John McCain has emerged from the Florida Primary energized and garnering endorsements. With next Tuesday’s upcoming primaries involving over 20 states, McCain got the endorsement of Arnold Schwarzenegger the Governor of California as well as several other leading Republican figures. Polls show him pulling away from Mitt nationally and opening up a comfortable lead. The Marshall of Tombstone once again has become a tenuous front-runner with an inside track to the Republican nomination. The problem is that the Marshall has always been a lousy front runner, prone to shoot himself with some ill-advised campaign gaffe. This week he suggested that the country prepare itself to occupy Iraq for a hundred years.
When he is not campaigning for the presidency, John McCain can demonstrate reasonableness and moderation. He has worked with Democrats, like Senator Feingold of Wisconsin on campaign finance reform and with others on everything from immigration reform to education. He, nearly alone among his Republican colleagues, voted against the Bush tax cuts because he had the courage to speak the truth and to vote accordingly. But something deranges the Senator from Arizona when the presidential bee begins buzzing under the old warrior’s helmet. While not running for office he correctly excoriated the administration for failing to provide the necessary ground forces to prevent a rising insurrection. But last year, as the campaign got underway, he signed off on a much diminished ‘surge’ and quickly went to Baghdad and pronounced it a success. The newscasts were flush with clips of McCain, dressed in a flak jacket and escorted by marines and helicopter gunships, strolling the streets of Iraq’s capitol city blabbering on about how safe the streets were, and telling America that the commercial district of downtown Baghdad looked like Macy’s after the Thanksgiving Day parade. Potomac Fever has been known to make even the most sober politician delusional, and the good Marshall has contracted such a case of it that he now appears like ‘Ol Two-Cows’ on steroids.
It would be troubling enough if this were mere campaign rhetoric reaching only a domestic audience, but the whole world—which has grown increasingly wary of American intentions—is watching. Mother Jones reports that Halliburton is contracted to build 14 permanent military bases in Iraq. The U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad is the largest such U.S. compound in the world, signaling our intentions to be there ‘in force’ for a very long time. These facts are not lost to our allies, our adversaries, or the Iraqi’s, and talk of staying and fighting a ‘hundred year’s war’ could potentially confirm everyone’s worst suspicions and fuel the insurrection.
The Cons, the Neo-Cons and, apparently, Marshall McCain have never understood that America has always been a lousy imperialist power. America wants and seeks the advantage of world domination but does not have the stomach to use the force necessary to enforce it. Rome was, by most accounts, an excellent imperial power bringing the rule of law and economic prosperity over most of what we regard as the ancient world. As a rule Roman occupation brought peace and order—if, that is, one followed the rules. Local jurisdictions were allowed to follow ancient practices as long as tribute in the form of money and the worship of Roman gods were followed. Ancient financial needs and superstitions required it. Rome needed the taxes to fund the army, and the worship of Roman gods—while not excluding concurrent religious devotion to local gods—was required to satisfy ancient superstitions. Reversals in battle, epidemics or famine were thought to be caused by insufficient attention to the deities, so as a precaution the empire required at least obeisance to the Roman Pantheon. Otherwise one was free to go about one’s business. But fail to worship the Roman deities could bring swift retaliation, or fail to pay proper tribute and you had to deal with all the power of imperial Rome. And it could be brutal. The Romans, as the Spartans before them, consciously set about inuring the population to blood and pain. This was what the coliseum was all about, to give life to blood sport, to make the citizenry view violence as a natural everyday occurrence. As a result the Romans could put heads on pikes, even the heads of errant Senators, and feel no qualms about doing it.
Not so Americans. We, in order to properly exercise imperial prerogatives, feel compelled to find some kind of ‘moral’ justification for our actions. Beginning with our entry into the First World War we found justification by telling ourselves that this was a ‘War to End All Wars’, and that we were ‘Making the World Safe for Democracy’. We have since engaged in tiresome rationalizations for supporting the most brutal and repressive regimes on earth by convincing ourselves that we were defending ‘freedom’ from the godless communists or, most recently, so-called ‘fascist Islamic-terrorists’. We have had to cover ourselves in high moral or political purpose in order to go about the dirty business of securing our economic interests. The use of force must not be seen to be either naked or brutal. Old-fashioned ‘gunboat diplomacy’ will, quite simply, no longer do. The use of simple force, so natural to a real imperial power, violates our growing sensibilities. Our intentions must instead be covered by fig leaves, political to be sure but preferably tied to higher moral or religious principles. For the most part the rest of the world has seen through the charade but remained acquiescent, giving us the luxury of this collective delusion, because most were secondary beneficiaries to the moral levitation.
But there have been times when our seemingly endless capacity for self-delusion has been stretched past the point of no return. One such time was Viet Nam and, increasingly, so is the present quagmire in the Middle East. The good Marshall might, on a bad day when the fever runs high, think that he can commit this country to an endless occupation, a modern hundred year’s war, but America does not have the stomach for it. A nation that demands instant gratification will not tolerate the specter of committing its children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren to fighting an endless insurgency. The country must not be forced to face a proposition that we stay in Iraq until either the nation’s patience or the Iraqi oil fields run dry. Let us hope that should the good Marshall win this election that this rather virulent form of Potomac Fever will have, by inauguration day, have passed.
Mitt’s remaining strategy, it appears, is to declare an open break with the Bush Administration and portray McCain as Bush Lager, tie ‘Ol Two-Cows’ around McCain’s neck and throw him overboard. But such a prospect seems unlikely and it may very well be already too late.
On the Democratic side the keepers of the flame have anointed Barack as the reincarnation of Camelot. Caroline Kennedy, the last survivor of the First Family, made her first public endorsement following Florida’s vote. She said in an op-ed piece in the New York Times that she has met many people in her life who tell her how much her father had inspired them and no one had until now inspired her in the same way. Prodded by her children she re-evaluated her early private endorsement of Hillary and openly switched to Obama. Ted Kennedy and his son Patrick, a congressman from Connecticut, joined her at American University and endorsed Barack. Ted spoke at length about how the young were at the forefront of the New Frontier, and how the hopes and dreams of the next generation find their best expression in the candidacy of Barack Obama. Shades of 1968; a children’s crusade against the establishment. Let’s hope that this time we don’t end up with another Richard Nixon.