The only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to

Election day is tomorrow. (Ok, it's actually today and I changed the time of the post a couple hours back for dramatic effect. Yay.)

On what will hopefully be the last day of this strange government’s political domination of our country, I thought that I should share something about the last four years. Where to begin… where to begin…

I wonder how much of this time has been wasted and whether the energy we spent in resisting served no purpose.

Then I think back to the times that we came together to declare with one voice that the war was wrong, the policies were wrong and the leaders were mad. Even in those dark hours, those symbolic gestures in the street assured me that there was some kind of link between people that even Bush couldn’t crush.

All the way back to the fall of high school’s senior year (2001), on that distant planet we once lived on, I felt that the good times couldn’t last. I thought the economy was cruising on a bubble. I thought that things would make less sense before they made more.

That bizarre election four years minus one day ago launched the country into the sea of uncertainty. Little did we know that the political strategy of this president was to burn away the basis of facts themselves, and substitute spin for reality.

After looking at Macalester College in the Clinton days, I found coming here in the calm, almost flippant season before 9/11. Somewhere I still have that summer’s Time magazine all about shark attacks.

We had ten glorious, blazing days at Macalester, partying on Turck Three, Turck Two, up and down Doty and Dupre. The social universe had no barriers. It was just as well that I didn’t yet have the computer my parents had ordered for school.

One Tuesday morning, I hadn’t yet done my work for Griffin’s film analysis class that afternoon. My crappy old clock radio clicked on, disjointed ramblings about some crash on MPR. Hit the snooze button. The second time I listened for a while, buildings on fire. Went to the bathroom and a floormate told me something crazy was going on.

We went into my room and fiddled around with Adam’s shitty old TV. Then the fuzzy image came up: the towers burning in a haze of static. Campus ground to a halt, everyone stopped to watch, agape.

In the days that followed, I looked again and again at the American flag outside the chapel. Anything was possible now. In a way that was a sort of freedom, the idea that from such a chasm something better might be fashioned. But I also feared that they would take this disaster and run away with it.

At least we would have the chance to start afresh in college, at least this epoch would let us cleanly break from the old days.

Unexpectedly, something weird happened to our class, and I think our class alone. The famed Macalester bubble hardened into a Macalester shell through the rest of that semester. We reoriented towards our friends and our studies. Generally, we rarely got far off campus. I think that somewhere among those crucial weeks, when the country wept and the flags flew out of stores, we missed some indoctrination session that everyone else got. We didn’t get saturated by the media—we barely saw cable. We were not formed into believers.

I still remember someone telling me that they could hardly believe that these flags were all over the place. It felt alien—more American than America.

Then came those slogans. “United We Stand” was the best because it was consonant with “United States.” Later the war brought “Support Our Troops.” One night in Mickey’s Diner with some of my Indian friends, I realized that among this group, the slogans became meaningless. If you were among foreigners, the ‘We’ and ‘Our’ become false, and suddenly you escaped from the mental box.

What, then, to say about the war? What to say about where God has gotten placed these last few years? There’s really nowhere to begin but with my persistent atheist beliefs. For me, the most threatening, doom-laden quality of this government has been the way its supporters have attached an eschatological, apocalyptic meaning to September 11. They believe (or purport to believe) that September 11 was not a ‘mundane’ event. Instead, the disaster is elevated to a spiritual or eschatological plane, as it becomes an element of God’s plan for the world. The crashes are not just plane crashes, they are a projection of supernaturally pure moral evil into reality, and a revelatory moment for the believers.

Such heretical thinking has a great political advantage. Over fall break, I saw a few minutes of a Congressional campaign debate from gerrymandered Texas that when the Republican related the dangerous idea. He said that God had allowed this disaster to happen, but God’s grace was revealed in the American reaction to it. The disaster opened a path of redemption, and Bush, as God’s agent, had moved down this path. The War on Terror became spiritually licensed.

