Destroyer II: America the Dream, Research Time, 26/05/2016

Continued from previous post . . . I mean, if they had thought ahead even half-decently, they wouldn’t have fired everyone from the Iraqi Army in some half-hearted attempt at de-Ba’athization. Or even worse (and barely remarked upon in a lot of the media post-mortems of the disaster), fired everyone from the state-owned industries of Iraq.

I mean, when the first thing you do as the supposedly benevolent occupying power is fire literally tens of thousands of people and tell them that they’re now free to build their own businesses or work for the multinationals who’ll soon set up shop here? I can understand why people would be a little upset.

That dream of democracy and freedom did not end well.
The ideologies of neoliberalism and neoconservatism each found their perfect homes in the Bush Administration. Iraq was to be an experiment for both ideologies. Neocons: American military power would expand the frontiers of democracy by force. Neolibs: Replacing an entirely state-owned economy with a multinational-driven free trade network in mere months would create a utopia of freedom.

The two ideologies ended up sabotaging each other. Maybe the better word is corrupting each other. An American state military inadequate to occupying a Texas-sized country relied on mercenary groups like Blackwater to do its hard work, and they ended up normalizing torture and massacre. The resistance movements of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mehdi Army were the inevitable result.

Mass layoffs from state enterprises created an enormous pool of pissed-off men with no income security. Meanwhile, the military and mercenaries destabilized the country enough that no foreign companies could employ Iraqis on the same scale as Saddam’s totalitarian state once did.

This was a total disaster. The fact that the horrifying violence of the Daesh was born in American prison camps just adds to the country’s misery. Could anyone believe that America was a force for good in the world after all this?

Because that’s what people used to think about America. Even the most intelligent, insightful, and ethical people of a generation held the United States up as a beacon of freedom and liberation. 

Paul Bremer was the head of the Americans' provisional
occupation government in Iraq. Every picture of him that
I found online includes some version of his tired, sad eyes.
It's as if he always knew in his heart that this was a
disaster, whether or not he ever spoke it.
Today, I'm accustomed to thought leaders among the Western left being incredibly critical of the United States government and military. Noam Chomsky is the elder statesman regarding international affairs, joined by black intellectuals like Cornel West. 

Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden are leading critics of American foreign and domestic policy in journalism, and left-leaning publications like The New Republic, Salon, and VICE Media are frequent critics of the US government. Activists from anti-war and anti-racism groups devote themselves to critique and radical reform of American institutions and police practices.

So it’s jarring to an almost schizophrenic degree when I read texts from progressive intellectuals from the 1950s and even the 1960s praising the United States as a beacon for freedom. Hannah Arendt writes this way about America in the 50s, and her mentor Karl Jaspers continued to throughout his life.

While Arendt later criticized American culture for the McCarthy witch hunts and the US government for the Vietnam War, you just don’t see the raw denunciation of America as the spearhead of the new imperialism that’s at the forefront of Chomsky’s political writings or Greenwald’s critical journalism.

She was from a generation who lived through the Second World War and the Holocaust.  She saw the United States stand up to the genuine totalitarian terror state that was Stalin’s Soviet Union. Arendt literally wrote the book on totalitarianism, so she understood the dark and horrible forces that states could unleash. 

The major defence against those dark and horrible forces on the world stage during and after the Second World War was the United States of America. That counts for a lot.

A refugee loves the country that saves her from terror
and certain death. When that country turns its back on
the ideals that saved her, the betrayal hurts the refugees
worst of all.
But America reneged on that promise to be the beacon of freedom. The strain of fighting that battle caused such a paranoia that the state turned on its own citizens. Not with the horrifying intensity or scale of a Stalinist purge, of course. 

But McCarthyism and the government crackdown on the anti-war and black civil rights movements was of a piece with that kind of oppression. And the horror of the Vietnam War, fought in the name of a ridiculous theory of small countries acting like dominoes, ruined what little credibility the United States had left. In addition to all the military coups and authoritarian governments it propped up in the name of bulwarks against Soviet influence.

And this will be how I explore these ideas in Utopias, at least in a broad outline. The neoconservatism that destroyed Iraq and global multilateralism was a self-blinding idealism. America’s elites remained in denial that all of America’s military and authoritarian terror was a bad thing. They remained convinced in the virtuousness of America’s actions in the world. 

The neoconservatives were of the same mind-set as Hannah Arendt, but they were Arendts who let themselves stay blinded to the hypocrisy of their hero, America. . . . To be continued

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