Noah Millman admits he has nothing useful to say about the Iraq War. He then possibly usefully recalls the reactions of then colleagues – financial traders – to the first night’s “Shock and Awe”:
They were just glad to see us taking it to the bad guys, and hard. That, most fundamentally, is why we went to war…
The elements of “that” – as a “fundamental” “why” – seem to be brutally eroticized violence, justice in a double mode of righteousness and vengeance, and power, brought together to produce ecstasy.
Millman’s colleagues, those former “Masters of the Universe” & Co., LLP, would have been representative both of the system that those generically identified “bad guys” had defied, and, hardly coincidentally, of the bad guys’ first victims. For financial traders, that vexingly tenacious, quasi-mythical or imaginary link between 9/11 Al Qaedists and the tyrant leader of enemy Iraq would have been more real or seemingly real than for almost anyone else out of uniform or government. For the same reason, however, if applied to the entirety of the country or coalition or neo-empire as it went to war, such an explanation may be inadequate, or too fundamental to explain anything, though it still supports the notion that irrational need or impulse prevailed in the U.S. of 2002-3, producing the widespread sense, as Millman conveys in the rest of his piece, of a decision already collectively made, and not just by some cabal of variously evil and misguided leaders and strategists. The apparent lack of any identifiable decision point within the executive branch on the emergent policy seems indicative of a logic of war that seemingly, illogically just was. For an extended moment following the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, typified by the deemed just and successful military expeditions of the ’90s, from the Gulf War to Kosovo, by the sins of omission of Rwanda and in a different way of Somalia, and concurrently by a new wave of techno-capitalist expansion and self-confidence, “we” thought that “we” were called to that righteous crusader’s joy, on behalf of a world that needed for its own sake, but also ours, to join us. 9/11 seemed to require a yet stronger assertion of our universalism, of the one New World Order under our best of all possible political-economic systems. A unipolar yet disoriented international system proceeded to the inscription of its own limitations into the surface of the globe and the broken or ended lives of countless people.
If the implacable self-deception of that moment ten years ago produced a shallowly mistaken, embarrassingly unjustifiable, finally tragic assertion of a global regency and its prerogatives, the commensurate and necessary deception of this moment might be of a safe, simply chosen abdication.