A Letter On
America and Iraq
As I write this America is reeling from two shocking events. The revelation of the extent of abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the beheading of Nicolas Berg in retaliation. How did it get to this?
As we enter the second year of the war we now know that it was based on lies and myths.
- We now know that there was no imminent threat and no WMD. The main coalition governments (the US, UK and Australia) have been rocked by allegations of a general intelligence failure and of particular concern, intelligence agencies distorting information to suit the political ideology of their conservative leaders.
- We also now know that rather than defeat terrorism the war in Iraq has actually helped fan the fire. The US claimed that the war was a necessary part of the more general war against terrorism. Instead terrorists have flocked to Iraq to attack coalition troops. Spain has suffered a devastating attack and attacks continue within Saudi Arabia.
- Now the US has lost the moral high ground. As the extent of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is revealed we find that the US has systematically breached the Geneva convention. The US was supposed to be rescuing Iraq from tyranny. Now we find that Abu Ghraib, the prison used by Saddam, is now notorious for abuse at the hands of the US.
At the beginning of the war I was one of the many who protested. I did not protest to protect Saddam. I was well aware of the nature of his regime. I protested because I did not trust the US. I protested because I feared that the US's unilateral action would make things worse for Iraqis, the Middle East and the world.
I know it sounds like hubris – I told you so. But I did tell you so. In previous articles I raised doubts about the WMD argument and the lie of the connection of Saddam to the events of 9/11. Why did I know this a year ago? This is the real issue. The reason I was able to predict the outcome was that we have seen it all before. There is an often quoted maxim – those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. What I did was extrapolate from the past performance of US foreign policy and understand what Bush was really about. It wasn't difficult.
The question is why wasn't Wilber able to see this? Integral theory ought to be a clarifying lens. There were warning signs all over the place.
The nature of the Bush presidency
Both Wilber and Beck have mentioned that there have been consultations with Bush's people, including consultations with Jeb Bush. I don't know the extent or nature of these consultations, or why they thought it important to mention the fact. However, we can surmise by the outcome that these consultations had no effect.
It was probably worth a try but unfortunately at the same time Bush was also consulting with the Christian right. In the lead up to his nomination it has been revealed that George Bush attended a secret meeting chaired by Tim LaHaye and attended by several luminaries in the fundamentalist Christian political movement known as Dominionism.
Tim LaHaye is an interesting character. He is the religious authority behind the 'Left Behind' series of novels. LaHaye believes in the literal truth of the Bible and that the literal reading of the Book of Revelations means that the world will face an end times 'tribulation'. Yes folks, Satan will arise – where? Babylon. And then Jesus will return for the much predicted and anticipated second coming.
At this point we need to pause and realize that this is crazy - this is plain irrational. But the really scary part of this lunatic narrative is that George Bush, the president of the US, met with a crazy man to seek his approval. That alone should have been reason to dismiss Bush out of hand.
The way to find out what constituencies are being appeased by a president is to look at the nature of his appointments. When you investigate the Bush administration you find it peppered, not with integral thinkers, but with right-wing, even fundamentalist, Christians. John Ashcroft and Condolezza Rice are perhaps the most high profile, but there are others, particularly in the health field, as part of a pro-life campaign to reverse Roe vs Wade. Politicians are also recruiting interns from colleges that openly promote fundamentalism.
But really, none of this should be surprising. Recent Gallup polls show that around 46% of the US population describe themselves as 'born again' Christian. Some of this is copy cat behaviour. There is a trend in America to embrace God. Celebrities and aspiring stars on reality shows thank God and remark that He has answered their prayers – as if winning American Idol is something God would take a personal interest in (let alone select one believer over another – or is it all about how hard you pray?).
The USA is a schizophrenic place. It was colonized by a range of religious refugees. In Salem they burnt witches. Joseph Smith claimed to be visited by angels and to be given a golden tablet – thus founding the Mormon religion. In the Appalachian mountains a small sect handles serpents, and despite several being bitten and some dying, continue to argue that their faith protects them. In other parts of the country the Amish reject modernity and travel by horse and buggy. Yet the nation was founded by men who embraced the ideals of the European Enlightenment, a movement that rejected the types of stupidities that spawned a hundred religious cults.
But rather than defeat religious quackery in the US and establish a solid secular, Enlightenment culture, American culture created a strange, hybrid creature. A creature that mythologized democracy.