No, I say to these people, No a million times. God was not involved. God does not exist, and everyone who says that there was Grace in what followed is fabricating a ghastly deity of convenient vengeance. The Republicans have exploited this unholy narrative and its profoundly evil nature should alarm any student of politics or history. Aggressive nationalists have run this kind of line throughout human civilization, because people fear the uncertainty of not placing faith in the story.

A professor of journalism, David Domke, visited my rhetoric of campaigns and elections class this fall to talk about Bush’s religiously colored language, as part of a tour for his fascinating new book, “God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the “War on Terror” and the Echoing Press.”

He describes how the Bush administration fabricated the “good vs. evil” and “security vs. peril” binaries, and applied them to make it seem as if Bush was carrying out God’s will.

Cynical atheistic political theorists like Leo Strauss have said that a political leadership’s appeal to God serves the purpose of lending cohesion to the society, and claiming to speak on behalf of the Invisible One effectively silences the doubters. Some leaders, like Bush, claim to act as prophetic agents or portals of insight into God. These are the dangerous ones; once followers buy into this, there is no stopping them.

Over the course of this government, I’ll say that the most profoundly frightening and disturbing moment of the whole adventure came during my attendance at a rally supporting the war in its first days, on March 22, 2003, where I took pictures.

There, our governor, Tim Pawlenty, uttered something I knew to be racist and totally false. I heard the grief of 9/11 cynically redirected to support the war, an abuse of power that literally made me shake. Pawlenty was speaking on the steps of the state Capitol building. He said that we were going to strike back at those who struck us on 9/11. I instantly knew this to be a lie, a horrible lie. The crowd cheered, and I shuddered.

Early in 2002, I started looking around at the points of conflict between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Without too much trouble, I found the Intifada. Here was a concrete case of Muslims getting crushed by outsiders with military aid from the United States. If we were to patch this War on Terror up, it would have to involve peace in the West Bank and Gaza. There was no other way.

My lifelong fascination with maps took a turn for the surreal when I first looked at the complex diagrams of settlements and Israeli roads on the West Bank. What the hell was this program? Why are these things expanding? Did someone say that God authorized this? Was there some kind of moral fiction being generated to sustain the process? And what does democracy become in a country that generates racially exclusive colonial suburbs?

In the fall of my sophomore year, October 2002, two men from this place came to Macalester. (I wrote an editorial about it a couple weeks before they came) I co-wrote the news story about their visit here, but of course someone failed to put that issue of the Weekly (Vol. 5, Issue 4) online.

I talked briefly with Ami Ayalon, Sari Nusseibeh and George Mitchell. Ayalon, the former director of Israel’s FBI-like security forces, the Shin Bet, and Nusseibeh, the then-president of Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University, came to the U.S. to talk about their sensible peace plan, which entailed removing virtually all the settlements, sharing Jerusalem and bringing the Palestinian refugees into the territories, not Israel. They hoped to promote the plan by getting ordinary folks on both sides to sign their statement.

For me, this encounter forever destroyed the idea that to be ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘a friend of Israel’ means supporting the self-destructive policies of the Likud. Ami Ayalon is as much of a hard-nosed Israeli security expert as you will ever find. He could have probably killed me with his ballpoint pen in a dozen different ways. Yet this tough man was acutely afraid of the settlers and the threat they posed to Israel’s stability. His years at the Shin Bet actually were among the safest and most hopeful that the people of that poor, beleaguered country ever had. It was Ayalon’s Shin Bet that cooperated with the Oslo Accord’s new Palestinian security services to prevent the Islamic fundamentalists from bombing and shooting Israelis. There were virtually no suicide bombings under Ayalon’s watch, because he determined how to coordinate Israel with willing Palestinian security forces. I learned it could be done again, because it had been done before. If only the constant process of the settlers’ territorial aggression—which increased dramatically during Ayalon’s tenure—had been checked, things might not have spun out of control.

