Tuesday, April 4, 2006

If anything saves this, it will be them.

Angry Bear: General Anthony Zinni, on Meet the Press, talking about Iraq:
"If anything saves this, it will be them."

"them", of course, refers to the American troops in Iraq, bravely, trying to survive.

Zinni was criticizing the strategic incompetence of the Bush Administration, which bungled the Iraq occupation and reconstruction, contributing mightily to the present, highly foreseeable situation.

In this analysis by Zinni, you can see the power of narrative on display. The most powerful rhetorical weapon the Republicans have, is the idea that the "outcome" in Iraq is not already known, that, somehow, someway, a Hollywood ending is still possible: some deus ex machina, some win-the-lottery, Rocky-esque sequence of events will rescue this reality, and turn it from a disastrous "outcome" into a difficult struggle, preliminary to a pleasing "ending".

Narratives are stories -- one damn fact after another, arranged to appeal to the myth-loving circuitry of our brains. Heroic myths are stories of character confronting challenge; the happy "ending" follows a climax, in which character is transformed by insight and the challenge overcome.

It is natural for patriotic Americans to wish to see our heroes in uniform participating in an heroic struggle, with a Hollywood "ending". But, that natural wish is interfering with a clear-eyed appraisal of what is going on. In a narrative, any damn "fact" can follow any other; narratives are not constrained by any physics or chemistry of cause-and-effect -- the appearance of "cause-and-effect" in narrative is just an illusion created by a persuasive narrator to teach a moral lesson through fable.

In the absence of some credible statement of aims, I think it would be best to assume that Bush hit the target he was aiming at, in Iraq. That is, Bush wanted a weak Iraq, which would require an American occupying force to remain in place for at least a generation.

An occupation and reconstruction, which succeeded in creating a strong Iraq -- a secure country with a functioning economy -- would have resulted in the American Army going home. A strong Iraq would ask us to leave.

Now, we are waiting for "social chemistry" to work itself out, to see whether a weak Iraq can survive, or whether a weak Iraq necessarily deteriorates into chaos, and the U.S. is forced to withdraw in ignominy, its "superpower" wasted and spent. And, will that final denoument happen in a dramatic way -- a perfect political storm -- which finally discredits Bush, even in the eyes of his supporters?

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