In order to illustrate the weird logic of dreams, Freud evoked a joke about the borrowed kettle: when accused by a friend that you returned him a borrowed kettle broken, your reply is: (1) I never borrowed a kettle from you; (2) I returned it to you unbroken; (3) the kettle was already broken when I got it from you. Such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments, of course, confirms per negationem what it endeavours to deny – that I returned you a broken kettle… Did the same inconsistency not characterize the justification of the attack on Iraq in early 2003? (1) Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction which pose a “clear and present danger” not only to his neighbours and Israel, but already to all democratic Western states. (2) So what to do when, in September 2003, David Kay, the CIA official in charge of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, had to concede that no such weapons have so far been found (after more than thousand US specialists spent months looking for them)? One moves to the next level: even if Saddam does not have any WMD, he was involved with Al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attack, so he should be punished as part of the justified revenge for 9/11 and in order to prevent further such attacks. (3) However, again, in September 2003, even Bush had to concede: “We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 11 September attacks.” So what to do after this painful concession, with regard to the fact that a recent opinion poll found that nearly 70% of Americans believed the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks? Next level: even if there is no proof of the link with Al-Qaeda, Saddam’s regime is a ruthless dictatorial regime, a threat to its neighbours and a catastrophe to its own people, and this fact alone provides reason enough to topple it… The problem, again, was that there were TOO MANY reasons for the attack.

Which, then, was the real reason? Strangely, there effectively were three: (1) a sincere ideological belief that the US are bringing to other nations democracy and prosperity; (2) the urge to brutally assert and signal the unconditional US hegemony; (3) the control of the Iraqi oil reserves. Each of the three levels has a relative autonomy of its own and should not be dismissed as a mere deceiving semblance. Recall the most fundamental American reaction (at least) since the Vietnam war: we just try to be good, to help others, to bring peace and prosperity, and look what we get in return… The fundamental insight of movies like John Ford’s Searchers and Michael Scorcese’s Taxi Driver is today, with the global American ideological offensive, more relevant than ever – we witness the resurgence of the figure of the »quiet American,« a naïve benevolent agent who sincerely wants to bring to the Vietnamese democracy and Western freedom – it is just that his intentions totally misfire, or, as Graham Greene put it: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.”

The underlying presupposition is the old one: under our skin, if we scratch the surface, we are all Americans. That is our true desire – so, all that is nededed is just to give people a chance, liberate them from their imposed constraints, and they will join us in our ideological dream… No wonder that, in February 2003, an American representative used the word »capitalist revolution« to describe what Americans are now doing: exporting their revolution around the entire world. No wonder they moved from »containing« the enemy to a more aggressive stance. It is the U.S. which is now, as the defunct U.S.S.R. was decades ago, the subversive agent of a world revolution. When Bush recently said, “Freedom is not America’s gift to other nations, it is God’s gift to humanity,” this apparent modestly nonetheless, in the best totalitarian fashion, conceals its very opposite. Recall the standard claim of a totalitarian leader how, in himself, he is nothing at all – his strength is only the strength of the people who stand behind him, he only expresses their deepest strivings; the catch, of course, is that, in this case, those who oppose the leader do not only oppose him, they also oppose the deepest and noblest strivings of the people… And does the same not hold for Bush’s claim? If freedom effectively were to be just America’s gift to other nations, things would have been much easier – those opposing the US politics would be doing just that, opposing the politics of the US as a single Nation-State. However, if freedom is God’s gift to humanity (and – therein resides the hidden proviso – if the US perceives itself as the chosen instrument for distributing this gift to all the nations of the world), then those who oppose the US politics are eo ipso rejecting the noblest gift of God to humanity…

As for the second reason, in their recent The War Over Iraq, William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan wrote, “The mission begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there. /…/ We stand at the cusp of a new historical era. /…/ This is a decisive moment. /…/ It is so clearly about more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the United States intends to play in the twenty-first century.” One cannot but agree with it: it is effectively the future of the international community that is at stake now – the new rules that will regulate it, what the new world order will be.

Re oil, as it was reported in the media in June 2003, Paul Wolfowitz not only dismissed the WMD issue as a “bureaucratic” excuse for war – he now even openly admits that oil was the true motive: “Let’s look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.« And it seems obvious that the key factor was the middle one: using Iraq as a pretext or exemplary case to stake the coordinates of the New World Order, to assert the right of the US to preventive strikes and thus to elevate its status into that of the unique global policing power. The message was not addressed to the Iraqi people, but primarily to all of us witnessing the war – we were its true ideological and political targets.


Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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