Let us suppose that the Bush-Cheney administration answers the neocons’ prayer and does indeed bomb Iran sometime soon. The plan apparently involves more than the destruction of nuclear facilities, replicating Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. (That attack, by the way was condemned by the whole world, including a furious President Ronald Reagan). It includes an all-out assault on the Iranian political and religious leadership. Government buildings and officials’ residences will be targeted, guaranteeing collateral damage.
Since Iran is a highly complex society, and its government widely unpopular, there may well be some local support for a “shock and awe” campaign. We know that the administration has cultivated ties with the Mujahadeen Khalq (even though they remain on the State Department’s terrorist list) and the Pakistan-based Balochi separatist group Jundallah (the Party of God). These among other organizations will get their marching orders amid the “creative chaos” produced by the attack. There can be no large deployment of U.S. troops in Iran, unless they evacuate from Afghanistan and Iraq which is unlikely.
I doubt that administration plans for the construction of a post-attack Iranian polity are any more sophisticated than their plans for post-Taliban Afghanistan or occupied Iraq. Some have suggested that the neocons’ goal is actually to plunge the Muslim Middle East into prolonged pandemonium, insuring that all foes of Israel are off-balance and terrorized by the might of Israel’s protector for generations to come. “Neocons,” writes Paul Craig Roberts, “have convinced themselves that nuking Iran will show the Muslim world that Muslims have no alternative to submitting to the will of the US government.”
They are “total Islamophobes” who believe that “Islam must be deracinated and the religion destroyed. . .” Others note that Cheney is obsessed with the imagined threat of a rising China and the need to establish permanent U.S. bases in Central and Southwest Asia to “contain” the world’s most populous nation. The desire to control the flow of oil, the urge to check China, the passionate drive to destroy Israel’s enemies (alongside this neocon Islamophobia) are all reflected in U.S. foreign policy since 9-11.
Surely a lot of Iranians know this. And they can look over their northern border into Afghanistan and their western border into Iraq and see what disaster U.S. imperialism has wrought in these neighboring countries. Bush calls them “democracies” and boasts of having gifted them with the universally applicable model pioneered by America’s founding fathers. But I’d imagine Iranians paying attention see in Afghanistan a regime dominated by warlords more reactionary than their own mullahs, resisted by an equally reactionary resurgent Taliban. In Iraq they find an emerging regime under the strong influence of conservative Shiite Muslim clerics in an unusual alliance with U.S. occupation forces. Many young Iranians chafing under Islamic law might consider this a step backwards for Iraq, which under the despised Saddam had at least been a secular society. The Iraqi puppet government is of course far weaker than the one in Tehran, and humiliatingly dependent upon the invaders who cannot provide a modicum of security while they demand oil concessions.
So I would think that the Iranian survivors of this planned criminal assault would not appreciate it. Rather they will resent it deeply, especially if it produces numerous civilian casualties. As Roberts suggests, the neocons believe that the Iranian people and Muslims around the world will be so terrified that they will capitulate to all U.S. demands and the U.S. will be better able to attain its geopolitical objectives without the use of unacceptable numbers of ground troops. I have to wonder about this.
Perhaps the neocons suppose that there will be no resistance from a shocked and awed Iranian population as America’s Iranian allies—a mix of quasi-left guerrillas, terrorist separatists, monarchists and exiles—create a provisional government. They may underestimate the social base of the present Iranian government, the sincerity of popular opposition to U.S. policy in the world, the depth of Iranian nationalism and national pride at the accomplishments of the nuclear power program. They probably underestimate the outrage an attack will cause, in Iran and everywhere.
Perhaps they overestimate the power of their weapons. The neocons know that nuclear weapons (even dire predictions about nuclear attack) produce fear—and that frightened people may voluntarily give up much of their freedom. They saw that happen here in the USA between 9-11 and the attack on Iraq. All that talk by Bush, Cheney and Rice about mushroom clouds over New York City got the masses scared, got them to support a war. The neocons may assume that this frightening thing they hold in their hand—that they can deliver (intoning with John McCain, “Bomb bomb bomb Iran”) as soon as Bush (after prayerful deliberation) gives his okay—can fix the Middle East. They may figure that a country once nuked will submit to any aftermath.
