Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Chalabi, neo-cons, tsars and paranoid politics!

Now that tempers have cooled somewhat, I thought it appropriate to have my say on what has been dubbed the Chalabi-gate.

I have no way of knowing whether he might be a double agent. I have no way of adjudicating the competing claims about whether Iranians could have actually pulled off one of the most successful intelligent operations ever by goading the “Great Satan,” into destroying one of their regional arch-enemies, Saddam Hussein, while ensuring that US is bugged down in Iraq facing sever restrains on its future maneuverability as well as a loss of its global credibility.

But I am skeptical of the narrative. Why? For the same reason as I have been reluctant to swallow the claims about the hijacking of America by a handful of neo-cons on behalf of Israel. Those of you who have been reading my blog might have wondered why I never use “neo-cons” in any of my posts. So, I’ll share my reasons and let you be the judge.

You see I do know there are neo-conservatives out there. As a matter of fact, I have read their oeuvres for years. I used to consult this website filled with petitions, great links, book reviews and other stuff, before it all disappeared, shortly ahead of some of the denials and prevarications! The site never reappeared even after Kritol attempted to put a stop to the non-sense; or so he might have thought.

I also know there is a sizable Jewish contingent amongst the neocons. But do I really believe they are doing all they can to enhance the security of Israel at the expense of the American tax payers and their reputation? No is the short answer. You see, I have never been persuaded by the charge of dual loyalty.

Israeli government and society has a lot to answer for in the court of public opinion and the conscious of her own citizens—much like the rest of us. But manipulating the US through “operatives” is not one of them for me. And I am not moved by the charges either. The fact of the matter is that the world today is not the simple worlds of the homogeneous societies of the fictionalized past some of us are wont to believe.

When others charge dual loyalty, I only see coetaneous affection. The emotion is not as rare as you might suspect. The advantage that the Likudnik contingent in and out of the Bush Administration enjoy over say the Burkina Fasoans is that there is a convergence of interest in the policies being implemented by the ruling regimes in both countries for now and it is a hot topic. Something normal in any politics and naturally also subject to changein due time. Happens all the time, you know.

But Politics for me is a lot more than what, in this overtly simplistic narrative, would really amount to omnipotent rulers/apparatchiks being able to affect through the proverbial court intrigues the entirety of social/political life- redefining it at will. And while I do believe in vigilance in the sense that as citizens we have the duty to remain attentive to the policies of out ruling regimes, the personalities [and their quirks and petty travails] involved in formulating strategies; well, quite frankly I find this paradigmatic obsession sort of boring really.

It is ironic for me that at a time US is attempting to grapple with her emerging new role in the uncertain post cold war milieu, pursuing as she is a “masculine” policy of force projection to reshape the entire face of the Middle East, her political discourse has come to reflect some of the worst traits exhibited by the dominant “mentality” in our region. And some of us remain as un-persuaded now as when we confront the conventional wisdom about what transpires in our part of the world.

Much as I like the emphasis on human agency, that a handful of “advisors,” can subvert the vast interlocking bureaucracy of the planet’s oldest stable Republic which boast gargantuan budgets, a bedeviling system of checks and balances, sophisticated security apparatus, myriad spy agencies, stable judiciary, assorted think thanks and a formidable network of medias, among others, to me, is reminiscent of some of the sillier notions we have had to contend with in Iran—the sort of nonsense the Russians under various Tsars knew well as well. The reason I bring Russians into this is that I have been thinking about them lately because of this new book of Mrs. Pahlavi, the wife of the last Iranian potentate.

It is almost always the same thing in the “old world,” one begins to suspect. The self deception manifest in wanting to only see innate native Goodness thwarted by manipulative advisors, and the backwardness of the unwashed--infinitely malleable and forever duped by the scheming of this or that manipulative group.

The mentality betrays an utter failure to understand that there are objective measures and forces in politics, even necessities, discernable desires, wants and needs that must be grappled with, organized, channeled and occasionally controlled; self-definitions that must be acknowledged and above all, the imperative to recognize that there are forces that once unleashed can not be really controlled, with or without central planning.

