have suddenly discovered the answers to everything.

4. The time to recognize mistakes would have been before Israel invaded Lebanon. The move would have been – we screwed up, and we need the help of Europe, Saudi Arabi, and Iran. We give up any claims on Iraq, let other powers take over. This course of action is now impossible.

5. The hope in early 2002 had been that the United States, by creating successful Islamic democracies, could defuse the threats to American cities. The threats are now greater than they ever were. Dealing with them will require people in power who are capable of looking beyond domestic concerns when formulating foreign polity. People who recognize that hagiographies of troops or paeans to the flag are not policy decisions.* The most dangerous of all statist nationalism in the world is that of the United States, not least of which because it leads to such rank stupidity on both the right and the left.

The world has a new geography. Until we can find leaders who recognize that geography, the threats to the United States will get much, much worse.

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