Friday, October 21, 2005

Brer Bush

Back in the old days, before "PC," children of all races in America were read to before bedtime, and quite often parents would read from one of the various selections of Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. Harris, a poor white who went on to a career in journalism in post-bellum Georgia, transcribed stories he heard from the Black slaves as a boy. These became the Uncle Remus (1881) stories and among them is a story about Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit (who were always key characters in these tales, Fox being somewhat inept as a predator, and Rabbit being something of a smart-aleck trouble-maker) called The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story.

The tar-baby story is Aesopian, as most of the tales were. It is a cultural treasure, really, about a number of things, including minding your own business, about glib dishonest courtesy, about temper, hubris, and being ornery, about getting entangled in something so that every next move you make gets you in deeper and more helpless against the real threats of life, like Brer Fox!

There's no racism in repeating this story, for it is a wise story and, although the accents and vocabulary seem a bit overdrawn to us 125 years later, even these have a story to tell about communication and wisdom.

I was going to write about Iraq today and tell you about the complexities of religion and ethnicity in Iraq and how the U.S. and U.K. press have been trying desperately to make sense of something that even Iraqis do not understand fully and completely, ... else why would they be at such internal loggerheads with one another.

I was going to explain that although the Kurds are not Arabs (they are Kurds, a "Persian" people,) they are Muslim and most of them, but not all, subscribe to the Sunni vision of Islam, not the Shiite version. There are also Turkmen (Turks, whose ancestors rode out of a part of central Asia north and east of Afghanistan near the western reaches of greater Mongolia a millennium ago). Turkmen are in the north of Iraq along the Turkish border and southward in decreasing numbers. They are Muslim, but the more Turkish they are the less important to their politics is their religion, it seems.

And, of course, there are the Arab peoples of Iraq most of whom are Muslim, but a significant numbers of which are Christian. Baghdad once was also the largest urban concentration of Jews in the world. Ethnic Jews, you will recall, are a semitic tribe related to the semite Arabs. But, the vast majority of Iraqis are Arabs, and there are twice as many Shiite Iraqis as Sunni, but under Hussein and the Baath Party Sunnis ruled.

Keenly aware of all this chaos of religion and tribe and ethnicity and language, George H.W.Bush (41) decided to forego the opportunity to barge in and tell these people how to behave. His son, on the other hand ... with the considerable "intellectual" assistance of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld felt that it was not that big a problem, and so there we have been for the past two years and seven months, two hands and one foot completely entangled in Iraq's fabled tar-baby!

The rest of this article was to be about how to withdraw from the military occupation of Iraq, given that the occupation itself was predicated on a unconscionably arrogant set of misunderstandings about the substance of Iraqi thought on governance (and religion and ethnicity and modernism and so forth.) I was going to explain that most observers believe that, if the U.S. troops were not there, the Shiite Iranians will come to the aid of the Shiite Iraqis at the drop of a kuffiyeh! This would add insult to Iran's already nose-thumbing position on nuclear weapons development, and would pose a huge threat to peaceful transformation of Iran by its younger generation (70% of Iranians are under 30, while 100% of its leaders are over 50), not to mention the likelihood of some trigger-happy triumphalist imperialist neocon deciding to nuke them before they nuke us ... or Israel.

Then there is the problem of the oil fields which are capable of providing about 4 million barrels of good petroleum a day into a world market that now includes a gas-guzzling China and very little abatement of appetite here in North America. Sans U.S. troops the angry factions would inevitably continue their sabotage of pipelines and wells, reducing production ever lower from the current 1.8 million barrels.

Of course, the world does not want to see Shiites and Sunnis descend into civil war. There is a good chance that they will anyway no matter what anyone from the outside does. In a serious way, it really is up to them. There are some bitter feelings that make our own Hatfields and McCoys look like a noisy pre-teen slumber party. Presumably, our U.S. troops there give both Sunni and Shiia a target for their festering animosities and, perhaps, time to consider various ways of reconciliation, but this fits in poorly with American sensibilities about the use of our armed forces as deliberate targets. No one knows the answer to the civil war problem, because as a Iraqi government moves ever closer to a theocracy, to law based fundamentally on the Sharia, the rational element of civil discourse fades ever more into the realm of fantasy and nightmare.

It really matters quite a bit what the U.S. and the U.K. do in the next few weeks and months. Clearly, (or at least I thought so last week at this hour) the domestic embarrassments besetting the Bush administration should temper (and perhaps bring back toward reality) George's intentions. That was before we stuck the other foot into the tar-baby, Syria!

Yes, folks, we are in a de facto war with Syria!—the naughty little country that we let run Lebanon for several decades and are now sorry that we did. With Syria in the mix, there is no telling what will happen. All the Arabs are now going to have to reassess their position on the U.S. intervention in Iraq, since these Syrian Arabs are maintaining staging areas for insurgents and fifth-columnists in Iraq.

Like my colleagues at the Project, I am wholly in favor of an orderly departure from Iraq. I do not think that will happen now. We have now a "Cambodia" to consider and, remembering the fallout from that little expedition a generation ago, we might well be cautious about what happens to innocent civilians inside Syria because of our truculence ... and their leaders'ineptitude.

The punchline of Uncle Remus's tar-baby fable was that as Brer Rabbit got himself totally messed up with the tar-baby and stuck hand, hand, and foot, foot in the sticky tar, along comes Brer Fox, ready to take advantage. There are plenty of foxes out there; you just pick one: China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Libya, Sudan, Avian Flu, Global Warming, Fundamentalist irrationality, Hurrican Wilma, and so on. The stage is set for a debacle the likes of which we may never live down ... or survive.

As I see it, the invasions of foreign countries is a matter for the Congress to decide. Congress cannot give up its Constitutional responsibility by signing away its duties with flimsy war-powers acts; that would be, obviously, unconstitional! (There can be no such thing as a War On Terrorism any more than there can be such a thing as a War Against War or a War on Poverty. These are metaphors and Congress knows it!) Nor can the President simply choose lawyers to parse unconstitutional acts and vote their boss ambitious autonomous powers; their judgments are obviously meaningless.

And so, we are long past the time when impeachment is a debatable issue. The security of the nation is clearly at risk, treason abounds, high crimes and misdemeanors litter the floors and hallways of this sty of government. Ugly as it may be, we must ... impeach!

James Richard Brett