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This Is Our Destiny

On bombing Iran and other fantasies of American power.

| Fri May 5, 2006 3:00 AM EDT

"We must perhaps reluctantly accept that we have to help this region become a normal region, the way we helped Europe and Asia in another era. Now it's this area from Pakistan to Morocco that we should focus on… The world has gotten smaller and is getting smaller and smaller all the time... Isolationism, fortress America isn't going to deal with these problems of the kind that we're facing. Willy-nilly, this is our destiny, given our preponderance in the world, our role in the world and because of our successes."
Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq in an April 24th interview with Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times

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"In short, an attack on Iran would be an act of political folly, setting in motion a progressive upheaval in world affairs. With the U.S. increasingly the object of widespread hostility, the era of American preponderance could even come to a premature end."
Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Been There, Done That," op-ed, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2006.


Hmmm… American preponderance. We know that this preponderance dazzled the men who became known as neoconservatives (though only the "neo" part of it seems even faintly accurate as a label) -- and Zalmay Khalilzad, our ambassador to and putative viceroy in Baghdad, was one of them. They wanted to wield that "preponderance" of power preponderantly. They wanted to lower America's terrible, swift sword decisively.

Now, preponderance ("superiority in weight, force, influence, numbers, etc.") is a strange word when you think about it, seeming to have both "ponder" and "ponderous" hidden somewhere within. As it happened, while the neocons proposed much from inside Washington's Beltway, from various right-wing think-tanks and later from the inner offices of the Bush administration, while oil-consultant Khalilzad was still trying to sort out energy pipeline deals with the Taliban, and while various Iraqi exile Scheherezades were whispering sweet nothings in their ears about flowers, and liberated populaces, and the glory that was Rome -- oh, sorry, those were pundits on the editorial pages of our major newspapers -- they surely pondered too little.

They had been so certain of themselves for so long that they, along with administration mentors Don Rumsfeld and the Veep, had no need to think too deeply. After all, why ponder when you already know? Anyway, when it came to knocking off Iraq, if somebody didn't agree with you -- as was true of almost every expert in the State Department and most elsewhere in the government, as well as numerous generals, not to speak of Father Bush's men like family consigliere James Baker and daddy's former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft -- well, you just kicked them out of your gatherings, or left them out in the cold, to preserve the unanimity of consensus thinking. This lent the old adage, "ignorance is bliss," new meaning in the halls of superpower governance.

And then, to make bad worse, all that preponderant American power they were going to shock and awe the world with -- and that would indeed prove devastatingly destructive -- turned out to be so much more ponderous, so much less effective, than any of them ever imagined from their offices in Washington.

In a sense, they're undoubtedly still in shock, still largely acting as if the ship of state weren't listing, as if the only thing needed was the odd course tweak or two -- the most recent formula for this being: skip some of that "democracy" malarkey and head for a little more good old autocratic/dictatorial geopolitics, and while you're at it, send the second team, a (James) Baker's dozen (in fact, a party of ten) stocked with Clinton/Bush Senior "wise men" (and a woman) off to Baghdad for a little stir of the salad dressing, an extra twist or two of salt and pepper, as that ship drifts among the rocks.

Of course, somewhere in their souls, they must have known something, mustn't they? After all on January 29, 2002, our President announced to Congress and the nation that we faced an "axis of evil" -- three countries instantly elevated into the pantheon of righteous historical analogy just beside that other "axis" -- you know, Tojo, Benito, Adolph and their lovely war of choice, World War II.

Talk about power and preponderance, then and now. When administration officials peered out from the capital of the globe's only "hyperpower" at desperate, starveling, grim-faced North Korea with its possible nuclear weapon or two, riven, fundamentalist Iran with all that oil but a per-capita income level of something like $2,000 a year, and, of course, war-ravaged, sanctions-weakened, pitiful Iraq, held together by engineering ingenuity, mad dictatorial power, and baling wire, how could they not have been dazzled by the preponderance of possibility that seemed to lie before them?

Still -- and it's a big still -- when they struck, they chose by far the weakest of the three evil lands, the one least likely to be able to whack back. They decided to send the cavalry against Saddam's by-then hopelessly fifth-rate military. They were going to stomp his forces, take him down, locate themselves in the non-Saudi part of the Middle East, and then turn around and intimidate the rest of the "axis" (as well as Syria, and anyone else in sight). It would be, in neocon Kenneth Adelman's famous prewar word, a "cakewalk."

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