Friday, December 16, 2011

Iraq War (Finally) Over + Hitchens Passes

Panetta, in Iraq
This is the way the war ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.  And though American troops are still there, though in severely reduced numbers, the Iraq War, one of the US's worst foreign policy and political blunders, has finally wound down to its sad end.  The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, yesterday traveled to Iraq to declare the military mission officially over.  Most of the troops and much US equipment and matériel are finally departing that shattered country, as per schedule (and through the haplessness of this current administration, a small favor in all its irony), after nearly a decade of tumult. I won't recite the litany of the war's costs, its destructiveness over its lifespan (or deathspan), and what it has bequeathed, to the US, Iraq, Iran, the rest of the Middle East, the globe, but the costs have, by most measures, been astronomically high, whether one cites the number of US and coalition troops killed or wounded, the toll on Iraq's citizens and the sea of refugees it has provoked, the political crisis that now plagues Iraq's government, the regional empowerment of Iran and destabilization of neighboring states, and on and on.

And still we have never had a thorough investigation of how the country ended up in this disastrous war; no investigation, let alone prosecution, of those behind it, despite the revelations of their lies and duplicity; no censures of any of the many ancillary dramatic personae, the Perles and Wolfowitzes and Chalabis and Judy Millers and on and on; no reprimands in or of the Congress that lay prostate before the war's architects; and no bulwarks to prevent another such disaster. Instead, the US has barreled forward into even more treacherous territory: wars without any Congressional oversight; bloated and rising military budgets; increasing privatization of military services and a strengthening of the military-industrial complex; and creeping un-Constitutional laws and alegal structures, such as wiretapping of US citizens without need of warrants, indefinite military detentions, extrajudicial killings of suspected "terrorists," including US citizens deemed such by the President or secret tribunals, and on and on. War without end is the permanent condition of our politics and polity.

As much as we might criticize many awful moments in US history, we also should recognize that where we are today is perhaps among the worst places, in terms of a complete mockery of the rule of law, as we've ever seen. And worse it gets, day by day, under a president who ran a campaign of changing the disasters this war not only symbolized, but embodied. His challengers are as bad or worse. Meanwhile, the soldiers are coming home, but to what?  And why were they ever over there in the first place?  Really? Beyond the "sea of oil" and the fanatical plans of PNAC, and the undying neoconservative dream of perpetual war against enemies near and far, so long as the neoconservatives themselves never have to go into combat, never have to witness their children being slain on foreign soil or sand or seas, never have to do much beyond rant into prose or a microphone, in coddled ideological seclusion, while the results of their febrile passions unfold in gory spectacle continents away.  The Iraq War has been a tragedy we have only begun to reckon; we won't know its final accounts, there, and here, for years to come.


Christopher Hitchens (David Levenson/Getty Images)
Speaking of ironies, on this very day, one of the Iraq War's staunchest supporters, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), died of esophageal cancer at the age of 62. The encomia for the British-born, American-naturalized former far-left, neoconservative-turned, Oxford-educated essayist and critic have, I noted from the time I signed onto Twitter yesterday, been steadily mounting. I was not and am not an admirer. Glittering prose and wit always have a place in my heart, but used to such devices as Hitchens did, especially over the decade of his life, left me cold.  His prodigiousness is worthy of citation; his charm, even when he was at his most repellent, was undeniable; his fearlessness at challenging the media's commonplaces, touchstones and darlings, like the silence around atheism, or the public characters known as Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Diana, Princess of Wales, was peerless, among his media set and many others.

Yet I also recall how awful he became on political matters in the United States, how he went after Bill Clinton and how he slavered over George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. What comes to mind is Paul Johnson's slashing description of the Young British Artists, adapted and shorn of Johnson's gross homophobia, to Hitchens, during his neoconservative state, which deepened into something much more and worse than a phase: brutal, horribly modish and clever-cunning, exhibitionist, loud-voiced and stone-fisted, aiming to shock and degrade, arrière-garde, and, as with those he so deeply championed, arrogantly, utterly and indefensibly wrong.  Hitchens, a self-described "Marxist" who made deep peace with global capitalism and its depredations, was unfortunately still unwilling to apologize for having championed the Iraq disaster even at the end of his life; fast as a magnet he held to his convictions. What awaits him is anyone's guess. It is no guess, however, that he probably knew by heart the following lines, and with them may he rest, wherever he's headed, in peace:

...But whate'er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing.
 Richard II, Act 5, Sc. 5, William Shakespeare.

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