At this same time, we began to hear rhetoric of plans to invade Iraq. I dismissed these rumors for a while, believing that the U.S. would have to intervene with Israel before breaking out into Iraq. I saw a couple patterns emerge as the deed went down. The first was the source of stories about weapons of mass destruction and lurid tales of terror training within Iraq. These stories tended to depend on the statements of defectors, who in fact turned out to be liars pimped out by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. It was difficult, if not impossible, to hear of the really threatening yarns from more objective sources.

The other key pattern was a sense that the government itself was divided about the war, because, as we found out later, there was a dramatic factional battle, roughly between the neoconservatives in Cheney’s office and the top of the Pentagon, versus the State Department, CIA, and some of the uniformed military staff.

Reading one of my weirder “news” sources, I found references to a 1996 policy document called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” This doc, widely available on the Internet, prompted me to rethink what exactly these neoconservatives like Richard Perle and Douglas Feith were gunning for. I have rambled extensively about the significance of the Clean Break, and probably will continue to do so for the rest of my days. Near the beginning of the war in Iraq, I posted my analysis of it on Everything2.com. As the war started during spring break, I remember reading one of the key passages to my family:

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.

So before I get into the wretched nature of the war, I should explain a politically hazardous, yet profoundly important idea about our present situation. At this moment, we are deeply wrapped within something I call the ‘Israeli-American Hegemony,’ (a.k.a. ‘the Republican-Likud merger’) a crucial, misunderstood component of the ‘War on Terror’ campaign. In some ways this hegemony is a continuation of the old ‘Judeo-Christian civilization’ we’ve heard so much about, but it is in fact a new, evolving political form that both the Bush and Sharon administrations have done their utmost to market to their countries.

This hegemony signifies that the national identities of Israel and the United States should merge together, on the basis of perceived political, moral, military and religious congruities between the countries. There is a specific moral calculus fabricated into the hegemony: namely, that Israel and the United States exist on a moral plane apart from the rest of the world, and their decisions are effectively guided by God’s higher moral purpose.

The Clean Break document states that Israel needs to match America’s language. In an institutional fashion, this is what hegemony and integration really means: the Pentagon starts to think and function like the IDF and the American messianic Christians move closer to the messianic Jewish groups in the West Bank.

The Clean Break document said that

Israel can make a clean break from the past and establish a new vision for the U.S.-Israeli partnership based on self-reliance, maturity and mutuality — not one focused narrowly on territorial disputes. Israel’s new strategy — based on a shared philosophy of peace through strength — reflects continuity with Western values…

To anticipate U.S. reactions and plan ways to manage and constrain those reactions, Prime Minister Netanyahu can formulate the policies and stress themes he favors in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the Cold War which apply well to Israel.

To synchronize the language between our governments is precisely the objective.

Yet the success of this hegemon is based on insane, shaky foundations. For one thing, it defies a fundamental premise of international politics: different states have different interests. I’m sorry, but I do not have the same policy interests as a handful of messianic settlers on a West Bank hilltop, and my government should reflect that. The whole enterprise of the Israeli occupation itself is horrible: only our own Christian fundamentalists who see the construction of settlements as a means to fulfill the return of Jesus and bring about the apocalypse favor this undertaking.

This hegemony idea also is rather racist: it suggests that the Israelis themselves are incapable of charting their own destiny. Instead, they are expected to play out the end-of-the-world script that Christian fundamentalists believe they ought to play.

I’ve found that this hegemon has been quite easy to spot lately. We can pick apart political discourse just from the last few weeks of the campaign. We saw it when Sharon and Bush agreed that “Israeli population centers” in the West Bank could be annexed, as if Bush could somehow speak on behalf of the Palestinians.

Thomas Friedman says that Iraqis refer to American troops as “Jews,” while Arab TV networks show split-screens of Israeli aggression in the territories and American lunacy in Iraq. This, Friedman says, is harmful because it merges these identities into a larger complex, but not because it’s an objective fact of the current situation. As he says, now it is hard to know where American policy ends and Sharon’s begins.

