Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle

Commentary on the Flux of Events

by Jim Kunstler

July 18 2005

It was a very bloody weekend in Iraq, including a gasoline tanker truck bomb on Saturday evening in the commercial center of Masayyib, where people had come out to shop and mingle once the fierce heat of the midsummer day abated. The explosion killed a hundred people, while half a dozen regular car bombs went off elsewhere around Baghdad.

The British government, meanwhile, confirmed a rumor in the wake of the London subway bombings, that they intend to withdraw a substantial number of troops soon - and there were rumblings that the US Military had prepared a plan to get out sooner rather than later, too.

From a US strategic point-of-view, none of the options available are very appetizing. Staying in Iraq looks increasingly like an exercise in futility. The Jihad continues full-strength, Fourth Generation Warfare-style (in the phrase of Bill Lind), an archetypal asymmetrical clusterfuck of "little guys" with potent small arms paralyzing a military giant. Being a Jihad, it is directed against all "infidels" including the "crusader" western soldiers, the Shi'ite-dominated provisional government members (for cooperating with the occupying crusaders), and the Shia populace for being Shia.

The US could conceivably withdraw from the population centers and remain within a set of "Fort Apache" bases strung out in the desert, but that would mean abandoning the pretense of bringing "freedom and democracy" to the Middle East, while leading to serious questions of re-supply, since it has already been demonstrated that we can barely control the highway from Baghdad's airport to the Green Zone. It also leaves the central political problem of infidels occupying Islamic terrain, therefore requiring continued Jihad wherever opportunity allows outside Iraq, that is, world-wide terrorism.

I hate to introduce this hoary old idea, but I believe it is true: an American withdrawal will be interpreted as a sign of weakness by aggressive enemies (and we do have enemies). If the US diminishes or gives up its military presence (that is, our police station) in the Middle East, it may only be a matter of time before we lose access to two-thirds of the world's remaining oil supplies that happen to be located there. We would also have to wonder how long our military bases in Afghanistan and several former Soviet republics could hold out in the face of a withdrawal from Iraq - with the additional problem of the combined displeasure of Russia and China militating against our presence there.

What I believe will happen: the Jihadi violence will continue, the American public will lose patience with the attrition in Iraq, other flash points (North Korea, Pakistan, Venezuela, Mexico) will make it clear that the US Army is not capable of conducting land operations elsewhere, events will evolve to choke off oil imports to the US as our hegemony slips away, terror events in the Europe will continue and provoke a backlash against Islamic imigrants, which will only inflame the Islamic world further, the US will revert to a naval strategy of attempting to protect our interests - namely access to oil - which will not be effective, and America will be plagued at home by political recrimation, blaming, scapegoating, and a futile campaign to keep the car-dependent utopia going.

Ultimately, the world will enter The Long Emergency, a horizonless era of conflict, withering global economic relations, and energy starvation - with plummeting standards of living.

Meanwhile, we are doing nothing at home to prepare for this future, for instance a crash program to restore the American railroad system, or to restore true fiscal discipline to the mortgage industry in order to stem the insane spread of even more car-dependent suburban sprawl (aka the housing bubble). Where is the Democratic party (my party) on this? Lost in the raptures of sexual and racial pandering.

July 11 2005

The glamorous Maria Bartiromo was just on CNBC talking globalism (and China in particular) with two Wall Street cretins. China is a great play said Cretin Number One because they have 300 million potential middle class customers for America's manufacturers. Excuse me, what do we still make that the Chinese either can't make themselves or can't copy five minutes from now?

As Cretin Number Two waxed effulgent over China's fabulous prospects for growth, CNBC flashed a bunch of American brand logos across the screen, including Pepsi Cola and Exxon-Mobil. These companies are going to so clean up over there, Cretin Number One chimed in, or the shareholders are going to want to know the reason why.

Yeah, soda pop is really hard to make. They'll have to buy it from us. You thought computers were hard? There are four ingredients in soda pop (water, sugar, favoring, coloring ) and you have to get the proportions just right or it don't come out good!

