Last August I wrote of the Bush administration, “They’ve opened up a Pandora’s box by their criminal invasion, and they’re not going to close it so easily.” I make no claim to originality in using the metaphor, which has been used by other critics of the war. But now I see even the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledging “We have opened the Pandora’s box,” adding, “the question is, what is the way forward?”
“The way forward,” he answers his own question, while mixing metaphors, “in my view, is an effort to build bridges across these communities.” In other words we’ve lifted the lid that the Baathist regime had kept sealed, and now we need to tie together all those ills we’ve released and get them under control. But that’s not how Pandora’s box works. In the Greek myth, after she opens it, all that remains in the box is Hope -- foolish hope. Khalilzad’s foolish hope is that a pro-U.S. “democracy” is just another caucus around the corner. How long has it been since the last election, the one that elected the Council of Representatives that’s just now meeting today -- adjourned after 30 minutes for want of a Speaker of the House? Last December?
How many institutional benchmarks have come and gone as the suffering of the Iraqis intensifies? How many times has Khalilzad sat down with the political leaders willing to work with the invaders? How many times has he exhorted them to build bridges among themselves and create some kind of government that will let him and his neocon crowd proclaim to a skeptical American and global public: “See? See the democracy? See how our war and occupation were all worthwhile?”
The Council finally met today, the session, as Reuters puts it “largely devoid of practical meaning as talks on forming a national unity government are still deadlocked.” Still no agreement on who should be prime minister, the current one Ibrahim al-Jaafari increasingly unpopular. Meanwhile the level of violence everywhere increases. Some say the country has already entered a civil war. Virtually every sector of the economy has worsened since the invasion. Ayad Allawi has called the incidence of torture in the country “worse than under Saddam.” Former UN human rights officer John Pace also compares the current human rights situation unfavorably with that under the dictator: “Under Saddam,” he says, “if you agreed to forgo your basic right to freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less OK. But now, no. Here, you have a primitive, chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone.” Saddam kept the lid on, but the lid’s been blown off and can’t be put back.
“Creative chaos,” as “Shock & Awe” Donald Rumsfeld says, as his creative mind spins with ways to implicate Iran in the chaos, to help justify an attack on Iran that will spread the chaos further. Pandora’s box, indeed.
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But back to the Hope lingering there in the box. In some versions of the myth, it’s not a foolish hope but a rational one. However much I fear that the madness will continue, I want to think optimistically and so postulate a scenario such as this:
Iraq does fall into civil war. The surrounding countries all become involved. The U.S. does go ahead with its Iran attack plans, perhaps justified by some attack on the U.S. that allows for further curtailment of basic rights. The “Shiite Crescent” erupts as it hasn’t yet; the Islamic world recoils in horror at U.S. behavior even more than it has to date. European public opinion turns decisively against the U.S. and the NATO alliance, while in charge of Afghanistan, is deeply weakened. The global economy enters a deep crisis. U.S. troops in Iraq rebel at their impossible mission. Millions march in the U.S. against the madness of the widening war. The ruling class united front, solid since 9-11, falls apart as Democratic politicians strive to put themselves at the head of a broadening movement. Revulsion at, and consciousness about, imperialism radicalizes the youth.
The general leftward trend we see in Latin America and Asia continues. The Maoists take over in Nepal and continue to make strides in India and the Philippines. The U.S. administration, unable to understand that communism’s not dead, preoccupied with its ambition to acquire control over the Muslim heartland and with the hyped threat of radical Islam, notes in horror this reemergence of an anti-capitalist pole but can’t do much about it. Fundamentalist Islamism continues its revival, fed by the necons’ crusader mentality. But so does revolutionary Marxism, which includes a powerful critique of the system behind wars of imperialist aggression. Millions in the U.S., disgusted by the complicity of the whole political apparatus in those wars, appropriately lose faith in the system, convinced that we can do better. The unthinkable becomes very thinkable; the prospect of real change appears.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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