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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Sunday | May 18, 2003

War is a force that gives us meaning

Chris Hedges new book, War is a force that gives us meaning, is not a memoir, but a rememberance of his years as a war correspondent. There are no great confessions or revelations, but an honest exploration of what war brings to us.

In the wake of 9/11, his book is especially powerful, since he shows how the state becomes the religion of the people in wartime, how nationalism subverts honesty and common sense.

Our inability to respond to Al Qaeda in a meaningful way comes from this impulse to bolster the state in time of war, to embrace the myths of heroic violence. A myth slowly and surely coming undone in Iraq. Heroism, embraced on the thinest of pretexts, is now being revealed as sham and artifice.

War is an odd and cruel beast. It changes everything around you even if you don't notice it. We now chase our tails trying to trap Saddam, hunt him down and contain him, while his myth only grows stronger. The Saudis are not going to track down Al Qaeda any more than you're going to build a cathedral in Medina. It's no contest. The odds are high, if you asked, the most popular Saudi in Saudi Arabia is Osama, not the king or his sons. Too much would be revealed by an honest accounting of AQ and the Saudi government.

Hedges talks of how everything is perverted in war, but the one thing he didn't mention was the encouragement of illusions. The US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, said of the attack "this is the Saudi 9/11". I merely shook my head when I heard that. It is no such thing. The Saudis are not in the same boat as us. The attackers went after the Vinnell Corporation, one of several "private" military consultants. In reality, they allow "retired" US military to "advise" the Saudi National Guard. In English, they tell them what to do and how to do it. Most Saudis could care less if Vinnell was blown off the face of the earth.

The mythos of war allows us to call the Saudi allies when they are no such thing. At best they are clients, at worst, enemies. But they do not share our pain or our sacrifice in either case. Hedges mentions how the Saudi Army fled during the battle of Khafji in 1991, while Marines attacked and stopped the Iraqis. We still embrace them while sneering at the French, who made this country possible with timely aid. It was the French and Germans who offered troops for Afghanistan, not the Saudis.

The war we fight is one we are fighting to lose. We cannot crush Al Qaeda with secret prisons and mass deportations. Fear will not make us allies nor more secure. We cannot frighten Al Qaeda into quitting. We cannot defend America alone. Occupying Iraq is a self-inflicted defeat, the magnitude of which we will be unsure of for quite some time, but a defeat all the same. We cannot gift the Iraqis freedom. We can't even secure their water and light. We have made their lives worst by degrees.

The issue is not fighting Al Qaeda, we have to defeat them because they will kill Americans whenever and where ever they can. But to defeat them, we cannot merely impose our will and hope for the best. Hope does not provide security or peace. Until we can be seen to stand for more than oil and power, there will always be an Al Qaeda lurking around the next corner.

Every time Bush makes one of his cowboy statements, Al Qaeda laughs. Osama and now Saddam know exactly what the limits of American power are and they operate outside of it. We cannot "hunt them down" or bring them to "American justice". They know this. They laugh at our words and know the weakness behind them, the squabbling and incompetence. The indolence and stupidity.

The day we close Guantanamo, try those we think are guilty in open court and agree to an international tribunal for Osama and Saddam, will be the first day they will know we are serious. That we will no longer treat him as an exception and instead subject him to the true rule of law, in daylight and with protections. Not in the night of some jury-rigged military tribunal with laws created on the spot.

As long as we remained captivated by the trauma of 9/11 and not the realities of an interconnected world, we will remain Osama's captives, trapped not only by his gaze, but by every idea and thought he issues. Until we can break free, accept our losses and fight Al Qaeda on our terms, in our way and accept a world of risk, we will continue to lose.

Steve Gilliard

Posted May 18, 2003 03:37 PM | Comments (48)


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