New Word Order

The Bush administration assumes it can insist on and define the reality it wants.


By Tom Engelhardt

Quotes of the Week:

One senior American officer said that in any urban fight, American troops could turn Falluja into ‘a killing field in a couple of days…’ One senior American officer said, ‘How Falluja is resolved has huge reverberations, not just in Iraq but throughout the entire area.’ Or, as another senior officer put it, ‘We have the potential to turn this into the Alamo if we get it wrong.’” (Eric Schmitt, U.S. General at Falluja Warns a Full Attack Could Come Soon, the New York Times)

A security contractor killed in Iraq last week was once one of South Africa’s most secret covert agents, his identity guarded so closely that even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not discover the extent of his involvement in apartheid’s silent wars… In South Africa he joined the SA Defence Force’s secret Project Barnacle, a precursor to the notorious Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) death squad… In 1985 he was involved in planning the now notorious SADF raid on Gaborone in which 14 people, including a five-year-old child, were killed.” (Julian Rademeyer, Iraq victim was top-secret apartheid killer, the Sunday Times [of South Africa])

A former British soldier shot while guarding workers in Iraq predicted being ‘over-run’ in an e-mail the night before his death in the town of Hit… Mr Bloss, who is believed to have served with the parachute regiment in Northern Ireland, was working for a Virginia-based security firm, Custer Battles.” (Iraq Briton’s final tragic e-mail, BBC News)

In the first months of the occupation, [said Bessam Jarrah, an Iraqi surgeon,] we, the educated people, thought America would show us a humanitarian way, a political way, to solve problems… But this use of force means the efforts to find a political solution for Iraq has failed, and now America is using Saddam’s approach to problems: brute force. America won the war on April 9 last year; they lost the war on April 9 this year. That is what Iraqis feel.” (Alissa J. Rubin, Carnage Dims Hopes for Political Way in Iraq, the Los Angeles Times)

A new word order

Imagine that: The Iraqis of Fallujah in “the Alamo” and a British “security contractor,” with previous experience in Northern Ireland, working for the oddly named Custer Battles, a Virginia “security firm,” and dying in the Iraqi town of Hit. Custer Battles, by the way, also ” has the airport security contract in Baghdad. Airport security in this context does not mean bored attendees standing by an X-ray machine, but rather former Green Berets and Ghurka fighters defending the airport from mortars, rockets and snipers.”

So we now have potential Iraqi Davy Crocketts and Jim Bowies facing off against the modern equivalent of “the Seventh Cavalry,” filled with Gurkhas, Chileans of the Pinochet regime, South African former death squad members, former British special forces officers, American ex-Seals and the like amid what Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times calls a “culture of impunity” in Iraq. Though she’s referring to the world of Iraqi kidnappers and assassins, the word “impunity,” which means “exemption from punishment, penalty, or harm,” and has an old-fashioned imperial edge to it, also catches something of the Bush administration stance toward Iraq and the greater world.

The men of Custer Battles guard Baghdad’s airport, while the men of Blackwater USA — if still waters run deep, how do blackwaters run, and where do they get these names? — four of whom were killed and mutilated in Fallujah, provide the fulltime security team of ten guarding our “administrator” in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and various members of the Iraqi Governing Council. They are part of a new word and world order taking disheveled shape in what may indeed become the “killing fields” of Iraq, an order that we have no reasonable language whatsoever to describe.

In Imperial China, a new dynastic emperor ascending the throne performed a ceremony involving what was called “the rectification of names.” This was on the theory that the previous dynasty had fallen, in part, because the gap between reality and the way it was named had grown to abyss-like proportions. Of course, this yawning gap between the world out there and the words used to describe it has been an essential aspect of Bush-induced American reality since September 11, 2001. It has been at the heart of the American bubble (like the moving “bubble” within which our President travels the world, emptying the centers of whole cities as he passes by in the process of creating some kind of Potemkin planet).

We can see the results of this in an unnerving survey just conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland (www.pipa.org/) and discussed this week by Jim Lobe of Inter Press News (Bush’s believe it or not). Not only, he reports, does “a majority of the public still believe Iraq was closely tied to the al-Qaeda terrorist group and had WMD stocks or programs before US troops invaded the country 13 months ago,” but a significant majority believe that Saddam’s Iraq was in some way involved in the 9/11 attacks and believe that “experts” back them on all these points. They believe as well that global opinion favored our going to war with Iraq or at least was “evenly balanced” on the subject — and most of these figures vary at best only slightly from prewar polling figures (even as dissatisfaction over presidential “handling” of post-war Iraq policy has risen dramatically). Holding such misperceptions is, in turn, closely correlated with the urge to reelect George Bush in November.

Explain this as you will — and certainly a ceaseless drumbeat of administration “explanations,” magnified (until just about yesterday) in the echo chamber of the media, has to account for much of this — the disjuncture between the world and how Americans insist on seeing it remains wide indeed and a willingness to acknowledge this in the mainstream — certainly among mainstream politicians — low indeed. For instance, all of official Washington, as Tony Karon of Time magazine recently wrote, speaks as one about “staying the course” in Iraq, and though that “course” is, at best, an obstacle course, woe be to anyone who breaks ranks. (“Washington may be deeply divided over how the Bush administration took America into Iraq, but there is a remarkable unanimity in support of the President’s resolve to finish the job.”)

This is what passes for “security” thinking in America just as companies like Custer Battles, Dyncorp, and Blackwater USA pass for “security firms.” Such thinking — and the language that goes with it — is part and parcel of the creation of what should perhaps be called a National Insecurity State itself teetering atop an Insecurity Planet.

Bush administration officials have assumed that the globe’s only superpower can simply insist on and define the reality it wants; and no one, whatever the objections, will have the brute power to redefine it. The world, however, is — as they are discovering in Iraq — a far more complex and recalcitrant place than they’ve cared to imagine.

With that in mind, let’s consider a few of the key terms that both in government pronouncements and in media coverage of Iraq add up to the bubble language that stands between Americans and a reasonable perception of the world out there:

“Security firms”: It’s in the nature of human beings, when they take marginal activities and bring them into the mainstream to want to professionalize them and so upgrade their status. Once upon a time, there were scattered “soldiers of fortune” and “mercenaries” in our world, former soldiers or wannabe soldiers who, as in Southern Africa in the 1980s, sold themselves to any bidder and shouldered arms for various, largely right-wing regimes. Now, this seat-of-the-pants mercenary business has become a $100 billion dollar global operation (with the U.S. government as its largest employer) and you can search our press far and wide rarely coming across the terms “mercenary,” “soldier of fortune,” “hired guns,” “rent-a-cops,” or anything else that might bring us closer to the tawdry reality of what these so-called security companies are actually selling. The employees of these firms are in turn usually called “contractors” in our press — which sounds like such an up-and-up, modest, business-like thing to be — even when they’re heavily armed and out in the field fighting Iraqis. Of course, the basic “gap” here lies in the very word “security.” You simply can’t have a more “secure” world in which such firms can freely make multimillions of dollars by hiring out to the highest — and most powerful — bidders.

In Iraq, this new “security” business has already reached monumental proportions. Looking at the military situation there logically, as Paul Rogers, the sober geopolitical analyst for the openDemocracy website, recently did (A strategy disintegrates), you can see why. Though we now have perhaps 135,000 American troops in Iraq, “what has to be remembered is that a large proportion of [them]… are reservists working on a wide range of projects. The core group of perhaps 80,000 combat troops is far too small to secure Iraq even if it were aided by effective Iraqi forces, and these are simply not there.”

As it stands, reports Brendan O’Neill at the Alternet website (Outsourcing the Occupation), American troop strength is so low that most Iraqis — 77% by one poll — have never had an encounter with a member of the occupation forces. (This reflects as well the strain of the Pentagon’s being committed to an ever greater global imperial mission with ever smaller military forces — since so much of the Pentagon’s budget actually goes into the creation of a vast array of 21st and 22nd century high-tech weapons and into the “pockets” of the megacorporations that create them.) As a result, in places like Najaf, it’s been the “contractors,” often brutal forces under no legal constraints or oversight in a land of which they know nothing, who have been left in small numbers to man the battlements.

The men of Blackwater and Custer Battles now find themselves at war and, as O’Neill reports, often can’t even call on the U.S. military for backup when attacked. As a result, the various, otherwise competitive private outfits in Iraq are beginning to band together — with their own helicopter support teams and their own intelligence — to defend themselves more effectively. The Bush administration has for months now been hyping the infiltration of dangerous and unscrupulous “foreign fighters” into Iraq. As it happens they’ve been right. According to Brookings Institute expert Peter W. Singer, “We’re talking somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 private personnel, and that is expected to rise to 30,000 when the coalition hands over power to Iraqis on 30 June.” These men, living in their own Wild West, are, for some Iraqis, “the most hated and humiliating aspect” of an occupation which probably couldn’t continue without them.

