When you suffer from revitalization fever, you have a number of very
serious symptoms. The most important is you cannot think clearly and the
second is that you believe, intensely, that it's other people, people who
disagree with you, who can't think clearly. You know how the world works in
black and white without nuance or room for doubt. You feel great. Certainty
is power and you have it.
Many other people throughout history have had this fever. Indeed, it
touches almost everyone at some time in their lives, but for some it is
overwhelming, even defining. An example occurred during the French
Revolution when those enthusiastic about the possibilities which emerged
with the overthrow of the old order and the ushering in of a modern order
described a potential for the perfection of human society - utopia. The
full potential of alternative sources of tyranny was not, in the early
moments, apparent. Another example of unfettered enthusiasm for an idea
happened in 1848 when Karl Marx authored the principles that founded
socialism and communism. Those who embraced these ideas actually tried to
create a worker's paradise following the Russian Revolution. They thought
they understood how the world works, and in their enthusiasm they believed
that history was on the side of the working class as the ultimate rulers of
destiny. Blind enthusiasm followed, and they took their country into
extreme danger and ultimately into a long period of tyranny. And there was
the time the fever touched Germany and the Nazi movement that also
convinced itself it understood how the world worked. It was not nations
that vied for dominance, they said, nor classes. It was a contest of races.
And one race, the Aryan race, was clearly superior to all others. Their
enthusiasm was boundless.
The fever has now touched the leadership of the United States. The
neoconservatives in the Bush administration set out their manifesto in a
document forecasting what they called a New American Century (NAC). It is a
utopia of sorts, but their movement is currently allied with a second
utopian movement in the form of a militant American evangelicalism that
seeks to extend its version of morality over all the peoples of the world.
The NAC people believe military force solves all problems and they find
their inspiration in writings of philosophers such as Leo Strauss and
economists who express skepticism about the proper role of government in
regulating economies. The combination of religious and economic
fundamentalisms are bearing poisonous fruit in, of all places, Iraq.
It is not true that the Bush administration entered Iraq without a plan.
They had a plan, and most of us would probably agree it was a good one.
Their operatives entered Iraq having studied how the Marshall Plan had
given new life to Europe. At the end of World War II, the U.S. was viewed
as a heroic nation because it had defeated the Nazi horror, ended Japanese
imperialism, and had proceeded in a very human way to help countries
rebuild. The U.S. basked in an adoration that was deserved because its
leaders made an honest effort to restore democracy and to rebuild shattered
economies. Americans were the good guys. That was 1946.
In 2002, however, it turned out that the Bush team does not listen to
experts - economic, military, social or other kinds. It listens to its
"base." In this administration, ideology trumps everything, and the
ideology of the day was the wish list of the religious right and the
globalization, free market economy of neo-conservatives. When they first
arrived, it was with promises of significant help for the people in the
form of roads, schools and other quality of life enhancing infrastructure.
There would be freedom and democracy. Many Iraqis were hopeful.
Paul Bremer, the American proconsul, arrived with an agenda to remake
Iraq's economy into a dream model designed to appeal to the world's
corporate investors: No taxes, no limit on profits which could leave the
country, no tariffs, no labor unions, no laws protecting workers, and so
forth. The world hasn't seen anything like it since. Actually the world
hasn't seen anything like it ever. Iraq became Marshall Plan meets NAC. The
militant economic ideology-on-steroids which marched into Iraq with plans
to privatize all its public assets and sell everything of value to foreign
(mostly American and British) corporations while reducing the Iraqi
population to subsistence wage workers in an economy hobbled by enormous
debt replaced hope and stimulated both religious fanaticism and Iraqi
nationalism. The contracts to rebuild Iraq went to (mostly) American
corporations leaving out of work Iraqis out of work. The Americans weren't
the good guys anymore.
The thing about ideologues is they are not like scientists who try
something until they find something that works. Ideologues are believers,
big time. They have a plan to create a perfect world based on faith in an
ideology, and to back away from the plan in any way would betray those
beliefs. Because it's about belief, none of the Bush administration can
ever admit their approach was wrong. They are doomed to keep trying and
trying to make it work. The occupation of Iraq is more than a simple
military occupation, it is an opportunity to prove that free market
economics free of government interference and regulation of any kind, open
to investors from all over the world, will attract unlimited investment and
create a prosperous economy. It is a utopian solution that cannot fail
because its proponents believe they understand how the world works and
belief is thought, by them, to have magical powers.
The plan hasn't been working very well on the ground. First the proconsul
fired most Iraqi government workers, then prepared the country for a fire
sale like the one held in the former Soviet Union when the oligarchs took
over. Cheap goods flooded into Iraq according to plan and put people in
local factories out of work. The plan to privatize everything required a
little pain up front, pain to be endured by the Iraqi public. Expanding
unemployment among Iraqis created a recruiting pool for resistance fighters
(designated insurgents and terrorists by the spinmeisters.) Having thrown
most of the country out of work, unable to restore sewer works, electricity
and street safety, the Bush apologists were reduced to blaming their
problems on a foreign religious militant who, they said, they cannot catch.
Militant Islam has its own version of the fever. God help the rest of us.
John C. Mohawk Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and
professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New
York at Buffalo.