It goes well beyond good intentions, bad advisors, intrigues and conspiracies. To this day, our Monarchists either blame corrupt advisors or superpower conspiracies and agents for having thwarted magnificently planed Iranian developments. It was always the misdeeds of bad advisors too with the Tsar in Russia and probably elsewhere. Old, boring story! New I suppose for the impatient youngsters looking for quick glory in a new century. Politics, as we see everyday here, becomes reduced then to the art of hurling insults and character assassinations.

So here we had the Shah with the greatest plans unfulfilled. But if you look a bit more carefully past the hype, what is obvious is that a regime which implemented a land reform mostly formulated by Harvard experts in Russian History and Economics in response to the brewing mass discontent suffered predictable consequences.

With minor adjustments, authorities tried to bring us a new, improved version of the Stolypin reforms and behold the almost identical results, albeit an Islamic version of the October events: a Shah, just like a Tsar who past before him, in utter ruins.

And now there is an almost identical orientation evident in a land whose permanent political class intends to claim entire millennia at will. Not a shock really. It is difficult to be surprised by much of any sort of silliness coming from parochial ruling elites in America these days given their vainglorious delusions of grandeur.

I mean, if all it really took were a handful of men formulating policies behind closed doors of academic conferences plus one minor actor/optimistic president in order to bring down the entire Soviet Empire, then why should there be a reason to disbelieve that it is possible for a handful of agent provocateurs to push policies on an Empire in order to bring down the indefensible, decrepit order of much of the Middle East on behalf of Israel? Or Iran? Politics of intrigue and paranoia, I suppose!

Are there forces with ulterior motives behind the growing attacks on Chalabi? The question is probably much older than and quite as fascinating as Machiavelli’s narrative about the fate of Cesare Borgia and in particular one minister Ramiro. In certain circles I would suspect nightmares. Court politics is an exhausting game. No one is immune. The machinery is cold and unforgiving. No one should feel as if non-expendable. Politics though, for me, goes well beyond what transpires among the ruling elites.

Besides, if the neo-cons were half as genuinely influenced by Leo Strauss and his secret master plan for all life as we know it, as some claim, wouldn’t they have an easier time understanding the dangerous consequences of toying with negative passions in modern societies? I guess absent forceful intervention in the debate by the more thoughtful academic Straussians, we might never know for sure.

No matter though. Recently, I was struck by the tone of genuine surprise, anguish and disappointment in Rubin’s published article here. And I have been angry with him while sympathetic with his fears. So I keep wanting to ask him: what the hell did you think was going to happen? If your work brings you into the business of peddling policies that effectively unleash certain unpalatable passions globally, can you then realistically expect to be spared the consequences because you might personally be a nice guy? I mean the sheer bookish, naivetĂ© of the folks on a rampage to social engineer a totally different global order! Hubris doesn’t begin to sum up what’s at work here.

It is more like what Aristotle would call Akrasia. The incontinence and the self indulgence we have come to expect from the contemporary permanent political class in America, whose members move seamlessly through the revolving doors that link the academia, media, corporate boardrooms, government circles and think thanks together, with no compunction about breaking rules to get what they want.

What we see here is a thoughtless will to power, without regard for responding to the burgeoning needs, desires and wants of the global community as well as certain inattentive to the creativity that sustains and nurtures collective life.

There is no overstating the consequences of cutting oneself from the creative impulses of billions of decent, hardworking citizens who are the best hope there is for forging a better future. If you dismiss their desires and genuine concerns as mere outburst of the sick, and the ill, or humor others as mere “clueless” reincarnations of a Neville Chamberlain, then what you have really done is to leave yourself at the mercy of forces with no real hope for controlling them indefinitely, while at the same time, having done your part in reducing politics to a disjointed series of paranoid encounters.

So while I think it disingenuous of some to try to kill any debate about the efficacies of policies pursued in this region by crying wolf, the fact remains that there is a nasty wolf after all. The intensity of violence has not yet peeked to the level witnessed in the East, but it appears diffused and dangerously on the rise. A balkanization of global life is depressingly close. I am pessimistic. It is going to get much worse if there is not a concerted effort to alter policies.

We can study and debate soft vs. hard power until we are all blue in the face. But political elites unable to see past their own noses and immediate ambitions are going to suffer the same fate as that of the Tsar and the Shah. The descent to the realm of the paranoid politics is only a warning sign of the things to come.

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