As the different “security contractors” mesh more closely with each other, they are, in a sense, becoming the real “coalition” in Iraq — in conjunction of course with the American military. Here is how David Barstow described the situation in a recent front-page piece in the New York Times (Security Companies: Shadow Soldiers in Iraq):

“They have come from all corners of the world. Former Navy Seal commandos from North Carolina. Gurkas from Nepal. Soldiers from South Africa’s old apartheid government. They have come by the thousands, drawn to the dozens of private security companies that have set up shop in Baghdad. The most prized were plucked from the world’s elite special forces units. Others may have been recruited from the local SWAT team.

“But they are there, racing about Iraq in armored cars, many outfitted with the latest in high-end combat weapons. Some security companies have formed their own ‘Quick Reaction Forces,’ and their own intelligence units that produce daily intelligence briefs with grid maps of ‘hot zones.’ One company has its own helicopters, and several have even forged diplomatic alliances with local clans… With every week of insurgency in a war zone with no front, these companies are becoming more deeply enmeshed in combat, in some cases all but obliterating distinctions between professional troops and private commandos.”

In this, Iraq is leading the way into a new world of war-fighting that places not security by pell-mell “insecurity” and — since such mercenaries are, in the end, answerable to no one — complete impunity at the heart of the Bush administration’s new global order.

“Coalition”: It’s in this context that the continued use of the term “coalition” should obviously be reconsidered. The term has been an endlessly used — and rarely challenged — cover for Bush administration go-it-alone-ism. From the beginning, of course, the formation of the “coalition” — against the desires of popular majorities in almost every one of the joining states — involved major arm-twisting and/or large-scale bribery of a sort that has been as striking as it’s been under-reported. Most members of the coalition, ranging from Poland to El Salvador, seem to have received some financial support from us for their “contributions” and were generally using their troops as pawns in bargaining for advantageous terms from the U.S. in other areas entirely; or were currying favor with the Bush administration in hopes of other kinds of help (as the South Korean government was in order to ameliorate the American negotiating stance toward North Korea); or were hoping to get cut in on lucrative “reconstruction” deals (almost all of which went to American firms anyway); or, in the case of Japan, was using Iraq to break the “peace constitution” that came out of the post-World War II American occupation of that country.

Almost all of these countries sent minimal numbers of troops, often of a relatively peaceful type (say, engineering forces), and in many cases only to engage in peacekeeping work, not to fight a war. Now, these countries are starting to fall away. This week Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic announced that they would withdraw their troops; the South Koreans hesitated over their promise to send another 3,500 troops, while Polish officialdom faltered slightly in its commitment; the Thais, who are reconsidering their commitment, asked for U.S. troops to “protect” their 400 troops in Karbala; and so on. Only Britain indicated that it might send more troops, while the European Union’s top diplomat, Javier Solano, ruled out any NATO role there in the near future. This is obviously part of a process of delamination which could sooner or later reduce the “coalition” largely to the Americans, the mercenaries, and the Brits (in that order) — which is generally the truth of the matter anyway. What should the term for the “coalition” be then?

“Sovereignty”: The Bush administration has been touting the July 1 “hand-over” of “sovereignty” to some as-yet-unknown Iraqi administrative body for many months. “Sovereignty” is usually defined as “complete independence and self-government” or “supremacy of authority or rule as exercised by a sovereign or sovereign state.” It’s a term that high administration officials from the President on down seem to bring up almost daily in public briefings of every sort in Washington and Baghdad. It’s often referred to as putting an “Iraqi face” (read: mask) on occupied Iraq.

Friday, the lead paragraph of a front-page New York Times piece by Steven R. Weisman with the modest title, White House Says Iraq Sovereignty Could Be Limited, was:

“The Bush administration’s plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday.”

In fact, the Iraqi army, such as it is, will not be under Iraqi command; an American military army of occupation will remain, ensconced in permanent bases; the privatized economy will be beyond the reach of the new “supreme” body; and L. Paul Bremer has nailed in place a whole untouchable infrastructure that the new body will be able to do nothing about — so just remind me under these circumstances, what exactly does “sovereignty” mean and why does our media continue to use the term?