This was brought home to me as I was contemplating writing this. I was up early one morning and turned on the TV. To fill the space at that hour one of our commercial channels broadcasts the televangelist Benny Hinn. This particular morning he was interviewing Pat Robertson. Pat Robertson is connected to the Bush family and is one of the leading figures in the fundamentalist political movement. His father was Senator Willis Robertson who was a friend and mentor to Prescott Bush, Dubbya's grandfather. This particular morning Robertson and Hinn were waxing lyrical about how God had given America a sacred purpose – and then Hinn dropped the real bombshell. Hinn is an immigrant and he began to talk about how impressed he was with the Constitution. Then he said rather emotionally, that when he reads the constitution he sees the hand of Jesus. Again we need to pause and reflect on that statement. The Constitution was not the work of the Enlightenment and secular values, it was really the work of Jesus.
This is what is happening in the US today. It's culture and history is being reinterpreted through mythic eyes. A personal God answers contestants prayers and ensures they win everything from boxing matches, lottery prizes and reality television games – and he directs the US in His quest to bring 'freedom' to the rest of the world.
The problem is that this is all mythic thinking. The problem is that the world's hyper power has a significant percentage of its population still at the mythic level – they haven't ever, really engaged the Enlightenment and the rational stage. Dangerously significant numbers of the American population are still pre-rational.
The real culture wars
Certain sections of America have always wrestled with modernity. The only place that seriously challenged Darwin's theory of evolution was America. The Scope's monkey trial is infamous. The problem is that this conflict is still raging. The US is the home of creationism and fundamentalists still continue to argue that it should be given equal standing to evolutionary science.
This still continues to amaze me. Why aren't people falling about laughing? Evolution is a fact. The last nail in the coffin of creationism was genetic mapping. Both the human and chimpanzee genome have now been mapped and the results show that we share about 98% of the same sequencing. Genetic mapping is now revolutionizing taxonomy and we are able to show with greater accuracy the family tree of each species.
But mythic thinking, despite all the evidence to the contrary, persists. And it has always fought modernity. The concern of the fundamentalists has always been what they regard as the corrupting influence of secularism. In the US the religious conservatives quite happily conflate secularism with a range of so-called corrupting influences such as liberalism, communism and minority rights. In the most outrageous rhetoric secularism is seen as Satanic.
All of this would be laughable if it wasn't actually affecting the way Americans perceive themselves and the rest of the world. Unfortunately many rational and post-rational people turn a blind eye to just how powerful and influential pre-rational thought really is.
Throughout his work Ken Wilber has commented on what he calls the culture wars. This is the marked battle between conservative and liberal worldviews, particularly in academic circles. Wilber has chosen in particular to cast a critical eye over the clear excesses of postmodernism and the fads that permeate cultural studies. His has been one of many voices now rightly declaiming the excesses and stupidities.
The excesses of postmodernism are now in retreat and a new conservatism permeates the US.
And while all this was happening the religious conservatives have been growing in strength. The number of fundamentalist colleges and universities in the US have been growing. The advances of a positive liberal and progressive agenda are in fact being wound back.
The real threat to Enlightenment values is in fact not an aberrant post-modernism but a resurgent pre-modernism.
Saudi Arabia, oil and the US
There are a complex set of links between the Saud dynasty, capital derived from oil profits and the Bush family. The links are public knowledge. There are even financial links between the bin Laden dynasty and the Bush dynasty.
This is nothing surprising. The oil industry needs capital to invest in new explorations and the Saud dynasty was awash with spare cash. Why wouldn't Dubbya seek Saudi capital to help float his oil business?
It's one of the ironies of history that a president captured by the 'born-again' narrative is waging a crusade against fundamentalist Islam.
As I have argued before the origins of Islamic fundamentalism lie within the narrative of Arabic culture. The Saud family made an alliance with Mohammed Abd al-Wahhab in 1745. The Arab tribes have always embraced a strictly puritan Islam. When the modern Saudi state was rebuilt in the early 20th Century it was due to the military strength of the combined tribes known as the Ikwhan. But after the Saudi state was established the Ikwhan campaigned against the introduction of modernity, including, of all things, the telegraph – an infidel technology (some Wahhabi clerics taught that the earth was flat up until the late 1990's). The Saud dynasty had to turn against the Ikwhan – but the deep puritanism of the desert tribes never left Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden is simply the latest manifestation of a long standing tendency of Islam that dates as far back as the assassination of Ali at the hands of Kharijite fanatics. The real agenda of radical Islam is to overthrow the decadent Saud dynasty and establish a true Islamic state.
As is well known today the Wahhabi sect have used Saudi wealth to establish a missionary network throughout the Islamic world building mosques in places as far away as Cambodia and funding fundamentalist Islamic schools, madrassas, in every Muslim community. Part of that money has gone to the al Qaida network to fund jihad. When the planes attacked the WTC it was a direct attack on the symbol of the financial system that links Saudi capital with western investment and the oil industry. It was an attack on the Satanic system of capitalism – and here it must be noted that the Koran forbids usury, the charging of interest.
So here we have the US as the source of Christian fundamentalism, funding missionary activity throughout the world, in a strange alliance with Saudi Arabia, the main source of Muslim fundamentalism, similarly funding missionary activity throughout the world.
But if Saudi money is funding the expansion of terrorism why didn't the US invade Saudi Arabia? After all, al Qaida fought alongside the Taliban and if they succeeded in toppling the Saud dynasty then they would establish an even harsher form of Islam than already exists. The reason they would not, and could not, invade Saudi Arabia is simple – oil. During the embargo of the 70's the US learnt a harsh lesson, they were dependent on keeping Saudi oil flowing. Plans were made by Kissinger to invade but fortunately the Saud's were persuaded to stop the blockade. Since that time Saudi capital has become an integral component of the world oil industry.
The US knows that oil is running out. In 1999, when he was chairman of the oil company Halliburton Dick Cheney warned about the looming oil crisis stating that,
“The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil, is still where the prize ultimately lies…Even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow.”
The reason Saddam was a target was because he was perceived as a long term threat to Saudi Arabia and its precious oil fields. During the first Gulf war he was poised to invade Saudi Arabia. If the US conquered Iraq then it would have control of alternative oil fields and to have removed a threat to the Saud dynasty.
The crazy plan of the end times
I don't believe that American foreign policy is based on crazy ideas. It is based on the age old system of national self-interest. America is not alone in this – it's the same game the French, Germans and Russians played in opposing the war. But there is a background of pure craziness to this all – a nagging whisper in the cultural gestalt.
Whilst the followers of Islamic fundamentalism are playing out their violent narrative the followers of American Christian fundamentalism are playing out their own lunatic fantasies. According to the prevalent 'end times' doctrine as interpreted by Tim LaHaye, the Antichrist will rule from a restored Babylon.
We need to pay attention to this nonsense because fundamentalist Christians are supporting conservative Jews in the hope that the Third Temple will be restored. When it is restored the Messiah will come. I have covered this before, but now the Iraq war adds an additional, perverse twist to this modern myth. In the first Gulf war Saddam was able to launch scud missiles into Israel.
Some Americans, those most caught up in the fundamentalist narrative will be supporting the war because they see it as fulfilling prophecy.
Could it be that Dubbya, who was vetted by Tim LaHaye, is influenced by this mythic narrative, at least in the back of his mind?
Isn't it dangerous to have such crazy people so close to the White House?
America in Iraq
I said at the beginning that many people protested against the war simply because they did not trust the US. It would seem that they were right – the US seems to have botched the job.
A good part of the reason is that the US believes it's own myth. It believes that it has a manifest destiny to bring democracy to the world. They have an inflated view of their capabilities and an inflated view of the importance of their version of democracy. One of the myths of this war is that the US believed its troops would be welcomed as liberators, welcomed with flowers. Instead they have been welcomed with road side bombs and a mounting death toll.
I had thought to call my first article on the war 'Poking a Stick in the Hornet's Nest', because I thought that was exactly what the US was doing. And now the hornets are swarming all over the place stinging the US.
There is no doubt that Saddam was evil and nasty. He was truly the epitome of the Terrible Father archetype. But what must replace a Terrible Father is a Good Father. The Good Father would then start the steady transition to democracy and individualism. But the US has simply removed a Terrible Father, disrupted civil society and offered no viable replacement. The Iraqi Governing Council has little credibility – it is full of opportunists who fuelled the misinformation campaign.
Before the US invaded they should have had a popular figure ready to take control. They should also have invested more money and more troops in the rebuilding effort. Instead the rebuilding effort has been slow and tainted by accusations of corruption, involving a subsidiary of the vice-president Cheney's former company, Halliburton.
What has happened is what I feared would happen.
I don't know what will happen in Iraq. Like many I fear a civil war and the rise of fundamentalism. The worse case scenario is a unified Shi'ite state (Iran and southern Iraq) and a collapsed Saudi state falling into the hands of Ikwhan fanatics. This would mean that fundamentalists will control the worlds three largest oil fields.
I hope that moderation finally wins. – and it still has a chance.
After the attacks on the WTC many good Americans asked, why do they hate us? After the revelations about Iraq, the absent WMD, the increase in terrorist activity and the atrocities of Abu Ghraib – that question should now be answered.
Walking in the shadows
The great achievement of the US was the adoption of Enlightenment principles and the creation of a powerful Constitution and Bill of Rights. Along with the French revolution the American revolution inspired the growth of democracy and the spread of Enlightenment ideals.