As for Exxon Mobil, they're going to have enough trouble getting oil to their US customers five years from now - leading us to the central fallacy of all the current cheerleading for the global economy: there isn't enough oil available worldwide to permit the industrialized nations to continue to expand. In fact, the industrial nations of the world will soon be competing desperately, perhaps even fighting over, the world's remaining oil, while all our economies contract remorselessly.

The public discussion over the global economy is symptomatic of America's new pandemic of brainlessness, the mainstream media especially. The head cheerleader, of course, has been Tom Friedman of the New York Times, author of The World Is Flat. Friedman and the rest of the cheerleading squad believe that that the global economy is a permanent institution. Now that it is established, we can only expect more of it. More and better. Forever.

What all these cretins seem to miss is the cold hard fact that today's transient global economic relations are a product of very special transient circumstances, namely, relative world peace and absolutely reliable supplies of cheap energy. Subtract either of these elements from the equation and you will see globalism evaporate so quickly it will suck the air out of your lungs.

Also, it must be obvious that relative world peace depends on equitable distribution of cheap energy. If the industrial nations don't get the oil and gas they need at a tolerable price, they are going to get very cranky, and when nations get cranky, peace itself is in short supply..

Three quarters of the world's oil is in the eastern hemisphere - two-thirds of the total is in the Middle east alone. Guess what? All of it is a lot closer to China than it is to us. Some of it they can walk to. Do you have any idea how desperate for oil both China and America are going to be in five years? Do you have a clue how tapped out America's WalMart shoppers are going to be as jobs vanish and the value of a dollar craters in the face of runaway energy prices?

Globalism is yesterday's tomorrow. The future is about living locally on a much smaller scale. Pepsi Cola and Exxon-Mobil are exactly the kind of gigantic enterprises that are going to wither and die over the next decade. China is not tomorrow's geopolitical colossus, it's a geopolitical super train wreck waiting to collide with the reality of its environmental devastation, population overshoot, and energy starvation. Americans will be lucky if they can do each other's laundry ten years from now, let alone sell massive amounts of soda pop to people twelve thousand miles away.

Is it an accident that there is so much Realty TV in America when, in fact, there is so little reality?

July 05 2005 (Posting off schedule again due to holiday)

This Fourth of July, watching fireworks over an Adirondack lake, with the rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air (and the motorboats finally at rest after a day of cuisinarting through the loons and mergansers), I was moved to reflect on the extraordinary level of violence in American society today. It's so pervasive that I think we fail to register it.

Have you ever gotten out of your car for any reason in the shoulder lane of an interstate highway? All the comfort and security of being inside immediately dissolves and your muscles contract at the violent noise of cars and trucks passing at seventy miles per hour, not to mention the inescapable sense of danger at being so close to them passing by. Inside and back on the road again, we quickly forget how much violence we are were exposed to - and now we contribute to it as our journey continues.

The everyday world of America is a ceaseless assult on human neurology (and certainly the neurology of other beings) from a din of numberless motors: air conditioners, lawn mowers, weed-whackers, ventilation blowers, fry-o-later hoods, airplanes, as well as the constant background roar of car traffic.

Our entertainments are saturated with violence. Hollywood has completely forgotten how to make stories based on the predicaments of human character and emotion. The only emotions they understand are bluster, threat, and murderous aggression with overtones of sexual excitement (because this is the way show business professionals act among themselves, and it is the only behavior they understand). Is it any wonder that rogue maniacs drive around the nation snatching children in order to torture and kill them? Or that the Cable News stations are now utterly preoccupied with covering the exploits of murderous maniacs, to the exclusion of everything else going on in the world?

