Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Iraq is already the West’s new Vietnam – opinions in the street and at the dinner table are deeply polarized, but both sides are following agendas no deeper than about five dot points; all of which everyone has already heard (and on both sides), ad infinitum.

So here’s my take.

The “five dot points deep” syndrome is fed and sustained by an asymmetry of rogues. The enemy is variously personal (Saddam) and also a nation, variously unfinished Gulf War business and also the post September 11 new-Realpolitik, variously a proxy war to test and tame another country (Saudi Arabia) and also an annihilation by proxy of just one human being (Bin Laden).

I could go on – not least by going through the gallery of innocents, just as asymmetric as that of the rogues. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter, because they are inseparable – rogues and innocents, individual nutcases and whole countries. Both sides of dot pointers are nonetheless right, if only because they share the same defect of rationality, done to a high school debate lukewarmness.

Try instead to get inside the head of a suicide bomber - It’s not a pretty picture – nor is it even a clear picture. It’s not much to do with leaders (Saddam, Bin Laden) nor ideology and nationalism. It’s intellectually soft – soft as its targets – and as easily spread and mass-marketed as any other brand of pop-nihilism. Use of videotape by suicide bombers places them simultaneously at the crassest outlier of reality TV, and yet crowns them as maker-connoisseurs of sophisticated cinematic irony, a la Network (1976; Dir. Sidney Lumet, Wr. Paddy Chayefsky).

Just one referent somewhat grounds all this explosive, uncontrollable periphery – family. In an appropriately asymmetric gesture, Saddam/Iraq (as well as the other usual suspects) give a large sum of money to the families of dead suicide bombers. This makes him/them variously a go-getter production company of admirable flint-hardness, and also – just – a weeping spiral of pathos and self-righteous hypocrisy. Ah, family!

There may be no “smoking gun” in Iraq, then, but there sure are smoking nostrils - everywhere.

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