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Yeats on Iraq

Things Fall Apart

by GARY LEUPP

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming" (1919)

Things are falling apart quickly in Iraq. The Sunni uprising centering around Fallujah, the Shiite uprising sweeping the south, the wave of kidnappings of dozens of foreigners, the growing prospect of a national liberation movement uniting religious and secular factions against the U.S. occupation, mounting criticism of occupation brutality by the U.S.’s own handpicked Iraqi Governing Council, resignations from the council, refusal of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops to enter battle against the Fallujah insurgents, police units defecting to the Mahdi Army, international criticism (including the charge by a senior British commander that U.S. forces regard the Iraqis as untermenschen–the term Hitler used for "subhuman" Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies), falling support for the war in the U.S. where one-third of those polled consider it a "disaster" and many demand immediate withdrawal—these among other factors suggest that the neocons’ cherished project may come to naught. The MSNBC poll showing that over 40% of those viewing felt the president’s recent news conference devoted to Iraq was either a "poor" performance or a "disaster" doesn’t help.

But these war-mongering neocons are very clever people (even if the front man is not), and they are very committed to their cause.

The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Surely these impassioned imperialists have contingency plans to insure that Iraq remains under U.S. control (notwithstanding the planned "transfer of sovereignty"), and that Iraq is able to serve as a springboard for further empire-building in the region. If things are looking grim, they surely have contingency plans which involve using anarchy (or what Rumsfeld has called "creative chaos") to justify loosening more of it on the world. The Madhi Army can be linked to Iran to justify harsher measures against that sovereign state, and the Fajullah uprising can be linked to Syria to justify further measures against Damascus. Palestinian actions against Israel—in the wake of the U.S.-blessed attack on Syria, the assassination of Yassin the U.S. refused to condemn, and the formal U.S. acceptance of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank (conferred as if to deliberately provoke universal Arab anger)—can be depicted as "terrorist" and tied to terrorisms elsewhere, funded by Syria and Iran. So various governments and disparate movements can be linked to constitute "the enemy" in a War on Terrorism that generates more and more enemies as it unfolds—enemies who for their part link the U.S. and Israel (who indeed become ever closer as the neocons have wanted all along).

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

As illogical as this whole pattern of behavior might be; as obvious it is to anyone paying attention that the premises of the Iraq War were duplicitous; as "troubling" (the recently preferred journalistic term) as the consequences are; those steering the Bush administration’s foreign policy count upon the strength of religious fundamentalism in this country to produce the needed support for policies in the Middle East that can be depicted as divinely-blessed assistance to Israel, and even the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The great irony here is that this use of Christian fundamentalism targets a posited Islamic fundamentalism, which is generally conflated with "terrorism" (although other varieties, notably communist, are posited and will be targeted in future as necessary). Fundamentalism of any sort discards logic and draws upon emotion, the emotion currently best exploited by the Bushites being fear.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The neocon beast slouches way beyond Bethlehem, supposedly to advantage Bethlehem. But in the sands of the desert, the darkness drops. Meanwhile the falcon (supposed to do as told) cannot hear the falconer. The one in control is barking in English, stressed out and scared, and even the Iraqis most in his service are beginning to resist his orders. That resistance, famously now "underestimated" (though not by all of us) will determine what is born out the anarchy the beast has brought.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu