Sunday, December 10, 2006
oh, sinner man, where you gonna run to:
One day there will be a psychological profile of the American hysteria that took place between September 11 and the invasion of Iraq. A good case study would be Robert Kaplan's November 2002 Atlantic piece advocating war. Leave aside the surreal experience of reading a forecast wrong in nearly every particular. ("...the next regime change in Iraq might even resurrect the reputation not of any religious figure but of the brilliant, pro-Western, secular Prime Minister Nuri Said...") More illuminating is the enthusiasm for what Kaplan correctly understood as a blatantly imperial venture. Consider this paragraph:

Achieving an altered Iranian foreign policy would be vindication enough for dismantling the regime in Iraq. This would undermine the Iranian-supported Hizbollah, in Lebanon, on Israel's northern border; would remove a strategic missile threat to Israel; and would prod Syria toward moderation. And it would allow for the creation of an informal, non-Arab alliance of the Near Eastern periphery, to include Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Eritrea. The Turks already have a military alliance with Israel. The Eritreans, whose long war with the formerly Marxist Ethiopia has inculcated in them a spirit of monastic isolation from their immediate neighbors, have also been developing strong ties to Israel. Eritrea has a secularized population and offers a strategic location with good port facilities near the Bab el Mandeb Strait. All of this would help to provide a supportive context for a gradual Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. . .

No bother worrying about such pedestrian questions as WMD or alliances with al-Qaeda. Credit belongs to Kaplan for taking a more panoramic view: the opportunity presented to reshape the Middle East to our liking. For an unabashed imperialist like Kaplan, opportunity is its own justification. Indeed, in classic imperialist fashion, Kaplan's enthusiasm prevents him from actually discussing the first-order interests for the United States involved in the war, or from the war's imagined second-order effects as defined above. I mean, damn it, man, talk about oil or something. Too easily does imperialism itself become its own justification.

For myself, I wonder: I read this piece at the time. Why didn't it wake me up as to what was really going on?
--Spencer Ackerman
Kaplan - so wrong, so much of the time. Gotta love how he talks up the Afwerki dictatorship in Eritrea, too. I wonder if he's changed his tune now that they're backing the Islamists in Somalia, now?
Blogger Tequila | 3:55 AM

And why the hell is removing Iran's most important enemy supposed to undermine Iranian-supported Hezbollah? The whole thing makes absolutely no sense, even on its own terms.
Blogger Cervantes | 9:20 AM

Thucydides covered this ground about 2500 years ago:

"The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man."
Blogger Viz | 9:29 AM

"For an unabashed imperialist like Kaplan, opportunity is its own justification."

Absolutely. But the passage you quote inevitably raises the question: Opportunity for whom? America or Israel?
Blogger PeterP | 11:56 AM

For myself, I wonder: I read this piece at the time. Why didn't it wake me up as to what was really going on?

Let me venture a guess: sheer, blissful ignorance.

For people capable of looking at the Middle East without having their critical faculties destroyed by the far-right propaganda of Likud and its fellow travellers, most points of Kaplan's article would have been totally laughable in 2002. I just want to point out three:

- The idea that the Iraq invasion would "moderate" Syria. Syria had already offered full peace in exchange for the return of the Golan well before this point.
- The idea that a "non-Arab alliance" is necessary or desirable in the Middle East. Why? Remember, this article appeared just a few months after the Arab League's 2002 initiative.
- The idea that anything that happens in Eritrea is a precondition for Israel ending its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Let's be honest. The fact of the matter is that Kaplan's article, and all the other pro-war pleas like it, were so much smoke being blown in your direction. And you happily inhaled.
Blogger Manumission | 1:43 PM

Looking back at that rhetoric, it reminds me of the blinkered debate we are now having in how to "fix" Eye-Rack or why we can't withdraw from it at all: lots of empty promises and ponies, even more doomsday scenarios, but little or no basis in the facts on the ground or historical occurrences. Who wants to take a bet Kaplan didn't know who the fuck either Moqtada al-Sadr or Abul Azziz al-Hakim were?
Blogger ItAintEazy | 2:03 PM

Manumission, you weren't in the awesome Ebullition band, were you?
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 3:38 PM