The Strangeness of Our Moment

Can the U.S. really hope to put the Iraqi genie back in its bottle?

| Fri Jun. 4, 2004 12:00 AM PDT

Right now, the suddenly fractious Bush administration is trapped inside Baghdad's Green Zone with its fractious team of unpopular Iraqi politicians (referred to in our media as "Iraqi leaders"), who are the Iraqi face of America. There, in the isolated and embattled heart of the capital, a strange series of events, mirroring other half-seen events in Washington, is underway. A "transitional administration" has been set up to give the country a "new start" and, unsurprisingly, it's dominated by familiar faces, many of the same people who were in the just "dissolved" Iraqi Governing Council. Plus ça change.

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In a part of Baghdad which is essentially no longer in Iraq, the stock of certain "leaders" rises -- Iyad Allawi, a "protégé" of the CIA and State Department as well as the new prime minister of the country -- while that of others -- Ahmed Chalabi, a "protégé" of the Pentagon neocons and Vice President Dick Cheney's office -- falls, reflecting similar struggles in Washington. Inside the Green Zone, America's Iraq struggles on, engaged in the equivalent perhaps of a deadly bedroom drama, while just beyond the bounds of our heavily fortified version of Iraq a vast tragedy of policy and life continues to unravel.

The State Department and the CIA finally seem to be wresting control of major parts of Iraq policy and Iraqi reconstruction funds from the Pentagon -- at least a year too late -- but whoever may now be in control inside the Green Zone, events are not. Not even faintly. We're talking here about putting the genie back in the bottle, the famed toothpaste back in the tube. What a strange moment. The Bush administration needs that toothpaste returned, however messily, to that tube for just a few months of relative calm, but it's now a near impossible feat.

If Allawi and his colleagues are the Iraqi face of America, then, strangely enough, the President's falling opinion polls, the layers of burgeoning inside-the-Beltway investigations and burgeoning cover-ups, the endless leaks, the administration infighting, the lack of "discipline" at the highest levels -- these are the American face of Iraq in Washington. As could have been predicted long ago, the President and his administration, increasingly desperate, are being driven by a distant, ragtag insurgency toward potential disaster at the polls in November. The desperation is such that his advisors are praying the ongoing remembrances of "the Good War," six decades past, might now somehow rescue the President from the bad one at hand. His speech at Arlington like the upcoming ceremonies at Normandy might, it is hoped by those close to him, "launch a turnaround in his battered public image." Saving Private Bush?

Two additional pieces published at TomDispatch.com -- one assessing the role of American women at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in our offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, the other assessing the state of the President's mind amid the present turmoil -- began as responses from two journalists I know to matters brought up in dispatches sent out from this site. Both soon became pieces in their right. Both address the strangeness of our moment quite directly and consider some of the questions that might be asked of it.

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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