Osama Bin Laden’s latest video references the crimes he claims were committed by this same ‘alliance,’ a charge probably not literally true (I doubt he cared that much in 1982) but with much more resonance after the U.S. has tried to kill vast numbers of Iraqis over this year.

I say to you Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike towers.

But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the America/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.

The events that affected my soul in a difficult way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American 6th fleet helped them in that.

And the whole world saw and heard but did not respond.

In those difficult moments many hard to describe ideas bubbled in my soul but in the end they produced intense feelings of rejection of tyranny and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressors in kind and that we destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

Right-wing Israeli hawks crow about how the U.S. is finally absorbing the lesson it learned in Lebanon from the Marine barracks bombing. Our future wars, they say, will more resemble Israel’s campaigns in the West Bank and Lebanon. Hence, we need the Israeli operational methods to succeed (ignoring the fact that the Israeli ventures have been bloody, pointless failures). Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post:

…there is no doubt that the American military's view of Israel's strategic posture today bears little resemblance to its perception of Israel's strategic posture 21 years ago. Particularly since September 11, and as the situation in Iraq continues to evolve and mutate, the US military has increasingly come to see Israel's war fighting experience both against the Palestinians and in Lebanon from 1982-2000 as a composite of how America's wars will look in the future. Everything from Israel's need to have armed guards at the entrances to shopping malls and cafes to our tactics for land-air-sea combat operations and intelligence-gathering techniques informs the US military as its commanders prepare for battles of the present and the future.

Back in Beirut in 1983, US Marines greeted Israeli soldiers with hostility as they, like the rest of America, lived in denial of the reality that our nations' enemies are common ones. So perhaps the fact that as the US builds conceptual models for its wars of the future it asks Israelis to participate in its war games as "subject matter experts" is the best indication that in the final analysis, the Americans have drawn the proper lessons from their Beirut catastrophe.

Hawks also constantly assert that Hezbollah is an enemy of the United States, and its television station, Al Manar, even more so.

I argued in a paper this spring that as the U.S. military depends more and more on private corporations for doctrine, training and logistics, privatized military firms are an ideal transmission belt to strengthen this hegemon, as ‘Israeli security experts’ come in to provide the goods on how to manage these Arabs. In the other direction, the U.S. provides military hardware like Apache helicopters to Israel. If you think that national identity has nothing to do with helicopters, tell me if the images of Apaches blazing missiles that the Arabs constantly see .

Consider that al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia killed an American working on Apache helicopters there. Al-Qaeda is zeroed in on attacking highly visible elements of the hegemon like the Apache.

Perhaps, too, the same informational tools that the Israelis use to target individual ‘terrorists’ are being implemented throughout the U.S. military. In particular, CACI International has been lauded by Israel as providing informational tools to fight the war on terror, and CACI interrogators in Iraq construct matrices that tell the military which Iraqis to go after. What if these very tools are part of the political problem that has obliterated all goodwill between the U.S. and the Iraqis? What if the tools have gotten out of control, instructing the military to lock up the wrong Iraqis in places like Abu Ghraib indefinitely? For that matter, what about the rumors of Israeli interrogators within Abu Ghraib?

Seymour Hersh has reported that one book in particular, “The Arab Mind,” has been instrumental in shaping how the neocons developed their strategies in Iraq. “The Patai book, an academic told me, was 'the bible of the neocons on Arab behaviour'. In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged - 'one, that Arabs only understand force, and two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation'."

Now, Iraq. More than a thousand U.S. soldiers dead, many thousands more wounded and crippled. The war has reached out and killed folks in harmless backwater places like Ellsworth, Wisconsin. And now we hear estimates that one hundred thousand Iraqis have been killed by the war and civil disorder.

There has always been something strange and unreal about the invasion and the way our occupation policies have been carried out. There’s been a certain feel or metaphor to their approach that I would describe as the ‘Babylon complex.’