Millions of red-blooded red staters spend their leisure hours moiling at the Nascar tracks. Do you have any idea how unpleasant it is to be a spectator at a car race? How saturated with violence the atmosphere around the track is? I have been to several races as a journalist. The noise alone is supernatural. Then there is the fans' unspoken sadistic voyeurism in anticipating a crash to liven up the boredom of watching cars roar for hours around the oval. Nascar fans will surely deny it, because it reveals the necrophilia at the heart of their so-called "sport", but crashes are part of the excitement. Dale Ehrnhardt surely died for their sins, and when the next driver kills himself on the track there will be new heaps of teddy bears to take the focus away from the crocodile tears shed in the stands and TV rooms of the Raleigh-Durham metroplex.

Finally, thousands of miles away, there's the war in Iraq and Afghanistan - it's all one war, by the way. It's being fought to fuel up all those Nascars, and power the interstate highways, and to keep the weed-whackers and fry-o-later hoods humming, and keep the suburban housing industry chugging along so more Americans can drive to the video store to get violently stupid movies about quasi-humans with great destructive powers. We are watching ourselves become monsters.

June 30 2005 (posting early due to crazy holiday schedule)

The current rational for the war in Iraq (bringing freedom to the Iraqi people) is, if anything, much more transparently stupid that the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument that precipitated the war.

First, it raises the question: why should we give a fuck what Iraqis allow each other to do? We don't seem to give a fuck what strictures the people in Yemen or Syria live under. Or, for that matter, the people of Paraguay, Nigeria, Myanmar. Second the term freedom is a meaningless abstraction apart from institutions, concepts, and procedures designed to insure social justice, namely things like due process of law, separation of powers, sanctity of property, public safety, a consensual notion of the public interest, et cetera.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis didn't dare voice opinions lest a gang of Baathist goons appeared at their doors in the dark of night to take them away for torture and execution. Under the current system, Iraqis don't dare cooperate with the government (or worse, their US military sponsors) lest a gang of Jihadi (or Sunni or former Baathist) goons show up at their door and drag them off to execution.

Why would we suppose that our notions of a civil society, based on Greco-Roman and Anglo-American tradition, would comport with one based on an even older and different Mesopotamian-Semitic culture with Mongol-Turkic-Persian overlays? After all, Iraq is the birthplace of the Code of Hamurabi, which includes such statutes as the following:

"If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser."

Now obviously Iraq has been under scores of different regimes and governances in its history, but one of the clearest lessons of the US military adventure there is the discovery that justice in Iraq is still almost completely based on a calculus of revenge, usually applied on a clan, sect, tribal, or gang basis against a member of another clan, sect, tribe, or gang.

I think what George W Bush generally means by "freedom" (and it's awkward synonym "democracy") is simply the process of holding elections. But obviously the ability to elect one gang or faction with despotic predelictions over another gang with same does not necessarily produce a free society. Of course, as a practical matter, after the invasion the US had the choice of either (A) selecting the Iraqis' civil leaders for them (and inviting further opprobrium from other nations), or (B) letting the Iraqis pick (much better PR value).

It remains to be seen whether the artificial construct of "Iraq", a product of British administrative procedure in the twentieth century, is governable as a unit, and the evidence so far is not encouraging, given the ethnic split between Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds within three fairly discrete geographical zones.

Also troubling is the presumption that even if we manage to pacify this large, violent, desperate place, that such pacification will send a message to other dangerous nations in the region that such a state of coercive pacification is to be envied. Not to mention the assumption that once Iraq quiets down, all will be well Middle East, where two-thirds of the world's remaining oil lies.

Compared to these painful and convoluted assumptions, the issue of WMD looks much more straightforward, even if you grant that the Bush adminstration had made up its mind to invade earlier than 2003 - to wit, the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found does not mean that we didn't have to look. Not finding any was always one of the possible outcomes, especially when Mr Hussein had months to move things elsewhere. The public's refusal to understand this equation is an impressive case of obdurate stupidity, but not as dumb as our kindergarten ideas about spreading "freedom" to places where it means the right to kick our stupid American asses.

Bill Totten


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