Recall how they predicted in 2002 that Iraqis would respond to occupation the same way the Japanese did from 1945 to 1952. How wrong they were. Maybe the attack-planners think that the Iranians will, after this new, planned Hiroshima, unconditionally surrender to the United States. I doubt that. Just as they appear to have overestimated the power of U.S. troops on the battlefield in Iraq, Cheney and his neocons may miscalculate the power of their most vicious weapons to obtain their goals. Mao often referred to nuclear weapons (first those of the U.S. imperialists, then the Soviet ones as well) as “a paper tiger.” The imperialists might find that they’ve sent a paper tiger to arouse an Iranian griffin. (That’s a lion with an eagle’s head and wings, something not supposed to happen.)
Meanwhile, reaction in Iraq to reports of a U.S. strike on Iran will hardly be positive. Iraqi Shiites (60% of the population) will naturally identify with victimized Shiite Iran and hate the occupiers more, without necessarily fearing them more. If you really want to do something that will fuel the Shiites’ historical sense of victimization, and unite Shiites from Lebanon to Oman and beyond, the best thing you could do is bomb Iran—not sparing the holy sites. But Iraq’s Sunnis won’t be happy either. Whatever their feelings about Iran, they’ll feel no joy in the expansion of U.S. operations in the Muslim world. The entire world will respond with revulsion. From Europe to Japan there will be much discussion about how to best distance oneself and protect oneself from a USA gone nuts.
But what will happen here in the U.S. after the Iran attack? How will we react? If it happens, it won’t be announced the way the invasion of Iraq was. There will be more and more unattributed reports of Iranian arms deliveries to unlikely recipients like the Taliban or Sunni “insurgents” in Iraq. More alarmist reports on Iran’s nuclear progress. More propaganda about Iran’s intention to nuke Israel and produce a second Holocaust. More indignant statements about Iran’s defiance of UNSC resolutions. But the timing might come as a surprise.
As the attack gets underway some Democratic leaders in Congress will indicate support for the move, based on the doctored intelligence reports they’ve read, or have had on their desk and possibly perused. Some will withhold comment or maybe even object to the action. I have the feeling both timidity and stupidity will initially prevail. There is little precedent for U.S. politicians condemning a U.S. attack on a country just after it’s occurred.
I would expect those on the contact-lists of the various antiwar coalitions would be out on the streets in force immediately after the (first) attack, shouting “SHAME” and making it clear to the world that Bush doesn’t represent the American people. I’d expect that large numbers of people would gather to demand that the Congress move immediately to impeach Bush and Cheney. I’d hope that the Democrats in Congress would find it in their interest to do so, but if Nancy Pelosi becomes president, will there be any great change? On Iran, Pelosi has deferred to AIPAC.
The antiwar movement has become disillusioned with the Democrats, and even with a mercilessly self-perpetuating system that uses its two parties to convey the illusion that the political status quo is the product of competition. Still, it sees no alternative to a mix of letter-writing, lobbying, voting, rallying, marching, exercising constitutional rights, operating within the paradigm. But Cindy Sheehan officially dropped out of the movement concluding that the “paradigm. . . is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.”
She is right. The neocons want us to “think outside the box.” Maybe we should one-up them and think outside the system. The “way our system works,” writes Andrew J. Bacevich, “negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.” In it, “Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics.” What can the honest dissenter do when informed that the U.S. (“your”) government has committed a spectacular war crime? When can you do when you learn that, once again— without your permission—the U.S. has attacked a sovereign country posing no real threat to you? Generating enormous hatred for America throughout the world? What do we do the day after? I would just like to pose the question for discussion as we approach that moment.
