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September 22, 2002

Ideological Empire

This is much worse than it appears. As Atrios put it: "Be very afraid."

What is it? It's the document released by the Bush administration that supposedly outlines U.S. military and political "strategy," but I'm still silly enough to hope that this just what Bush would like it to be, that there's a way to stop this from being implemented, that there's a way to stop a madman (or an administration of mad people) from destroying the world as we know it. Does that sound like hyperbole? Perhaps it is. I hope it is. But seriously: This new strategy paper is not just another development in current events; this is a blatant attempt to ignore, erase and otherwise undo the last five decades of history and international diplomacy.

Given the magnitude of this policy reversal, I have to wonder: What's it going to take before people stop talking in measured and reasonable language about the utter insanity coming from Washington about "terra" and "WMD" and Iraq and "preemptive defensive strikes" on other nations and innocent people? Why is anyone cutting the Bush Administration any slack on this? I just don't get it.

Example: Yesterday Professor Jeff Cooper linked to some comments from Josh Marshall in which Marshall discusses the lies that make up the Bush Administration's attempt to gain support for an attack on Iraq. But Marshall works very hard to come up with some term other than "lies" to describe these falsehoods, and Cooper takes the same approach. Why?

Marshall comes close to a direct denunciation of all this warmongering when he writes of one of the lies in the "unlimited power to make war" resolution (full text of the resolution is here) Bush has asked Congress to sign:

I assume it is just there as one more throwaway line that has no relation to the truth but sounds good and ups the ante. And the carefree indifference to the truth that that sort of statement betrays is worrisome in the extreme -- even if it's said in the service of a goal you think we should pursue.

And that's exactly it: The Bush Administration is utterly indifferent to "the truth" because it lives in a different world than the rest of us. Its actions since 9-11 have become increasingly ideological in the sense that they are driven by ideology, and nothing more. Marshall has also noted this in a recent Washington Monthly piece, in which he notes that, if you were pResident Bush,

to give the go-ahead to war with Iraq, you'd have to decide that the experienced hands are all wrong, and throw in your lot with a bunch of hot-headed ideologues.

So the Bush administration is directing domestic and global events according to its particular ideology. Nothing new there, right? But think about it for a minute. What is ideology? And what does it mean to be driven by it?

It means, simply and frighteningly, this: The Bush Administration's actions are driven by fantasy.

As Louis Althusser described it, ideology is our "imaginary relationship to our real conditions of existence." [1] The real conditions of Bush's existence right now are that the vast majority of the world's leaders and citizens do not support a strike-first policy, and almost no one thinks it's a good idea for the U.S. to attack Iraq (or anyone else) w/out international consensus and support. [2] Bush's real conditions of existence also include an ongoing (and apparently deteriorating), bloody ideological conflict between Israel and Palestine, not to mention lots of domestic issues that Bush would would prefer not to deal with or have examined too closely (i.e., massive corporate fraud in which the Bush Administration is strongly implicated, mounting budget deficits that are at least partially due to the administration's failed tax policy, etc...). However, Bush's imaginary relationship to his real conditions of existence dictates that we (the U.S.) are powerful enough that we can do whatever the hell we want, international opinion or real consequences be damned; and further, that he can more or less ignore the things he doesn't want to deal with (Israel/Palestine, domestic problems)—these aren't really important issues, anyway (as far as his ideology is concerned). Put simply: Bush's ideology allows him to live in a fantasy world, where public statements (or actions) don't need to have any relationship to real conditions.

Bush's ideology (the "neo-conservative" ideology) would not be a problem, except that he's thus far had an amazing amount of success imposing it on The American People (TM), Congress, and—to a lesser but still troubling (and growing) extent—the world. And although I understand there might be some rhetorical value to keeping the language of debate about these issues reasonable and measured (people tend not to listen closely to arguments that are overly exaggerated or emotional), the amount of deference smart people like Cooper and Marshall show to Bush's ideology seems to me a measure of that ideology's ever-increasing hegemony.

Another measure of the expanding pervasiveness of the Bush ideology is the fact that the Democratic party cannot seem to stand up to Bush to save its life—or ours, for that matter. This was recently pointed out by Jason Rylander, who also points to the Top 10 Reasons not to 'Do' Iraq—all great points, from the Cato Institute, of all places. [3] A few Dems are making noises against war, but far too few and far too quietly.

My point is this: With the publication of this new "global strategy" document, the Bush Administration has abandoned all pretense at attempting to recognize or negotiate with competing ideologies. It is effectively saying "Our way or the highway" to the rest of the world, citizens of the U.S. included. This is a very bad thing, regardless of whether you agree with the Bush ideology. Is this really the world you want to live in?

[1] For brief discussions of Althusser and ideology, see this handout from Professor John Lye, and/or this discussion by Roger Bellin.
[2] See the current issue of Foreign Policy for some great discussion related to the meaning of "international consensus." Esp. relevant is this short piece by Noam Chomsky. (Yes, I know he's tenured.)
[3] In defense of the left on this point, The Nation published a similar list of reasons not to attack Iraq nearly a month ago.

Posted September 22, 2002 11:15 AM | general politics

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