The Babylon complex was a result of the asphyxiated, closed decisionmaking process in the Pentagon, combined with the foolish, racist assumptions of horrible people like Undersecretary Douglas Feith. The image of a Free Iraq that they painted in our heads was one of great power, good for us and a friend of Israel. The operation would finance itself through Iraq’s vast oil revenues, an globally unmatched mountain of wealth under the sand.

The vision of this wealth overwhelmed the planners of the war, really. They bet everything on subduing the Iraqis and implementing their economic-political shock therapy plan. The Bush administration believed that any serious acknowledgement of their horrible planning would harm their political leverage in the U.S., so they did not fire the incompetent people in the belief that somehow Good Faith could carry them through the situation.

The continuity of the operation trumped its stability. Providing the spin or appearance of stability precluded actually working for stability. As the great CPA spokesman Dan Senor (who entered Washington as an aide for the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC) put it when talking about the al-Qaqaa munitions disaster:

The facility was already nonsecure well before we had come to the country to begin stability operations.”

babel-arms.jpg (Image composited from the 'Metropolis')

How suitable, then, that in the very site of historical Babylon itself was the stage for this flight of fancy. It reminds me of the 1925 Fritz Lang classic, “Metropolis,” and the story of Babel contained therein.

Maria: Today I will tell you the story of the Tower of Babel.

Let us build a tower whose summit will touch the skies—

and on it we will inscribe: ‘Great is the world and its Creator. And great is Man.’

Those who had conceived the idea of this tower could not build it themselves, so they hired thousands of others to build it for them.

But these toilers knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned the tower.

While those who had conceived the tower did not concern themselves with the workers who built it.

The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many.


[Title:] BABEL

[A crowd rushes the tower, and destroys it.]

Between the brain that plans and the hands that build, there must be a mediator.

It is the heart that must bring about an understanding between them.


Worker: But where is our mediator, Maria?

Maria: Be patient, he will surely come.

Worker: We will wait, but not for long.

So now the hands are fighting the planners, surprise surprise. They are only fighting for the greatest material prize of world history, and they’re just settling in to fight to the death.

The spooky feeling stepped up when I heard that the U.S. military was finding mountains of arms all over the country, but lacked the manpower to capture and secure them. All these arms—of all the things you need to capture and secure in an occupied country, for the sake of ordinary folks and your own soldiers, you have to secure the arms. And they didn’t. Al Qaqaa is only the latest example.

The disastrous planning has quickly undermined our moral stature in Iraq, as small tactical victories are actually strategic failures. We play word games about terrorism then airstrike the hell out of Sunni city after Sunni city. As the conservative William Lind put it:

The point here is not merely that in using terrorism ourselves, we are doing something bad. The point is that, by using the word "terrorism" as a synonym for anything our enemies do, while defining anything we do as legitimate acts of war, we undermine ourselves at the moral level — which, again, is the decisive level in Fourth Generation war.

The incredibly astute Professor Juan Cole described how the Bush administration operates by representing, rather than reflecting reality.

The Bush administration will ask for another $70 billion for Iraq in another month or two if re-elected. Remember in the debates when Kerry said Iraq had cost $200 billion, and Bush corrected him that it was only $120 billion? Well, it turns out that Kerry was right, but Bush was being dishonest in postponing the further request until after the election. Another example of how the Bush administration is government by "representation" in the sense that Michel Foucault used the term rather than in the civics sense. Foucault said that people have a tendency to represent reality, and then to refer to the representation rather than to the reality. (This is also the way stereotypes and bigotry work.) So Bush represented the Iraq war as a $120 billion effort, and actually corrected Kerry with reference to this representation. But the representation was a falsehood, hidden by a clever fiscal delaying tactic. So Kerry is made to seem imprecise or as exaggerating, when in fact he was referring to the reality. Bush made representation trump reality.

Edward Said in his Orientalism shows the ways in which Western travelers and writers have often invented a representation of the Middle East that then gets substituted for Middle Eastern realities so powerfully that the realities can no longer even be seen by Westerners. Said cites travel accounts by eyewitnesses who report falsehoods that had already entered the literature. So these travelers let the representations over-rule what their own eyes saw.

Ok, Dan, you think, that’s great but can you prove it? Can you prove anything? And when does this ridiculously long post end?

I’ll be done soon. It’s been four horrible years, for God’s sake! Fortunately, I have collected some useful evidence. Dr. Rashid Khalidi visited Macalester in the fall of 2003, and I managed to snag him for an interview for the Mac Weekly. This interview, for me, answered many of the key questions. Did Iraq have to go so wrong? Did the neocons fabricate intelligence data to justify the war? Is there a connection between Douglas Feith and the settlers? It’s all there…

DF: You said in your talk regarding Iraq that “there are much worse days to come.” What leads you to this?

RK: Several things. The first is that the Administration purposely had too few soldiers for the post-war, leading directly to a chaotic situation which resulted in the destruction of the organs of state. The occupation thereafter took a number of decisions which alienated the entirety of the armed forces, and the Baathist technocrats, without whom it would be almost impossible to run a modern state in Iraq….

DF: What do you believe are the central principles of neo-conservativism? Do you believe it carries an outer moral ideology for mass consumption, and an elite truth for the few?

RK: Yeah, Seymour Hersh in his articles in the New Yorker about these people has argued that these are people who studied under Leo Strauss or under disciples of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago, people like Wolfowitz himself, [Pentagon policymaker] Abram Shulsky and others, and that they came away with a sort of neo-Platonic view of a higher truth which they themselves had access, as distinguished from whatever it is you tell the masses to get them to go along.

There is a certain element of contempt in their attitude towards people, in the way in which they shamelessly manipulated falsehoods about Iraq, through Chalabi….

DF: A Frontline interview with Richard Perle was published with the documentary “Truth, War and Consequences.” He talked about the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which reviewed intelligence on Iraq prior to the war. Perle said the office was staffed by David Wurmser, another author of the Clean Break document. Perle says that the office “began to find links that nobody else had previously understood or recorded in a useful way.” Were the neo-cons turning their ideology into intelligence data, and putting that into the government?

RK: I can give you a short answer to that which is yes. Insofar as at least two of the key arguments that they adduced, the one having to do the connection between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, and the one having to do with unconventional weapons programs in Iraq, it is clear that the links or the things they had claimed to have found were non-existent. The wish was fathered to the reality. What they wanted was what they found.

It was not just the Office of Special Plans, or whatever. There are a lot of institutions in Washington that were devoted to putting this view forward. Among them, other parts of the bureaucracy, and the vice president’s national security staff….

We now know this stuff, with a few exceptions, to be completely and utterly false, just manufactured disinformation designed to direct the United States in a certain direction. Whether the neo-cons knew this or not is another question, but I believe Chalabi’s people knew it. I would be surprised if some of them didn’t know it.

And now, the presidential campaign. Early on, I was all over the place, distrustful of the candidates. I felt that the ‘Washington candidates’ like Kerry were compromised by the war. I wanted someone to wake this slumbering country, and somehow Howard Dean succeeded brilliantly in getting attention and articulating opposition to the war. I went to Iowa to check out the process there. I wrote a story about going to the unofficial kickoff of the Iowa caucus race, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Outside the hall, Howard Dean shook my hand, but didn’t look me in the eye. Most of the candidates spoke there, and I found Dean’s readiness to holler “You have the power,” amping up his huge section of the crowd, to be somewhat distasteful if not outright demagoguery.

In Iowa, all the candidates met a friendly audience, because they all spoke to the better side of America, and they each went for one of Bush’s exposed quarters. Such a spectacle as this veered into heights of drama so that for those moments, these folks under hardship and war could let each other know they still had friends in Washington, and they were part of a project bigger than themselves.

My admiration for the Dean campaign became a confidence in a stable new coalition, but Dean’s theatrics fit poorly at key moments. My perceptions of Edwards and Kerry as trustworthy and experienced leaders was boosted by Peter’s and Andrew’s thoughtful support. The basic trust of our southern neighbors gave me hope in these bleak days that America isn’t totally in disarray. Their support of each other led me to believe that the majority of the country—which never voted for Bush, or anyone—might still be reached in the wilderness.

I shied away from thinking about the Democratic race after that, but of course the process heated up and Dean faded after the summer. John Kerry, the frontrunner, found himself hamstrung by his Iraq position, so how could he find a way out of the bind and discredit the Bush administration?

Finally, when Kerry came to Macalester and I helped cover it for the Weekly, I had the opportunity to ask him a question as he was shaking hands on the way out. I asked, “Senator Kerry, do you believe that the intelligence distortions on Iraq should be treated as a criminal matter akin to the Iran-Contra affair? Do you believe that the investigation should be a criminal matter?”

Kerry said to me, “I have no evidence yet that it should be, but I think that we need a much more rapid and thorough investigation than the administration is currently pursuing. I think that this idea of doing it by 2005 is a complete election gimmick. It ought to be done in a matter of months, and that will determine what ought to be done.”

A classically hedged answer from Kerry, which wasn’t a surprise. However, I would say it was the wrong answer. His campaign could have challenged the “flip-flopper on the war” idea by telling the American people how the administration fabricated the WMD and terror intelligence on Iraq, and tricked well-meaning legislators like Edwards and himself into supporting the war with it. But Kerry’s people never concretely made it a part of the campaign, although late in the game Kerry finally said that Bush had “played games with intelligence.” People love a spy thriller: Kerry should have laid out how Chalabi and the gang faked it. Bush and the whole administration would have been better discredited. A real pity, a pity. But you can’t say I didn’t try.

Ok, well this has become more a ramble on the usual political topics than a digestion of what the subjective experience of living under this government has been like. Looking back on it, I have some regrets. I have a serious problem with trusting people and even being willing to spend time with them. Most days it was just chickenshit reluctance, but sometimes my political obsessions and paranoia got the better of me, even before I found out that all these military and government guys were looking at my website.

With regards to running this website, it has been an interesting experience. It has brought the CIA and Department of Homeland Security straight into my bedroom, but its also showed me how profoundly interconnected the Internet makes us. How else, besides lunch at Macalester, can you run into so many random people from so many different countries?

I can’t say that every decision I’ve made has been worth it. I know I didn’t do the most I could to challenge the war; I spent a lot of time in a muted, black and fearful moods. Not like the soft weight of clinical depression, this was a kind of burning flame I could see when I closed my eyes. I knew that the bastards were smashing the heritage of all human civilization when they invaded Iraq without protecting our first Artifacts.

As someone who refuses to believe in God, I have only the continuous stream of history to supply a foundation of meaning in our lives. That’s why I’ve found it so difficult to come to terms with the idea that these guys just didn’t give a damn. I am still terrified of the political forces they’ve unleashed.

One last thing that I haven't yet written about online: what it meant for me to visit the World Trade Center site in Manhattan. I will say that it simply makes it easier to think about once the icons become fixed in your concrete reality, instead of the fluid, alternately fixated and amnesiac media sea that we float in. Once the place is tied down in your own experience, it is much easier to understand. Power became easier to understand from we saw later: a young guy reading the Bill of Rights in a park got arrested right in front of us.

copsmarching.jpg

(This is the third-to-last picture I took in New York, during the protests outside Bush's speech. Click for larger version)

I remember standing on the stoop outside Wallace a few days before spring break in 2003. They had just clipped the fences between Kuwait and Iraq. This was a time of sociological anomie, I said to Alison and Dan Schned. There are no social norms here. In a way, it was a kind of freedom, and we treated it as such. We are still stuck in that anomie, even when Kerry wins tomorrow, as I’ve guaranteed myself he will.

Fortunately, I still have some glimmering bits of optimism left. When the sun rises on November Third, it will be a whole new world. I feel that I’ve gotten through the worst times now, and maybe, just maybe, the four-year malaise will finally be crushed by the evidence that my people have not yet abandoned hope.

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