Thursday, February 28, 2008

First Tragedy, Then Farce

September 2007

In the war waged for public opinion at General Petraeus’ hearing last week, truth was the first casualty. Mass media mercenaries battled with the political and industrial infantry for the booty of our attention and consent, and our knowledge became collateral damage.

We may not understand why we are in Iraq and we may not know how or when or even if we plan to leave. But we can count on the New York Times to provide us with a detailed chart outlining the meaning of every medal on General Petraeus’ military uniform.

Petraeus’ eminent statement, that he doesn’t know whether the Iraq war will make the United States safer, is bandied and parroted by every reactionary press with an ulterior motive. It’s a crumb tossed to keep amnesiac pundits and politicians of all persuasions busy. With unabashed haste, the political and news community seems to have long since forgotten the National Intelligence Estimate report from April 2006, which, compiled by 16 different intelligence agencies, stated unequivocally that the ongoing occupation of Iraq has in fact increased the threat of terrorist attacks. Old news is no news.

Leaving such small details aside, we can observe in Petraeus’ hearing and its repercussions a recycled narrative. “Hegel,” Karl Marx wrote, “remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

At the congressional hearing we had first the reappearance of Petraeus himself. Petraeus has been active in Iraq for some time and his record can speak for itself. Petraeus is implicated both in the loss of Mosul in 2004 to insurgents, and in the massive failure to train an Iraqi army. Patrick Cockburn reports that "[t]he 7,000 police recruited by General Petraeus either changed sides or went home. Thirty police stations were captured, 11,000 assault rifles were lost and $41m (£20m) worth of military equipment disappeared. Iraqi army units abandoned their bases." Finally, as chief of the Security Transmissions Command, Petraeus is also responsible for the recent loss of 1.2 billion dollars of US weapons which are without a doubt now in the hands of Iraqi insurgents. The tragedy of Petraeus’ military career is matched in magnitude only by the farce of his recent appearance; the whole extravaganza steeped in hubris and incompetence and lubricated by the diligent drool of lap dog legislators.

Also at the hearing it is difficult not to recognize the reappearance of the first Gulf War, of Vietnam, of the Philippines, and all their respective congressional hearings, each attended by a fair and balanced audience of hawks and apologists. First tragedy, now farce.

The hearing was a masquerade and a scam; Petraeus reenacts a rerun we have seen before. His is the relegated role of the Roman centurion returned from Mesopotamia to kneel before the emperor and make salutary statements about the burdens we must bear for the virtues of conquest.

While self-interested liberals and self-described conservatives chide the Democratic party or tirelessly blame Bush for everything, the mass media regurgitates all the phlegm it has swallowed and we forget to ask the important questions. Why, despite majority oppositions worldwide, do US military operations in Iraq continue?

Petraeus’ hearing was a pretense brewed from the cookbooks of spectacle to legitimize the illegitimate. The event, attended by a handpicked posse of politicians and military officials, was designed to distract and desensitize. The only debate on the congressional table was how to best grease the wheels of US foreign policy; this policy itself is not up for discussion.

And really, we should not be surprised. Since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, the striptease of US priorities and interests has long been over. Empire has never been negotiable, and the imperialism which has and continues to determine US foreign policy is no exception.

No strategic analysis, whether political or military, can proceed coherently without an acknowledgment of this reality. It is a reality that Iraqis can’t miss. Neither can US troops in the region, nine of whom were reportedly killed while Petraeus was addressing Congress.

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