* * *
In Defense of My Excellent Satire on Paris Hilton
My little piece on Paris Hilton has drawn very mixed reviews. Comments are running about half entirely positive, a fourth puzzled, a fourth hostile. “This is the most striking piece of satire I’ve read in a long time,” writes one Chris in Florida.” “Thanks so much for writing such a fun article,” writes another reader, “I laughed over and over, then passed it to a friend.” “You are absolutely wonderful,” writes a couple. “How nice to see some wit and irony from out of the propaganda smoke of America’s moronic inferno.” “Dear Gary,” writes someone who regularly comments on my stuff. “I loved it. Great job, and thanks for writing it!” “I went from outrage to howling laughter as I read your recent editorial on CounterPunch!” writes another. “Initially I thought ‘what reasonable person could possibly take this position with regard to this issue’? Yet, I continued to read! Excellent! Exactly what good satire looks like.”
Some responded with satirical remarks of their own: “I am writing to let you know I share your deep and abiding pain and despair over this gross societal injustice……unfortunately all I can do is follow your lead and gloss over the pain with a massive dose of irony bordering on sarcasm. Of course all will understand that this is just the way a sensitive man deals with such a terrible pain.”
On the other hand, this unkind communication: “I have agreed and forwarded a couple of your pieces in the past, but after reading your article on the unfair treatment of Paris Hilton, I don’t think I can ever take you seriously again. It’s got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. What’s going on with you?!” (When I explained the piece was intended as satire, the retort was: “It’s not your forte.”) And this, from an insurance company executive: “Until now, your pieces at least showed a wisp of intellect, if not common sense. This one proves that even the wisp is now gone.” Worse, some anonymous person commented curtly, “you messed up in yo haid.” They just didn’t get it.
Some Hilton supporters truly thought I was arguing on Paris’ behalf. “Great post!” wrote one. “I am not an American but I am a big fan of the sweet Ms. Hilton. Those deranged twisted bastards who derive pleasure and gloating at her sufferings deserve a fate 1,000 times worse!” On the other hand, someone with a Middle Eastern name wrote very politely: “Sir, This must be one of the very rare times that i find myself disagreeing with you. If, and since what you wrote is what happened, i can see no reason why she shouldn’t be punished in this manner. My best regards.”
I politely responded that this was intended as an entirely facetious piece, in response to the injustice of the judicial system as well as media hype, and that he should not suppose I was in fact arguing that Paris should escape punishment. I assumed that as someone from another culture this particular reader might not understand or share my sense of what’s funny. Still, I would have thought that anyone reading as far as the reference to Paris’ famed shaved pudendum as “representing childlike innocence lost. . .shining hairless for you, and for me, as the nation descended deeper and deeper into darkness”—would have grasped the fact that this was indeed humor!
But consternated at the varied responses, and disappointed at the numbers who seemed just not inclined to get it, I realized I had not communicated well to the entire internet readership. I thus sought out Dr. Susan Block’s opinion. “Very funny!” she wrote comfortingly. “Anyone who doesn’t see that this piece is satirical is terminally blonde.” (This too, one should stress, was a facetious remark.) Some readers recognized the nature of the piece and appreciated the humor but took exception to my characterization of AA or the GED. These are probably legitimate criticisms. One pointed out that “Seriously, the left should point out that Hilton is enmeshed in the middle of a political fight between a right wing county sheriff and a right wing superior court judge who both have political aspirations.” I think the writer may have a point there too.
Another accused me of wanting “to see Paris in prison rather than arguing for the release of ALL prisoners.” I’m not sure about this idea of releasing ALL prisoners, and my piece did not suggest that I want Paris to remain in jail. For the record, my honest opinion here is that she should get the same treatment as records show has been meted out to others in comparable circumstances in recent months. I also think we need to rethink the judicial and penal systems in general because they are irrational and unfair in many respects. They also probably promote humorlessness.
Eva Lidell’s piece “Paris Hilton Doesn’t Do Dishes” appearing on Counterpunch shortly after mine makes reference to it towards the end. One writer understood her column to be a response to mine, but I don’t know. It seems to me rather a very eloquent statement of what Paris means to some people, which the author would have written anyway.
