A few weeks before the insurgency in Iraq got rolling nearly two years ago, I learned from casual inquiry that the insurgents had long envisioned the war in Iraq as two wars, not one. In the first war, they foresaw heedless American forces making short work of storming the country and toppling its government. For the second war, the leaders of the insurgency had by then already laid plans for the intractable insurgency that nobody in White House saw coming. Tragically miscalculating, Kenneth Adelman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, called the initial American blitzkrieg (that he thought was the war) “a cakewalk.” Donald Rumsfeld, the cocksure Secretary of Defense, said, “I can’t say if the use of force would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”
The insurgents, seeming to know that these men would think this way, manipulated their arrogance to lure them into the trap of an occupation that has made of American forces a large, sluggish target in the kind of unconventional war the insurgents always wanted.
It appears clear enough by now that the swelling ranks of our anonymous enemies across the world have fairly easily figured out something about American culture that serves their interest in warfare, and that is that we can literally be turned into our own worst enemy.
Some eighteen years ago, I was invited to address a large San Francisco meeting of wealthy Americans with mining interests in South Africa on the subject of apartheid. When I said that Nelson Mandela would one day soon be president of South Africa, I was showered with loud, derisive boos. They hadn’t wanted to hear an inconvenient truth, even when it might have been employed to serve their long-term interests. Against reason, they had much preferred to squall like over-indulged children.
Reality denied remains reality nonetheless. Even for Americans.
As if to belie the enormity of the disaster that the United States has visited upon the Iraqi people (113,000 civilian deaths), and with blind disregard for the requirements of cultural relativism, American soldiers handed out teddy bears to women and children in Iraq last week. As they were doing this, Fox News, in its coverage of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, belittled every measure that the Aruban government had taken to find her. Haiti, now completely ignored by American news television, continued apace its descent into chaos following the American-inspired coup that toppled its democracy a year and a half ago. Taken together, what do disparate events like these sum up to? An unexamined and self-destructive national narcissism. The sad, troubling truth of the matter is that too many Americans see no-one, listen to no-one, and respect no-one but themselves.
And ostrich-like, we wonder, incredulously, why many in the world do not like us.