May 15, 2004

Out of the Frying Pan

What's to be done?

First, on the abstract issue that what's done very badly ought not be done at all, which is the position that seems to have been taken by the "get out now" crowd, that sorta depends on what "it" is, how badly "it's" being done, and what the alternative consequences are of doing something else. And that's a counterfactual argument that might be interesting to have some time, but it's not really relevant to the case of Iraqi Freedom. Because the irony, of course, is that things are actually going better in Iraq than they are practically everywhere else. Americans, other than those plugged into the blogosphere, that is, don't see or hear that because it just doesn't fit into the media's "gotcha" agenda. The hype is over bad news, and there just isn't any good news to balance it, no matter how much good is actually happening. And the consequence is that we're going from the frying pan, where things were managable and where the learning curve was slowly but surely kicking in, to the fire that the Marxisant Left still doesn't quite credit as being real.

Well, that's not entirely true, because they have begun to comprehend the consequences a little bit. Well, actually, they aren't thinking of consequences so much as scape goats, and predictably even this is Bush's fault There are now legions of conspiracy theories out there about the Berg killing, as the perpetrators and their western allies desperately try to unring this bell. I won't link all of them, but even the The Gaurdian is peddling this foul toilet-broth. They leapt right over the argument that Bush somehow manipulated Zarqawi into perpetrating this act, making him the "real victim." Turns out Bush actually did it and just framed Zarqawi, which is a little more efficient anyway, I think. So what's the theory here, that the US produced a snuff film to undermine its own commitment to its own neocon project? Who does this make sense to? I mean, who but an idiot would even entertain such a notion? Unless someone somewhere sees a little gotcha gold in it. You want a big payoff you have to take a big risk, and up the stairway to madness we climb.

Apparently there just aren't enough negative images of "the other" out there, and we need a few more. It's like an obsessive-compulsive cutting off his nose to balance the aesthetics of a face that somehow just never achieves the perfection that vanity suggests must be underneath all the flesh somewhere, down deep. Drag out the gotcha tool with the megawatt power supply and start digging. Ignore the smell.

And while the media establishment hyperventilates over S&M in our prisoner detention system our legislators (apparently motivated by the outmoded notion that the media speaks for the public because they say they do) have now virtually forbidden military intelligence from using effective interrogation techniques that might so much as embarass or shame a terrorist, or make his life unpleasant. Apparently it's all this unpleasantness that's causing the problem. Maybe we'll win them over with kindness? We just haven't been nice enough to them. That's what our legislators believe we think. That's what they believe will get them reelected. Seriously. Well, some of them. Enough of them to cut our own throats to save our neck.

Where's this train heading? The public has been seeing and paying attention to something else. They know the media not only doesn't speak for them, but has no idea what they think, or why.

Back in the real world where gotcha is usually recognized as rude and unproductive, and even downright tedious, the story is no longer Abu Ghraib, it's Nick Berg. And the story about Nick Berg isn't the preposterous notion that our intelligence and security system was derelict because they held him for a few days, or the even more preposterous notion that the Bush led CIA actually commited the murder for its own devious purposes (presumably to get rid of responsibility for all that nasty dirty oil in Iraq). Nope, that's not the story at all. The story is that, because of the way the war has been covered, Americans have just begun to doubt whether Arabs are worthy of being on the planet with the rest of us. In other words, they're on the verge of deciding there just ain't no such thing as a "good Arab." And they aren't too sure there's such a thing as a "good European" or a "good journalist" either.

Welcome to Jacksonian America.

So, although we haven't quite made the leap into the fire yet (and prayer isn't such a bad idea right now, even for an agnostic) we're being led in that direction as a side effect, and it's probably just a matter of time. Lee Harris has it about right, I think (hat tip: American Digest):

Liberals complain that the Bush administration's approach is too simplistic. Quite frankly, it is nuanced to the point of incoherency. It asks of Americans that they hate only "the bad guys" in the Arab world, while it simultaneously calls on Americans to be willing to sacrifice their sons and their pocketbooks in order to create a happy future for "the good guys" in the Arab world. Yet our television and computer screens are full of the images of the bad guys of the Arab world doing unspeakably ghastly things to us, while we search in vain for the image of even one of the good guys for whom our nation has staked its resources and its prestige. Show us just one photograph of Iraqis publicly denouncing this gruesome act as a slander against Islam and a blasphemy against God.

From the photographs of men and women jumping from the World Trade Center to the videotape of Nick Berg's butchery, our enemy has flooded us with images that will haunt us all until our dying day. But Americans have been given no images of our friends in the Arab world; and certainly none that can match the potency of the images offered by our enemies.

The enemy's compelling images show what we are fighting against in Iraq; but there are no equally compelling images that show us what we are fighting for -- an "image gap" that is already causing many well wishers of the administration to question a policy in which we are endlessly willing to help a people who refuses to offer us even a single image of themselves caught in the act of displaying friendliness toward us -- a people who, on the contrary, take every photo opportunity given to them to show how much and how deeply they hate us; and who, when not given such an opportunity by us, are quite able to make one for themselves.

Most Americans are from Missouri: we must see it before we believe it. And we are not seeing why we should be fighting in Iraq for the good guys; indeed, we are not seeing the good guys at all, and many of us are beginning to wonder if there are any good guys, in our sense, to be found there; and if so, why they so adamantly refuse to show their faces to the camera.

Except it's even worse than that, because it's not a two-way conflict.

The problem is, of course, that you can't show the good Arabs, or the good that's being done and appreciated in Iraq, or the good Europeans, or even allow the good journalists to get a word in edgeways for that matter, without casting the Bush Administration in something of a positive light. It just can't be done. And the upshot is this rather ghastly side effect that the Indymedias of the world are hailing as a victory, 'cause they just don't know no better.

We have two, or possibly three, cultures which, largely for internal political reasons, are unwilling or unable to show good images of any of the others, and who present to their publics nothing but the absolutely most degrading images possible of the others, and not incidentally of themselves. Is it really a mystery any longer where we're headed?

Prayer is a pretty good idea. Well, it's the best idea I have, anyway.

Posted by Demosophist at May 15, 2004 03:28 PM | TrackBack

The indigenous peoples have to learn to provide for their own security. They can also take over much of the interrogation duties. Needless to say, the Iraqis will go much rougher on the foreign arabs and former Baathists than the americans did.

Posted by: RB at May 16, 2004 06:22 PM