Saturday, August 05, 2006

"The World is Better Off without Saddam Hussein"

When was the last time you heard that argument? If the books being released in the next few months are any indication, you'll be hearing it a lot less.

In no particular order, these are the titles coming out from major publishing houses (and some not quite so major, but none vanity presses) in the next few months. I've been looking through catalogues the last few weeks, and a few titles stuck with me:

From W.W. Norton (favorite publisher of English professors everywhere):

Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present, by Michael B. Oren
Consumed: The Fate of Citizens under Capitalism Triumphant, by Benjamin R. Barber

Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy, by Stephen M. Walt

From St. Martin's Press:

With God On Our Side: One Man's War against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military, by Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay

The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office, by David Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky

Books have a peculiar place in our national discourse. Too topical, and they are too late being published, or quickly forgotten, unless they are controversial enough. Too controversial, though, and few read them. But the books about Iraq are starting to come out, and they aren't pretty:

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks. Ricks is the senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, so it's hard to say he has an axe to grind. Unlike, say, Peter Galbraith, son of the famous economist, who has published: The End of Iraq. And of course Cobra II is still on the shelves: "The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," which was none too kind to the Bush Administration. Another book on the shelves is James Risen's State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. From the titles alone, you can tell how the subjects are handled.

And then there are the two books on New Orleans and Katrina, neither of which is kind to public officials at any level: Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge and Breach of Faith by Jed Horne. Again, the titles tell you a great deal about what's inside. Katrina still lingers like an unhealed sore on the body politic. That disaster is going to have unexpected effects in November.

Does this mean something? Yes, but not necessarily anything significant. It means the pendulum, as pendula inevitably do, is starting to swing back in the other direction. It means people have had enough of what Bush&Co are selling, largely because it is clear by now Bush&Co are not selling anything, and they are charging quite a price for it (consider them the anti-Isaiah 55). Not that these trump Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter, but both are more notorious now for their bluster and blather than for the outrage they produce. Outrage only works for so long before people get tired of it; it's another kind of shtick, and no shtick works forever, unless all you're doing is making people laugh (Milton Berle; Rodney Dangerfield; Jack Benny).

The books reflect the change, but even if it is a sea change, it's still the same sea. American culture still reflects the preference of fight over diplomacy, of belligerence or isolation over involvement and cooperation. Interestingly, the Peace Corps has accepted its largest number of volunteers in 30 years. But, as Gary Hart points out, some things won't change:

But even as President Bush rolls out the bogus plan in the Rose Garden, surrounded by trembling Congressmen, and claims "victory" in Iraq, work will continue around the clock on the American fortress in central Baghdad and on the permanent military garrisons in the countryside.

It was all forecast years ago in the final scene of the movie Three Days of the Condor when the CIA official Higgins explains to the naive CIA research character portrayed by Robert Redford: "Of course it's about the oil. Do you think the American people care how we get it? They just want us to get it."
While signs indicate the GWOT is not the sales pitch it used to be, that is most likely only because "they" are not always completely foreign to "us." And even if we say we are ruthless in our pursuit of oil, we're still going to pursue oil; whether it's a Democratic Congress, or a Republican one. So maybe it's too strong to say a change is coming. Maybe we should just look forward to an amelioration.

Sometimes that'sall you can ask for.

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