The Iraq War and the Fatality of a Psycho-Logic
By Michael Mayer
[This article originally published in: Frankfurter Rundschau July 22, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,
At a conference on progressive governing, Tony Blair said that regime chance in Iraq was the goal of the war. The world has become "a better place" since Saddam Hussein's overthrow. What is progressive governing? Isn't it modern to pull reasons for war out of a hat as needed?
The web of lies of half-truths, allegations and hysteria with which Americans and Brits tried to dupe the national and international public is torn. The attempt to divert attention by pointing to the presumed 300,000 dead in Iraqi mass graves is tasteless. One senses the intention and becomes enraged.
Remember before the buildup in the spring, there was no conclusive evidence for Iraq' continuous possession and production of weapons of mass destruction. There was no proof of a connection between Hussein's secular tyranny and the Islamic terror group Al Qaeda. In addition there was no evidence that Baghdad represented a threat to the US, let alone to world peace. Thus evidence was lacking that could have legitimated the invasion under international law.
Tony Blair's assertion that the Iraqi regime could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was dramatized by the death of the weapons expert Kelly. As a former UN commissioner well-versed in diplomatic etiquette, Hans Blix commented very briskly that Blair over-interpreted the material and committed a fundamental error.
An enormous defeat already occurs on the other side across the Atlantic, the bloody disaster of allied troops in post-war Iraq and the symbolic debacle on the field of political hermeneutic. It makes a difference whether all the world knows or thinks it knows that the reasons for the latest war in the Gulf were lies.
New Resources of Terror
This distinction has become virulent since the fairy-tale of Hussein's nuclear shopping in Niger. This fairy-tale was the primary cause of the political tremor that we now feel with force.
What is involved isn't a venial or pardonable error. What is involved is war, attacking a foreign country and sending one's troops without knowing whether they will be unhurt and come out unhurt. Gradually the notorious Atlanticists recognized that the warning that war against Saddam Hussein could transform Iraq into a gigantic Lebanon was not entirely made up and that a war without legitimation and beyond internationally sanctioned legality could have destructive consequences. Besides a lasting instability of the international political systems and institutions, new resources were opened up to terror.
Something else was clear. The notion of a further development of international law on the basis of the Iraq war proves to be a chimera. Nothing suggests that the US connected its actions with any international law ambitions. That Donald Rumsfeld recently sued for "strict observance of state sovereignty" against the International Criminal Court was a remarkable appeal to the "old European" archive of ideas and ran crossway to America's own revolutionary tradition skeptical of sovereignty. The breach of this tradition that led to the Nuremberg trials and to an International Criminal Court is the price that the new American elite under George W. Bush seems ready to pay for the claim of unilateral hegemony. The American dream of unbounded rights is no longer dreamt but the nightmare of its instrumentalization as it pleases.
Jacques Derrida denounced this as an abuse of power against the sovereignty postulate. Recently Jurgen Habermas passionately rejected the reproach of anti-Americanism. The "normative authority" that America lost is founded on ideals represented by those who made a stand against the present US administration. These ideals are incompatible with the regime of a globalized controlling power localized in a legally-free space and with all forms of political despotism. The callousness with which the threadbare official reasons for war is now admitted makes one speechless and a little perplexed.
Evidence in a completely new light
Why war? Why this war? Before the armed forces deployment, Donald Rumsfeld admitted frankly the lack of new discoveries as to Iraq' armed forces before the beginning of the war. He also made a remark that brings a little clarity in confused conditions. "We acted because we saw the evidence in a completely new light - through the prism of our experiences with September 11". After a long odyssey of arguments, proofs and opportunities, one arrives again at the starting-point: September 11.
The whole inventory of reasons and justifications of war is tied to this one point: the trauma of the assassinations of New York and Washington to which America doesn't seem to have found an adequate answer on the plane of cultural symbolism. The delusion of invulnerability that suddenly burst with the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York demanded a restitution in an action that would remove all doubt and self-doubt in the power of the US and silence the paralyzing despair over the dead.
If the mourning and shock of the city of New York and the people were real that fall, the official mourning of the state breathed the spirit of that heroism that excludes killing by uniting and empowering the survivors to act. This act was the attack on Iraq that had less to do with geo-strategy and tactics, world power policy and securing resources than with the fatality of a psycho-logic that transformed the shock of one's vulnerability into open aggression. This aggression needed a target.
The political actions of the American government call to mind that running amok where American society appears wild at regular intervals. A kind of rage has replaced weighing reasons and considerations, a theo-politically charged Manichaism that can no longer find its way in the diffuse shadings of power politics and with great gestures divides the world in good and evil, "for us" and "against us". A psychic disposition is described that resembles its counterpart, fundamentalist Islamism in an oppressive way. This is the danger that while Bush and his cohorts talk more subdued in the guerilla war in Iraq, they remain the "new America".