Several weeks ago, Jonathan Schell, on a panel at a conference on covering the Iraq war at the Journalism School of the University of California at Berkeley, suggested that not only do the Americans have no intention of turning actual sovereignty over to the Iraqis but that, in fact, they do not possess sovereignty in Iraq and so, in a sense, have nothing not to turn over. How true that is likely to prove.

“Democracy”: We entered Iraq to bring “democracy” to an oppressed and tyrannized people — so this administration said over and over again (particularly as other explanations for our invasion slowly peeled away). But, as with sovereignty above, our administrators and the men they report back to in Washington have had a very specific definition of “democracy,” one you’re not likely to find in any dictionary — and it’s had nothing whatsoever to do with “elections” or “the will of the people.” It’s had to do with maneuvering to get Iraqis of our choice, mainly exiles, preferably led by Ahmed Chalabi into whatever passed for control in Iraq.

In recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq, historian Juan Cole offered the following as part of his testimony on U.S. Mistakes in Iraq:

“One strategy that might have forestalled a lot of opposition would have been to hold early municipal elections. Such free and fair elections were actually scheduled in cities like Najaf by local US military authorities in spring of 2003, but Paul Bremer stepped in to cancel them. A raft of newly elected mayors who subsequently gained experience in domestic politics might have thrown up new leaders in Iraq who could then move to the national stage. This development appears to have been deliberately forestalled by Mr. Bremer, in favor of a kind of cronyism that aimed at putting a preselected group of politicians in power. In Najaf, the US appointed a Sunni Baathist officer as mayor over this devotedly Shiite city. He had turned on Saddam only at the last moment. Since Sunni Baathists had massacred the people of Najaf, he was extremely unpopular. He took the children of Najaf notables hostage for ransom and engaged in other corrupt practices. Eventually even the US authorities had to remove him from power and try him. But the first impression the US made on the holy city of Najaf, and therefore on the high Shiite clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was very bad.”

The same might be said more generally of nationwide elections. Month after month, the Americans resisted Ayatollah Sistani’s insistence that national elections be organized quickly, well before the November American presidential election. They resisted for so long, in fact, that their argument — it was impracticable — finally came true. Now under ludicrously worse conditions, they will turn over only, it seems, the supposed power to organize national elections within seven months to whatever new body is decided upon — a body guaranteed to be seen by many or most Iraqis as without legitimacy. In the meantime, the Americans will remain an occupying force, at least theoretically in control of more or less everything. What do we call this?

Iraq today

“Insecurity”: The essence of Iraq today might be summed up in the word “insecurity.” The continued employment of brute force by the Americans — the decision as in Fallujah to, in the words of a British officer in Basra, use “a sledgehammer to crack a walnut” — has evidently turned even the merchants on the commercial Boulevard of Outer Karada in middle-class Baghdad, who should be America’s staunchest allies, against us. Edward Wong of the New York Times writes that these merchants tend to feel that “the fighting in Falluja had proven the occupiers to be barbarians” (Battle for Falluja Rouses the Anger of Iraqis Weary of the U.S. Occupation):

“‘Frankly, we started to hate the Americans for that,’ Towfeek Hussein, 36, an electronics salesman, said of the siege of Falluja as he sat behind a desk in his shop. ‘The Americans will hit any family. They just don’t care. Children used to wave to the American soldiers when their patrols passed by here. Two days ago, the children turned their faces away.’

“More than anything else, Falluja has become a galvanizing battle, a symbol around which many Iraqis rally their anticolonial sentiments. Some say the fighting there exposes the lie of American justice by showing that the world’s sole superpower is ready to avenge the killings and mutilation of four American security contractors by sending marines to shell and invade a city of 300,000 people… The gap between the expectations of many Iraqis and the flagging abilities of the occupiers to improve conditions seems to have widened to a chasm.”

At the Mother Jones on-line website, Nir Rosen writes of life in Baghdad this way in a piece that describes the assassination of a Iraqi police colonel in broad daylight on a major thoroughfare (Everyday Chaos):

“And the attacks are everywhere in Baghdad. The violence is relentless. You will never hear about most of it, because the American reporters here don’t hear about most of it. Baghdad is a huge sprawling city with a barely functional communications infrastructure, and it’s impossible for the journalists or the occupying army to know what is happening everywhere. We only hear the distant thunder of the explosions.

