The President in his Labyrinth, II
Bush, T.E. Lawrence, and the Bible
Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, December 1, 2005
The thirty-eight page “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” is a pamphlet of hallucinations so crammed with in-your-face Biblical allusions and colonially Freudian slips that one wonders if the administration has abandon all pretenses of objective goals in favor of hopes and prayers hewing to the base. Embrace the inner cause: This is God’s duty for America. This is the president’s crusade: The appendix to “The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” is called—and this is, unfortunately, no joke, and no laughing matter—“The Eight Pillars.” Whoever wrote this wanted to one-up both the Book of Proverbs and T.E. Lawrence: In the Book of Proverbs (9:1) you read the lines, “Wisdom has built herself a house/she has erected her seven pillars.” And of course T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, called his autobiography “Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph.” [My colleague-by-blog Ron Brynaert zeroed in on this angle with some depth at his site, Why Are We Back In Iraq; see the Dubya of Arabia item.]
So you have a Western, compulsively Christian president who once called the war on terror a “crusade” pretending that none of this has anything to do with evangelizing the heart of the Arab-Islamic world, but going about it by referring to Iraq’s strategy for victory by using a most obviously biblical and cliché—and in this case entirely reckless—reference out of the Old Testament. The even more famous association of the line is with Lawrence, the very man who is one of the reasons we’re in this mess in Iraq, a representative of Anglo-Saxon colonialism whose idealism and O’Toolish good looks never strayed too far beyond his white-man-burden’s justifications for using Arabs to Western ends. It’s just as notable, I think, that Lawrence’s original idea of a book called the “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” was to be a history of seven great Arab cities. Lawrence supposedly wrote then destroyed the book, a symbolic, if not literal, preface to what western idealism would do to Arab cities for the rest of the century, down to today. And then there’s that word in Lawrence’s title: “Triumph.” For “make no mistake” (to use one of Bush’s favorite phrases of his post-traumatic 9/11-syndrome presidency) triumphalism has been the storyline of the administration’s missionary wars from day one. It continues to be so even as it begins its retreat from Iraq, and while scaling the fake-Doric pillars of its “strategy for victory.”
“ Iraq,” the first pillar states, “is not a source of terrorists or terrorist resources, and neither terrorists, Saddamists nor rejectionists are able to prevent Iraq’s political and economic progress.” Cut to the eighth pillar, and you read this status report explaining why the first pillar is not, in fact, the equivalent of an onanist fantasy on a dull vacation night in Crawford, Texas: “Success in Iraq’s political and economic development are overshadowed in the international media, including popular pan-Arab outlets, by a relentless focus on terrorist and extremist violence and a misleading spotlight on the disagreements among Iraqi politicians. This has contributed to an inaccurate and unbalanced view of developments in Iraq among many international audiences and within Iraq itself.” No need to go on. (This just in: American soldiers killed in Iraq this month: 83; last month: 96; so far this war: 2,110. Iraqi civilians killed: between 27,000 and 31,000. But the relentless focus on these numbers is a journalistic misdemeanor.)
The six other pillars are not worth the hollow plaster they’re made of. (“The Iraqi government is able to provide essential services…” “… a market economy and robust private sector-led growth,” “… recognized standards for civil rights and the rule of law.”) Up close, they look like those fake pillars you see cropping out of all those pseudo-fancy new homes in Florida’s gated communities. They’re pillars of suburban shingles and wisdom, of featherweight, “positive” ideas and assumptions manicured to the rhythm of lawnmowers, pesticides and talk radio—no unpleasantness allowed, no insurgent bugs, no allegiance to flagging voices of nabobism. These pillars support not only the kind of suburban wisdom where Bush can still find his good-Christian supporters and “Lawrence of Arabia” nostalgics. These pillars support America’s mortgage on reality. The loans’ interest rates aren’t fixed, and they’re coming due.