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25 April 2003

I don't watch television much. I know, as a student of popular culture, that I should watch it far more often. I tape Star Trek for my dwindling family and occasionally sneak a peek at Twilight Zone. In foreign countries I watch MTV because of a fascination with localization. Very rarely, I watch the News. Like tonight, in a hotel room in Boston. In one last gasp before returning to the usual fare of murder and tornadoes in trailer parks, CNN was sqeezing the last few eyeballs out of the war. We were right after all - the smoking gun has finally been found, under a layer of white-out. Some pal of Bin Laden's slept here. And in about 600 American motels too, but what the hell.

CNN is like an uncle whom you know is a lying slimebag used appliance salesman but hey, he's your uncle. You know him. Tonight Uncle CNN was showing "war stories" - edited versions of footage shot during the late victorious war, overdubbed with colorful on-the-scene commentary. I was in no mood for the upbeat "journalist talks about his experiences" angle they were trying to play. When they ran the memorial credits of the journalists who died covering the invasion, the list seemed nearly as long as that of the military dead. Certainly the journalist-to-soldier death ratio has gone way, way up. I'm wondering why more journalists are dying. Maybe they take more risks because they think we need more information. Maybe it's the embedded thing, to paraphrase W. To CNN's credit, one of the dead they memorialized worked for Al Jazira. Go figure.

So now the good, bad and other folk of Iraq are left temporarily despot-free with a 250-billion-dollar problem, give or take few hundred billion. They seem to be saying that they want their water and electricity turned back on and we can get the hell out thank you very much. But you hear the gleam in the eye of everybody who talks about Iraq's debts, from the Kuwaitis to the Americans to the French and German banks who loaned Saddam money. (What kind of idiot would loan Saddam money? - and did they actually expect to get it back from him? - why didn't somebody wearing a vest and pocketwatch turned down the loan application? - or maybe they figured they'd get it back with the revenues from the oil rigtfully owned by his citizen-victims when some World Power made the miscreant leave the scene? - but I digress.)

The Iraqi people seem to be not yet entirely clear that the world community is intending to squeeze those bucks out of their hides, regardless of the fact that the bill was run up by a crazed tyrant. Sort of like handing the Iraqis a bill for being liberated so that they can nobly endure a few more decades of grinding poverty to do the right thing by the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Kuwaitis, and last but not least the SUV drivers and big businesses of America who by God need their tax cut. Never mind that the "troubles" in Afghanistan have dropped almost entirely out of the news. Liberate-and-run is the neo(con) American way. (If we keep cutting educational spending here in the US of A along with everything else in order to give that big TAX CUT, pretty soon we won't have any more smarty-pants critics of American Foreign Policy.) But relax - the Iraqis won't really have to work like little flagellantes to make it all right again. They won't get the chance. Without extremely strategic and committed support, they'll have another tin god running the show in no time, and this one will probably be a religious nut to boot. And the Iraqi people will be screwed again. It makes me so ashamed I want to cry.


[Insert provocative fact: W'S 550-billion-dollar tax cut would more than pay for the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan with some spare change left over for the International Space Station.]

The Kurds like us, apparently because we haven't tried to kick them around like everyone else in the region seems eager to do. I like the Kurds. I like their green flags and their enthusiasm. I like it that the bastard who gassed them is gone, hopefully, to his reward. But they are "not well liked," one might say, by the rest of the factions in fractious Iraq, or by the Turks either. It is my suspicion that neither the U.S. nor the U.N. can presently protect the peoples Iraq from one another. Without serious (and I mean serious to the tune of your entire tax cut, buddy, which in most cases is something like a hundred bucks) investment, it seems highly unlikely that the folks in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to suddenly catch on to democracy (although the Russians have really raised the bar on that). Americans have been working on it for well over two hundred years and nearly everbody seems to have forgotten about the hard parts like freedom and justice or intellectual parts like checks and balances. Just too damned complicated.

Unless Iraqis study the fine points of history they aren't going to get the meat of it since we don't do it here any more. We don't even make TV shows about doing it any more. Best case, they'll say hey, I know what democracy is! It's not about being controlled by your local religious leader or warlord! It's about electing the guy who gives the best commercials on account of his campaign contributions! It's not exactly secular because that would be bad, but it's not exactly religious except for that One Nation Under Bob stuff. Well, frankly, it's ethically confusing but hey, it creates wealth! And by golly, anybody who creates wealth deserves a tax break, and shareholders deserve a good return on investment even if it means Iraqis have to farm out their manufacturing jobs to China! And just in case you're thinking of disagreeing with the government, we're going to scan your underpants just like Secretary Ashcroft does!

Iraq Libre, yo. Order it at your local bar. It's just like a Cuba Libre except you substitute despair for rum and hold the lime. It's a very dark drink.