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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

Okay, we all know now that these oh-so-practical plans were part and parcel of a set of fantasies meant for the consumption of the American public, but no less believed in by them for all that. In fact, although just about everyone on the planet then believed, to one degree or another, in American preponderance, no one believed in it more firmly or deeply than the top officials of the Bush administration. And what glorious, theocratic dreams they had based on that belief. Best of all, they could dream on the cheap, so sure were they that their foes would be as dazzled by our preponderance as they were. As Paul Wolfowitz put it, Iraq was a country that "floats on a sea of oil" and we, of course, were going to be floating atop it. We would have, in the phrase of that moment, "permanent access" to Iraq for all time to come. Now, a cool $300-400 billion later with only perhaps another trillion dollars to go...)

As it happened, a bunch of Sunni "bitter-enders" weren't as impressed with us as we were and the rest of the unraveling you know; and now, it seems, nobody's all that impressed. Not the North Koreans. Not certainly, the Iranians, who are, if anything, too radically unimpressed with the preponderance of American power for their own good.

Anyway, you would think, under such circumstances, that someone up there might perhaps ponder a bit. But, by the evidence, no such luck -- despite the revolt of the retired generals (seven or eight of them standing in for a bevy of disgruntled, angry non-retirees). What rethinking there has been seems just so completely retro-imperial, so-Vietnam, that it's hard to even find words to sum it up.

Of course, among the original neocon dreamers, Paul Wolfowitz was pensioned off to the World Bank, Douglas Feith sent home to spend more time with his family, and ally John Bolton dispatched to whack the UN; but those left at the helm (facing backwards and sideways) still seem too dazzled by half by fantasies of American preponderance, by that feeling... you know... that, given who we are and the power we wield... this can't be happening -- that the U.S. will still, in the end, prove part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Let's just drop in, then, on a few of the remaining dreams of the Bush administration, a little list of ongoing fantasies of the Iraqi occupation, all reflecting an unshakeable belief that American power is still the "decider," that it is still our sad "destiny," our weary burden, to shoulder American preponderance and march on into that darkling night.

The Turning Point (or the Last Chance): Iraq has a new prime-minister designate, more or less the twin of the previous one shoved out of power by Sunnis, Kurds, and Ambassador Khalilzad. He now has less than 30 days to form a government inside the fortified Green Zone that will somehow do something for someone in a city (forget the country) crawling with militias and death squads, whose mixed neighborhoods are separating fast, which, as Juan Cole points out, sometimes gets less than an hour of electricity a day, which lacks so many other urban amenities, but experiences, on average, perhaps 50 kidnappings in that same twenty-four hours. A typical small event in lawless Baghdad, as reported in yesterday's New York Times, involved gunmen stopping a minibus in Western Baghdad and slaughtering four college students, at least two of whom may have had "names that suggested they were Shiite."

In this context, the President welcomed back his secretaries of state and defense last week. On his orders, they had just flown to Baghdad in what appeared to be an unseemly rush to stamp "American preponderance" on the forehead of the new Prime-Minister Designate Nuri al-Maliki and so brand him an American "puppet." (I didn't use that word, I swear. A reporter questioning the two secretaries at a Baghdad news conference did.) From the Rose Garden, the President made a statement in which he referred to Maliki's prospective new government (that, for all we know, may never come into being), using a politer p-word -- "partner." He claimed that (gasp!) we had finally reached the "turning point" for which all Americans have been waiting so breathlessly. (In the Vietnam era, of course, this was the infamous "light at the end of the tunnel," the military version of which was the "crossover point.") Not that such a turning point hasn't already been announced a million times by just about every American civil and military official in sight, but his exact words were: "This new government is going to represent a new start for the Iraqi people… we believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it's a new chapter in our partnership." A new chapter? Maybe the President was reading Stephen King's Carrie for the first time over the weekend. Who knows? Can anyone but him believe this any more?

Not, evidently, his secretary of state, who is reputedly slightly more reality-based than the Man Upstairs. Her people seem to have chosen another image, according to a New York Times report on her trip to Baghdad: "At least in Ms. Rice's entourage, there was an atmosphere that the joint visit might offer a last chance to reverse some of the mistakes of the past three years in providing security for Iraq, getting the oil and power systems back and curbing sectarian hatreds and corruption."

A last chance. The President aside, the images used by this administration have, like its polling figures, been on a distinct downward slide for some time. Only months ago, its officials reached the Iraqi "precipice" and finally looked down into "the abyss" of civil war, before everyone (supposedly) took "a step back." Evidently, one step back from the precipice offers you that "last chance." For what you might ask? The answer's obvious: For American preponderance to finally get it right.

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