Friday, April 30, 2004

Blood and Baseball Caps 

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
SEE entries for: for Nationalism, Globalism, Cosmopolitanism (one reference to protectionism)

documents debating the Second Iraq war

In a sense my current, developing obsession about omission, distortion, red herrings, decoys, deceits, deceptions, lies, “perception management” ,echoing the current interest in George Orwell's memory holes segues neatly into the significance - to whom? - of the latest Kerry gaffes.

Most thinking people will be becoming more focused on the consequences to Iraq and the wider Middle East of an unlikely Kerry presidency. How would he deal with Iraq? More and more it feels like he would make matters worse by fudge and muddle, rather than clear-mindedness decisiveness. This is not to say that Bush hasn't been involved, like the best of the worst, in the malarky of "The Principle of Shifting Principles" on Iraq and the Middle East, particularly Israel. From the beginning Young Bush referred to half a dozen different reasons for dealing with Iraq, which were used interchangeably.

After the war Blair, retreating from WMD to the humanitarian / freedom / democracy reasons / excuses, was caught out by not having resorted to the Bush multiple-choice question-answer format-technique from the beginning. He will have his majority cut substantially at the next election as a result, and because of

(2) the muddle he got into over the BBC (Gilligan) [currently viewed as being pro-government according to latest rearch] and Dr. Kelly, where he was “proved” not to have "lied" to the British public, but had exposed, in the investigative process - SEE U.K. government emails between Alistair Campbell and others to, amongst others, John Scarlett, Chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) - - the very media and public manipulation that fends off democratic debate, and

(3) because he took no account - except in general, vague, patronising terms, such as, paraphrased: “the right of people to have a different view” - of the mass demonstrations against the war.


Would Iraq be better off with Bush or Kerry? I think it better to keep Bush, despite

(1) holding different political views from him

(2) believing he chose the wrong international strategy

[2 April 04]

(3) believing, as it has been suggested Secretary Powell does, that the President had (has he now?) not fully grasped the potential consequences on the invasion of Iraq.. {ref. Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward}

It is disappointing, and a cause of great cynicism amongst the thinkerati, that greater efforts have been put into introducing capitalism into Iraq than in restoring law and order, sewage treatment and supplies of pure water and plentiful electricity.

The Bush administration has failed miserable to implement a coherent plan or make sensible use of 12 months in Iraq. The projected cost to the American tax payer of invading and occupying Iraq (for decades, obviously, in terms of military bases) could have “bought” Iraq without firing a shot. Bizarrely, The New York Post reports that, currently, only four staff are working on the money trails of Al Qaeda and The Tyrant of Tikrit, a pin prick compared with their efforts to screw Cuba, apparently.

Let's be silly for a moment, would the Tyrant have sold out? All Mafiosi have their price as well as their pride. Overlying their base practices are base principles. They always have a vision of how things ought to be done, despite the twisted malignity that underlies these visions. Remember, The Tyrant's favourite film was reputed to be the "The Godfather" (I,II, or II?). No doubt, if on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he would have dithered between the life and works of Stalin or Hitler and possibly, as a poor third, the life and times of Pol Pot, taking a large framed painting of Nebuchaddnezzer II, or some other historical king of the Mesopotamian lands, as his useless object.

His personal politics and their malignant implementation have been stopped. In their place a stark wild-west, busy undermining what much of the good within the Iraqi system and culture that survived despite this murderous regime - the vitality, skills and knowledge of its people.

[2 May, 2004]
Meanwhile the Americans begin the process of wondering what it is exactly that their government has done in their name. A debate of the type that happened in the late 60s about the whys and wherefores of the Vietnam War, will knock at the door of the notions of freedom and democracy that Americans claim for themselves and in a way believe are unique to them.


There is an interesting question in there about Kerry, somewhere, about the nature of American nationalism... er, patriotism. The forensic dissection in the U.S. media of what Kerry did and said, and what he said he did or didn't do - with his or other people's medals and campaign ribbons - is only understandable in terms of the psychological need amongst Americans, whether Republican or Democrat, to feel that they are going to get a "patriotic" president. It is not about lying, stupid!

Of course the Americans don't get it. They get, because they want, the patriotic president, yes, but they don't understand how the rest of the world (read: western world) sees this patriotism - especially the British who are prone to mock the chauvinistic attitudes of nations like the French. We see Stars and Stripes waving, revering, and Constitution reciting as nationalism. We are not wrong. Although any dictionary definition shows a distinction between the two, the mind of the person who is "excessively" proud of his country, does not. The patriot will, and does argue, ad infinitum, that it is a pure love of one's country. We world weary types know things are never that easy.