“All day and all night, Baghdad shakes with explosions; explosions from bombs, from rocket-propelled grenades, from artillery, from guns. But it’s usually impossible to figure out just where the firing is taking place, even if you’re foolish enough to search for the fighting after dark, when gangs and feral dogs own the streets. There are systematic assassinations of policemen, translators, local officials, and anybody associated with the American occupiers. In the Sunni neighborhood of Aadhamiya, the Americans come under attack on a nightly basis, and the streets erupt in cheers and whistles at the sounds of the first explosions. Most of the time, the Americans stay behind their concrete walls and big guns. But the Iraqi police have only handguns and a few AK-47’s to use against a foe armed with car bombs and heavy weaponry. So the new Iraqi police are hunted at all times in all places, and they are losing every day. The pace of the violence has become so constant, it’s almost normal, almost mundane.”

This is not quite the Iraq we usually read much about.

In the meantime, just to offer a list of recent events in that unraveling country in no particular order: Major highways into and out of Baghdad have been shut down due to constant guerrilla attacks, with the dangers of shortages rising; 1,500 foreign engineers have reportedly fled the country so far; reporters largely don’t dare to leave Baghdad, and often not even their hotels for fear of kidnapping or death; the BBC is reducing its staff in the country to barebones; the police and civil defense forces as well as the new army largely refused to fight in recent weeks and, according to American Major General Martin Dempsey, about 10% of them simply went over to rebels; some reconstruction projects have halted entirely and large contractors are beginning to either shut down, suspend work in the country, or withdraw workers — GE and Siemens did so the other day, slowing work in particular on the countries power/electricity output as another hot summer with limited lights and air-conditioning looms; some of Saddam’s former generals are being dusted off, as de-Baathification is chucked out the window, and put in charge of the “new” Iraqi army, while in Kut, the police chief and his deputy have been replaced with two of Saddam’s former Republican Guards; kidnappings of foreigners continue apace as do targeted assassinations of translators, policemen, anyone working with the Americans; shootings of people who look “non-Arab, whether Western, Asian, or African are becoming routine”; at a desert camp in southern Iraq, American troops sleep in their trucks and Humvees because Iraqi merchants are afraid to deliver tents to them, while goods pile up at Baghdad Airport because Iraqi truckers refuse to drive the main highway to the capital or drive supplies to U.S. bases; suicide bombers hit Basra devastatingly last week as, on Saturday, suicide boats went after oil facilities in Basra harbor, and that seems to be but a beginning to such a list.

Finally, I recommend a piece first spotted by the editors of Antiwar.com from Army News Service about a squad of puzzled soldiers bringing “democracy” to Iraq by tearing down posters of the radical Shiite cleric al-Sadr in the shops of a Baghdad neighborhood and causing a near riot. It ends on the following paragraph — a quote from the captain who ordered the posters torn down — worthy, I suspect, of The Onion, rather than the Army News Service:

“I think it was important [to remove the posters] because al-Sadr currently stands for all things that are anti-coalition… It’s important to show that we can deal with the propaganda in a non-threatening way, rather than coming in hard and forcefully.”

“Escalation”: Here’s an old Vietnam-era term that might prove modestly useful in the new Iraq.

Troops: Our military forces in Iraq are now at 135,000 and General Abizaid, Centcom commander, is considering asking for more. The British are also evidently planning to send in another 1,700 troops and possibly expand their area of operations, and private “security firms” may add up to 10,000 more well-paid mercenaries, bringing their numbers to 30,000. In the meantime, the President is evidently on the verge of deciding to order the Marines to take Fallujah, no matter whether it becomes an Iraqi “Alamo” or not. This is unsurprising. For the men (and woman) of this administration, brute force and the threat of force is the only option they really know. It is, in fact, option A, B, and C. They really have nothing else in their arsenal and frustration has set in.

Funds: It’s no shock to discover, given the last weeks in Iraq, that funds are running short. The Bush administration has been reluctant — for obvious reasons — to ask Congress to appropriate more money before the November election. (Why tell the American people what the ever-growing price tag is on “their” occupation?) Still just this week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers told Congress that the military part of the occupation, already costing $4.7 billion a month, was about to experience a $4 billion “shortfall” by late this summer. This would include the $700 million dollars needed to keep those 20,000 extra troops in Iraq for three more months and the higher fuel costs the military is paying due, in part, to OPEC/Saudi oil production cuts.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the general’s figure doesn’t seem to cover the half of it. The Army alone has “identified” $6 billion “in funding needs that were not addressed in the defense budget” including funds for repairing worn and destroyed equipment in Iraq, adding heavy armor to vehicles, buying combat helmets, boots, underwear, and so on.