Lidell links a series of memories to explain how she feels about Paris today. “She only reminds me of something harmless from long ago before I entered our meritoriously-oriented society and went to work.” In Lidell’s mind Paris is associated with the Barbie doll, and Barbie in her childhood memory represented an alternative to doing the dishes with her friend at her friend’s house. “I don’t do no stinkin’ dishes,” she wanted to tell her friend’s mom through the voice of Barbie. She recalls that when visiting poet Allen Ginsberg’s home in 1967 (which can’t have been too many years later since the first Barbies were manufactured in 1959) he demanded that some of the “chicks” at his party go into the kitchen and do the dishes. She replied as above that she doesn’t do stinkin’ dishes. As I read her piece, Lidell recalls the Barbie doll in positive terms as one inspiration for her own appropriate rejection of male chauvinism, including such chauvinism voiced by middle aged men who are supposed to be on the left.
I’m not so sure that Barbie’s harmless, but I confess my own daughter had a bunch of Barbie dolls in the 90s. The first of them conferred by a family friend, a woman active in the feminist movement in the early 70s who was at that time an academic administrator. When she gave me the doll to give my daughter I raised my eyebrows, asking what such dolls might say to my little girl about how she should see gender roles. She used that very word: “harmless.” Thereafter, my old-fashioned mother and others (including me) got used to contributing to an ever expanding collection of Barbies. At some point my daughter lost interest entirely in them and indeed came to view them in the context of a feminist critique. I think her view of dishwashing is that it’s something that men women boys and girls have to do to get the dishes clean.
The depiction of Ginsberg rings true. There was a lot of macho posturing vis-à-vis “chicks” in the New Left of late 60s, although the contemporary women’s movement largely arose out of that left. Things change; I think Barbies meant something different in the 60s than they did in the 90s, in large part due to that feminist critique. I wonder if Ginsberg would have urged “chicks” to wash his dishes late in life. He died in 1997, 30 years after Lidell’s visit, and a whole lot had happened in the interim. And Barbies maybe mean something different again in 2007, as Paris Hilton reaches the pinnacle of fame.
Fittingly noting the injustice of holding mass-murderers unaccountable while punishing Paris, Lidell states: “she’s just a Barbie not a Bushie.” That I suppose is true, although she’s just requested that the press shift its attention (which she’s rarely shunned) from herself “to more important things like the men and women serving our country in Iraq and other places around the world.” This, I’m sorry to say, seems to me rather Bushite language incorporating the supposition that the occupation of Iraq serves you or me.
From this Lidell segues into reference to my piece employing what seems to be Whoopi Goldberg’s humorous association between George Bush and her own natural bush at a July 2004 John Kerry fundraiser. Lidell writes:“speaking of bushies, I didn’t know that Paris elects not to have one. I probably wouldn’t have known this if the professor from Tufts hadn’t been so on top of his game and provided us with this vital piece of information in his CounterPunch article along with the name of her boyfriend which I forgot as soon as I read it. But I should have known, because of Barbie.”
(At the beginning of her piece Lidell had mentioned that “Barbie had slender legs, long straight blond hair, endless outfits for her endless adventures and no pubic hair.”)
You don’t need to be on top of any game or in possession of any advanced research skills to uncover this “vital piece of information” about Paris. Anyone doing a few minutes google-searching “Paris Hilton” will find it, and it must surely be part of the basic knowledge-base of the true fan (mainly those very young people who fanatically follow their idols’ careers and the wikipedia-type info on them.)
Anyone trying to quickly compose a chronology of the Paris phenomenon will note how it began with the video, which propelled Paris into stardom as a somewhat embarrassed but charmingly self-promoting, beautiful professional heiress. I think my characterization of Paris’ contributions to society, offered in its satirical form, was appropriate—and mention of this physical detail really a reference to what is by now by design public domain. My reference to it is not a disparagement of Paris, who signed a contract to make money off the video, and my comments about her are not on a par with Ginsberg’s demand during the Summer of Love that chicks wash his dishes.
Anyway, to avoid any future confusion, I vow henceforth to plainly label any SATIRE as such. Would it be better to attach the label at the beginning, or the end?
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University. He can be reached at: email@example.com