Nationalism, as defined in the OxRefDic, is 1 a.) patriotic feeling, principles, etc, 1 b.) an extreme form of this; chauvinism, 2) a policy of national independence; while patriotism is to do with "devotion to and willingness to defend one's country". Where does this leave the average proud American? Is he the patriot he claims to be or the nationalist he denies he is? Well, the man in the Kevlar jacket on the outskirts of Fallujah or Nejaf is a patriot and the man sipping latte in Starbucks in Washington is a nationalist.

According to Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy "B.Barber in his writings glorifies a remarkable mixture of cosmopolitanism and parochialism which, in his view characterizes American national identity." According to said source, "Cosmopolitanism is the moral and political doctrine which asserts that (a) one's primary moral obligations are directed to all human beings (regardless of geographical or cultural distance), and (b) political arrangements should faithfully reflect this universal moral obligation (in the form of supra-statist arrangements that take precedence over nation-states)". As far as I am so far able to deduce, the consensus American definition of cosmpolitanism (or definition of American cosmopolitanism) must be different from the generally accepted one, or they cannot truly been seen as true cosmopolitans and Barber is wrong.

In my copy of Emery Reves, The Anatomy of Peace, written during the Second World war, with a postscript describing what he saw as the consequences of the Hiroshima bomb on world affairs, there an inscription to:

Pilot Officer Guy Levy-Lepas, Frenchman, Paris - Feb. 28 – 1922, Malta July 9 – 1942.
Flying name Guy Carlat
Royal Canadian Air Force

Of course I am young full of ideals with the love of adventure, but I believe that where one’s country is concerned nothing is sufficient short of the maximum.

July 12 – 1941

Maybe these sorts of sentiments can no longer be expressed. We know the American soldiers are brave. They are professionals not conscripts. They are now suggesting that the U.S. may be forced to bring in conscription to provide enough fresh troops, despite keeping up numbers by holding back the due dates for retirement of many personnel.

Blog traffic shows how sensitive Americans are to criticism: having made repeated criticisms, at frequent junctures, throughout my weblog's life, of the way things have been done in Iraq, beginning on 9 April 2003 - someone or other (American) pops up a comment on my disloyalty and lack of appreciation of "true democracy" and what America is doing "for the world". In the latest case, a young lady, I guess - who knows, with the anonymity of the internet ? - saying my criticisms are easy, with the bullets and bombs directed at U.S. troops, not me. To which I have replied, "True, but my safety can't be a reason to stop the democratic process which I define using Emery Reves words as:

"Democracy does not mean that governments have to ask the people their opinions on complicated issues and then carry them out. It is essentially a form of society within which the conception of new ideas, their diffusion in view of their acceptance by the majority, the fight for leadership, is open to everybody."


Anyone debating with themselves about the meaning of the word freedom that Young Bush repeated uses, coupled with democracy, might be advised to read the passages in The Anatomy of Peace, Chapter II, The Failure of Capitalism (don’t worry he argues Socialism and Religion failed as well), which culminates with:

It is not because capital is controlled by individuals and private corporations that the private capitalism system of free enterprise failed. It failed because in the economic filed, “freedom” was regarded as an absolute instead of a functional concept, a human ideal in constant need of adjustment and regulation by law, and of institutions for its defense [sic.] and safeguard. In absolute from, freedom of one man means serfdom of the other. Obviously, such a state of affairs cannot be human and cannot be called “freedom".


All nations are divided by more than language - there are deep, seemingly immoveable cultural-psychological schisms between all peoples. Despite the spread of superficial aspects of life - technology and the tendency towards standardisation (exemplified in everything from cars to electrical goods, and fashions in clothes and music) - the deeper traditions and more spiritual things remain distinct. What is inculcated by time and tradition is very difficult to change.

Religion is the perfect example where this is true. Religious ideas evolve, as any book on the sociology of religion attests. In the minds of the religious, the core of their faith is immutable and in some way created, in history, not evolved. In reality, each new religion feeds off the ideas about religion and other aspects of the culture that already exist. Each religion eventually reaches a steady state, which gives rise to the notion of solidity, immutability and permanence.

Mutual bewilderment 

It is interesting to watch the Americans and the Iraqis trying to understand and deal with each other. Though the U.S. has shown brains in many areas of its activities in Iraq - accepting the necessity to come to grips with the tribal system that surrounded The Tyrant in order to catch him, for example - it has equally fallen back on the "default value" of its society in many other dealing with Iraqis.