The Marines, Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post reports, have their own list of unmet needs including $40 million for body army, lightweight helmets and other equipment. His piece includes the following curious passage:

“Scrambling to fill its needs, the Pentagon last week diverted 120 armored Humvees purchased by the Israel Defense Forces to Iraq. Yesterday, the Army announced a $110 million contract for still more armored Humvees.”

How the $4 billion “shortfall” and the $6 billion-plus-plus in unmet needs mesh — is the $4 billion included in the $6 billion figure? — I have no idea. But I think you can count on the fact that from here on, funds for the occupation are only going to escalate.

Detainees: And, oh yes, in the escalatory realm, Aaron Glantz of Inter Press Service reports far higher figures for Iraqi detainees than I’ve previously seen. He writes: “The U.S. military is currently holding more than 20,000 Iraqis behind bars — most of them taken during house to house searches by the U.S. military.” Maybe we could just imprison the whole population and be done with it.

“Reconstruction”: There has been endless talk about “reconstructing” Iraq. It’s what we’re there for, aren’t we? But what exactly is this “reconstruction.” Here’s one thing we now know: perhaps 20-25% of all reconstruction monies going into corporate hands are being spent on “security” — think “insecurity” — in Iraq.

Now, we have another figure to go with that. According to Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor in a piece entitled, Operation kickback?:

“Iraq’s private companies routinely pay bribes to get reconstruction contracts – often to Iraqi officials but sometimes to employees of US contractors. That’s one of the allegations that has been made by a special investigation undertaken by public radio’s Marketplace and the Center for Investigative Reporting, and funded by The Economist magazine. The result, according to experts monitoring the situation, is almost 20 percent of the billions of American taxpayers dollars being spent to rebuild Iraq is being lost to corruption.”

He adds that “every Iraqi ministry is touched by corruption, the report alleges” and that “the problem is as deeply embedded in Washington as it is in Baghdad… in the past three months, US investigators have disputed more than $1 billion worth of contract fees because of ‘inflated charges, incompetence, lack of documentation to support invoices and kickbacks related to subcontract awards.'”

Now, add to the moneys being poured into security and being siphoned off by corruption, the unknown percentage of reconstruction funds that are simply and legally pocketed by large corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton as profits for their work and you have to wonder exactly how much of these Iraqi-bound, congressionally-mandated funds actually make it anywhere near any reasonable group of Iraqis. I mean, we may be talking about one of the great scams of history here, the sort of thing that could make Teapot Dome seem like a sprinkle on a spring day and, given all this, should we still really be talking about “reconstructing” Iraq?

And then we need some term to cover whatever the downward spiraling process is that we’re watching (and the Iraqis are experiencing). We could, of course, just turn the term “reconstruction” upside down and talk about the “deconstruction” of Iraq, intended or otherwise, but perhaps the term “devolution” would better fit the larger situation — and our world itself.

The question that lies under all this language, somewhere beneath the gap between our description of reality and what’s going on out there, beneath the new word and world order, somewhere deep in that dark abyss, is whether, as Paul Rogers of openDemocracy puts the matter, the U.S. situation in Iraq is “actually becoming unsustainable.” Put another way, whatever the immediate profits and advantages, even to the Bush administration, is such a world unsustainable?

What, I wonder, will this administration do, to take but a simple example, if fighting boils up again in the land that time forgot — Afghanistan — now seemingly covered with opium poppies, in a state of remarkable disarray, still filled with warlords, and with a resurgent Taliban? Just the other day a story from that land broke through to Americans because an American soldier killed in an ambush there happened to be a former National Football League player who had walked away from multimillions to become a member of the Army Rangers.

We know that George Bush imagines himself striding into town as The Law in a western; but, wedded to the gun as he is, the ranks of his supporters filling with mercenaries as they are, what he seems to be intent on creating is a spaghetti-western world — and, given his corporate cronies, A Fistful of Dollars wouldn’t be a bad title for his “film,” which unfortunately also happens to be our world.

Additional dispatches from Tom Engelhardt can be read throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a web log of The Nation Institute.

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