The shadow side of that achievement was the steady corruption of that same rational ideal at the hands of mythic America. The idea that the US was the promised land invaded US thinking and created the myth of a manifest destiny, a special, God given purpose for the US, and a cultural arrogance. This doctrine has reappeared as the Neocon fantasy that Iraq would embrace the US as liberators and that they will be able to bring democracy to the Middle East. This is increasingly becoming conflated with some truly disturbing and insane religious doctrines.
A year ago I happened to watch a program in which the well known journalist Larry King interviewed the children of the fundamentalist preacher, Billy Graham. King referred to Graham as a great American and not once did he question Graham's fundamentalist doctrine. He should have. In fact he should have avoided having them on his show.
The problem here is that the Enlightenment principle of freedom of religion has been replaced with a simple minded acceptance of plain stupidity. Religious tolerance has come to mean tolerating stupidity. Wilber has correctly drawn a distinction between genuine compassion and idiot compassion. It is time Americans made a distinction between genuine tolerance and idiot tolerance.
It's about time we realized that large sections of the American population are yet to undertake the Enlightenment. This is the major project in the decades ahead.
The world cannot afford a hyper power that is influenced by mythic thinking. It cannot afford to have a president who gives legitimacy to crazy people.
Ray Harris, May, 2004
June 11, 2007
Authentic? Never Mind
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Rich liberals who claim they'll help America's less fortunate are phonies.
Let me give you one example -- a Democrat who said he'd work on behalf of workers and the poor. He even said he'd take on big business. But the truth is that while he was saying those things, he was living in a big house and had a pretty lavish summer home too. His favorite recreation, sailing, was incredibly elitist. And he didn't talk like a regular guy.
Clearly, this politician wasn't authentic. His name? Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Luckily, that's not how the political game was played 70 years ago. F.D.R. wasn't accused of being a phony; he was accused of being a ''traitor to his class.'' But today, it seems, politics is all about seeming authentic. A recent Associated Press analysis of the political scene asked: ''Can you fake authenticity? Probably not, but it might be worth a try.''
What does authenticity mean? Supposedly it means not pretending to be who you aren't. But that definition doesn't seem to fit the way the term is actually used in political reporting.
For example, the case of F.D.R. shows that there's nothing inauthentic, in the normal sense of the word, about calling for higher taxes on the rich while being rich yourself. If anything, it's to your credit if you advocate policies that will hurt your own financial position. But the news media seem to find it deeply disturbing that John Edwards talks about fighting poverty while living in a big house.
On the other hand, consider the case of Fred Thompson. He spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.
But Mr. Thompson's strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he's ''authentic.''
Oh, and as a candidate George W. Bush was praised as being more authentic than Al Gore. As late as November 2005, MSNBC's chief political correspondent declared that Mr. Bush's authenticity was his remaining source of strength. But now The A.P. says that Mr. Bush's lack of credibility is the reason his would-be successors need to seem, yes, authentic.
Talk of authenticity, it seems, lets commentators and journalists put down politicians they don't like or praise politicians they like, with no relationship to what the politicians actually say or do.
Here's a suggestion: Why not evaluate candidates' policy proposals, rather than their authenticity? And if there are reasons to doubt a candidate's sincerity, spell them out.
For example, Hillary Clinton's credibility as a friend of labor is called into question, not by her biography or life style, but by the fact that, as The Nation recently reported, her chief strategist -- a man Al Gore fired in 2000 because he didn't trust him -- heads a public relations company that helps corporations fight union organizing drives.
And where do you start with Rudy Giuliani? We keep being told that he has credibility on national security, because he seemed so reassuring on 9/11. (Some firefighters have condemned his actual performance that day, saying that rescue efforts were uncoordinated and that firemen died because he provided them with faulty radios. ''All he did was give information on the TV,'' said a deputy fire chief whose son died at the World Trade Center. ''He did nothing.'' And the nation's largest firefighters' union has condemned his handling of recovery efforts in the weeks following 9/11.)
But he's spent the years since then cashing in on terrorism, and his decisions about Giuliani Partners' personnel and clients raise real questions about his seriousness. His partners, as The Washington Post pointed out, included ''a former police commissioner later convicted of corruption, a former F.B.I. executive who admitted taking artifacts from ground zero and a former Roman Catholic priest accused of covering up sexual abuse in the church.''
The point is that questions about a candidate shouldn't be whether he or she is ''authentic.'' They should be about motives: whose interests would the candidate serve if elected? And think how much better shape the nation would be in if enough people had asked that question seven years ago.