Though America has been incredibly successful in projecting its financial muscle, military power, machinery, software, cars, soft-drinks, baseball caps and films, it is essentially incapable of adapting to the cultures it meets. It doesn’t need to – it is the dominant culture. It sees its society as superior to others - a good argument. If an Iraqi in a café off Raschid Street in Baghdad tried to persuade an average U.S. serviceman that Iraq had things about it that were better than its equivalents in the U.S., this soldier would smile, chew some on his gum and shake his head in bewilderment. The notion of the cosmopolite has not and will probably never reach him. This young man probably has a narrower mind-set than his Iraqi interlocutor. In his world view, everything that is good spreads outwards from his country, like a gas filling the available space. Iraq or its people would be Nowheresville.

Why Americans are less likely to adapt to ther cultures than other nationalities should be so must be related in some way to the U.S. blend of nationalism : a unsubtle blend of religion and economic interest. Exception: their relations with the Jews as a nation-race-religion, which is intense and complex. A non-Jewish - WASP - of some education and social background was once proud to sell me the benefits - which I actually agree with - of Jewish culture which he had grown up with as a teenager in New York and to sprinkle Yiddish into his speech almost as a mark of respect. They love each other, for Christ's sake. Perhaps, after another 100 years this might be true of the Arab-American experience?

A good argument for saying the U.S. is overly nationalistic - and that it is a bad thing for the rest of us - is its history of economic protectionism, despite espousal of the free market. The average American would not often be found arguing for his countries protectionist policies, rather playing on the general superiority of his and his country's "way of life" and his pleasure at being part of his country's economic success story, and its role at the forefront of world events (defeat of Communism, Second World war) and even globalisation - which would mean it is "a good thing" – failing to see that both protectionism and globalisation, which seem to operate side by side, have pros and cons.

The connection between nationalism, protectionism and globalisation is worth closer study. It would seem obvious that since the U.S. is the prime mover in and major beneficiary from globalisation, why the U.S. protects its core industries so assiduously can only be that it is not convinced about the free market, despite claims.


It has taken far too long for the current Occupiers of Iraq to begin understand Islamic tradition, tribalism, Arab pride, the cultural niceties - for example the offence caused busting into rooms full of women during raids. There has been a failure to understand - or an unwilling to try to understand - for example, how certain Arabs see the death of a relative as a family and tribal insult, a concept that both Jews and Christians ought to grasp with their "an eye for an eye".

There is yawning gap in comprehension. In extremis, stereotyping becomes the default mode. Though the intellectual classes in American and Iraq recognise the good in each others ways of doing things, and are willing to say so, in extremis it is simple features of each other's cultures that are hurled in rebuke. Nuanced understanding is hard to arrive at when you are at each others throats.


But what of Kerry? Would he sort out Iraq more effectively than Bush? Would he be a better bet for the Iraqis? The general view seems to be that the U.S. will not walk away from Iraq before the job is done. [ 22 April 04] Though there are intimiations, with the new arrangements in Falujah, of the eventual take over by another strong man, simply because there is no other way of settling Iraq.

I see the possibility, under Bush or Kerry, that the Iraqi democrats fail to democratise. Under the noses of the U.S. military (and/or with the connivance of the U.S. government) on the ground in Iraq ( with the Marines and U.S. Army neatly tucked up in their beds in their various bases) a coup d'etat will take place. The U.S. will not stop it, but mutter unconvincingly the appropriate sound bites about how this is "not the way they saw it going", but "facts are facts on the ground", this is the nature of realpolitik, etc.

Bush and his advisors see the world differently from Kerry. Their Great Game is oil & protecting Israel. Nothing changes, oil was always part of it even when Britain, the European powers and Russia were The Players. Now, since the U.S. wants to get its bases out of Saudi Arabia (have they already gone?...), Iraq is of much greater interest. Iraq is not the only interest of the U.S. in the region. As in the early part of the 20th. Century, the Caucasus has become the place where the big players intrigue.

Without resorting to conspiracy theories, Iraq has, incidentally, the purest oil in the world. It is cheaper to refine. Though it ought to be noted that the U.S. only buys about 10% of its oil from each of its suppliers, contributing itself about 8% to world output. If only it wasn’t number 16 on the list of least efficient users of energy! Britain is at 8. It of all nations has the money to develop renewable resources. It could develop a sensible electric or hybrid car. It could set the example on pollution control, and put more tax on petrol to deter car use.

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memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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