Say One Thing, Do Another

This is the week of the global Iraq War Protests, from that banned march in New York to the demonstration here on the streets of Prague. And I wonder if it's really about not going to war or if the complaint is that we're going to this war flying a false flag.

War is war, there are worthwhile reasons and phony claims, couched in terms that make them amenable to sending the troops, if not in eagerness then at least resignedly and knowing what we're about.

This war is certainly not about Saddam Hussein's ability to touch us militarily and even less about al Qaeda, but that's the pretense. And because the pretense rings so hollowly, we're more anxious than eager, more grudging than respectful of the need. The president's telling us one thing, while we know there's another agenda. Like children, we're not trusted with the truth and neither are our hoped-for coalition partners, at least not in so many words. "So many words" aren't palatable, so we're not using "so many words."

In "so many words," our president feels we need a solid base in the Middle East from which to extend our military influence. Saudi Arabia is about to throw us out and never much cared for our being on their sovereign territory in the first place. The Saudis are virtually the birthplace of al Qaeda and continue to fund them, but we haven't the excuse to change the royal regime, so we'll just have to settle for Saddam. He's a despicable character anyway, but the world is unfortunately full of despicable characters.

Anyway, he's elected as least likely to be missed among his Arab neighbors and we have a belligerent history with Saddam that makes Iraq an easy choice. War has been a hard sell internationally, but hey, you do what you have to do. We can't pressure the Palestinians (or the Israelis, for that matter) without our military feet set firmly in nearby sand. Tilting the politics of Iran is impossible by remote control. Shoring up Afghanistan is too difficult and costly without nearby basing and Pakistan doesn't hear all that well from a continent away. Carrier fleets are expensive to maintain in place and the logistics of maintaining a floating military presence are impossible.

So, Iraq makes sense. But it only makes sense in a context we can't tell anyone about, not even our own citizens. Because it sounds too much like colonialism or imperialism or any of the isms that we claim not to be.

And that's a shame, because that's what this war is all about.

This war is not about regime change. We don't give a damn about regimes and this war is most particularly not about oil. We've been able and will continue to be able to balance and shift and destabilize the various oil cartels in such a way as to get what we need at reasonably stable prices. If this war was about oil, we'd be in Venezuela in a heartbeat.

This war is about planting our foot securely in an area of the world where we have enormous political problems and no current presence. This war is about the US ability to begin to undo the 40-year necessary-nonsense of the Cold War. The Middle East, more than any other area in this unstable world, was made to be unstable, crafted to be unstable as a matter of necessary-at-the-time Cold War politics. We and the former Soviet bloc are at fault, but there's no one but us left standing to perform the deconstruction.

And I guess we ought to do it. God knows (or Muhammed) we've done enough damage to these cultures in the name of saving the world. The regimes we'd like to change were created mostly by us, the armaments sold by us, the poor made poorer and the rich made richer by our acquiescence. The fiddling that was done was long-range fiddling, covert and destabilizing. The fixing that needs to be done, the moral righting of all those wrongs, might best be done at close range, where the parties of interest can see and smell and hear and taste the work in progress. But it's a long, long job.

And it's a hard one to start by calling it something it's not.

Jim Freeman is author of Evoke (see www.praguewriter.com/evoke.htm), a futurist political novel for those who hate politics and can't stand science fiction.

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