When Odysseus and his men first encountered the Cyclops they were at first awed by his size and wealth but then quickly found themselves enslaved and subject to his whims, rage and horrible appetites. The towering beast seemed invincible and unstoppable. But his vision was freakishly narrow. They blinded him and once blinded, despite his size and strength, the Cyclops was rendered helpless and was easily defeated by a cadre of little men.
How fitting that such an apt metaphor would come to us from Greek mythology as we play out this horrible Greek tragedy in Iraq.
And our own blindness is no less crippling than that of the legendary Cyclops.
Washington and most Americans long ago lost their vision and the sense to see.
And lacking vision and purpose, the United States military has also been reduced to a helpless and vulnerable blind giant. If you can take off your own blinders for just a bit, it's easy to see the truth. The facts are there. Considering our vast reach and power, how is that the world is in such chaos and confusion? And when you examine the facts, you must also consider the question: Are we a democracy or are we the largest military empire the world has ever seen? And more importantly can we be both? Is democracy compatible with Imperialism?
Facts, not opinion, not judgments:
- The United States spends almost as much on its military ($466 billion annually) than all other countries combined ($500 billion annually.) As a result our economy is almost entirely based on Imperialism and militarism. (By the way, the $466 billion figures does not include the supplemental billions allocated for the Iraq war.)
- The American public is almost daily sold on the threat of foreign militarism. In fact, compared to the $466 billion we spend each year on our military muscle, China spends $65 billion, Russia spends $50 billion, France comes in at number four, spending $46.5 billion. Pacifist Japan spends $44.7 billion. Oil rich axis of evil Iran spends $9.7 billion. As an outside observer, which country would you fear? Which country would you assume is the world's biggest military threat?
- And just how big is the American Empire? In fact it dwarfs the Roman and British Empires. It's not easy to assess the actual number of American military facilities around the globe but our own government admits to having over half a million soldiers and support staff deployed around the world in approximately 700 U.S. military bases in about 130 countries. This is not counting the 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories
Based on these numbers alone, but what definition and in what reality are we anything other than a vast military empire?
The frightening truth is that nations driven by the Imperial impulse always fall. And the cause are often quite similar: corruption and bitterness at the center, over-extended and relentlessly challenged resources, and loss of purpose and colossal hubris.
And surely, hubris, as has been the case with all empires, is our greatest vulnerability. Empires believe that they represent the highest standard of law, morality, ethics and civilization; all other nations and peoples are either pale imitations of the Empire or they are unruly barbarians. Hubris also cripples an empire's ability to make critical course corrections and seek remedies to domestic and foreign crises--even when those remedies are well within the empire's means.
In fact, our blindness is breathtaking in its scope. Bush and Iraq are just the most horrible and most recent incarnations of our Imperial disease.
Perhaps the most damning example of this blindness is our great act of self-deception based on the ridiculous myth that we've never lost a war. To believe this is like believing that the Democrats won the recent midterm election due to their own brilliant strategy rather than the complete and utter failure of the Republicans due to corruption and gross incompetence.
In fact, since the American Revolution, the United States has never actually won a war. We've achieved stalemates and compromises up against empires that were themselves overextended. We stepped in and cleaned up messes left by other empires that pushed themselves far beyond their means. It's a horrible and painful thing to say or consider, but the reality is that other than focusing endless resources at already exhausted enemies we have never gone against an equal and prevailed.
But we are stubbornly blind to this reality. Perhaps the most obvious example of this to anyone but an American is World War II. The history books tell us that the Japanese government knew it had lost the war on the day it invaded Pearl Harbor. Tokyo knew that it lacked the resources to wage war on a global level and gambled that the United States would retreat behind it's oceans. If Hitler had negotiated a peace with Britain and the Soviets after the fall of France and turned his attention to securing his Pan-European empire, Germany would have bought the time to build a fleet of the world's first fighter jets, giving it an invincible air force and Germany would have been one of two nations to have had the bomb in the late 1940s. But hubris and madness drove Hitler to overextend himself and deplete his resources to the extent where the United States was able to roll over the scorched earth of Europe and declare victory in less time than it's taken us to reach our current point in Iraq.
But our enemies today are well-funded, well-resourced and passionately committed to their cause. So the little men are growing fiercer by the day and flexing their little muscles fearlessly because they know the blind giant is flailing about, almost aimlessly. Yes, the blind giant is still a terrible thing to see, quite loud and quite large, but it lacks the vision and the resources to stop the little men, Iran, North Korea and the Taliban among them. It simply can't see and its violently swinging club is easy to avoid.
But unlike the wounded and blinded Cyclops, the United States still has the power to repair itself, but does it have the ability to "see?"
The history lessons are clear to see if one chooses to look. And the opportunities for change and survival are abundant. But can we push past our arrogance and the war on our moral and ethical center waged by ignorance incarnate in the evangelical hordes? Can we use our resources to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and cure the sick rather than relentlessly bomb them in the bizarre and insane belief that chaos and slaughter will sell them on "American democracy?"
As Democrats rally behind the Iraq Study Group Report, I fear that the hubris has spread far beyond the White House and the Republicans. How can any one of us really think that a report out of Washington that is based on American-dictated marching orders for the Iraqi people, Iraqi political and religious leaders and the governments of Iran and Syria will be taken seriously or in any way implemented by any of the parties concerned? Other than the ability to slaughter people and sacrifice increasing numbers of our troops to death and mutilation, we have exhausted all credibility, diplomatic currency and influence of any sort.
Hubris. Our crippling inability to admit to tremendous blunders and obvious defeat will just drag us deeper and deeper into a future of calamity and national anguish.
We must withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible and we must make reparations as generously as possible If we stay, the Arab world will come after us. If we leave without making humble apologies and reparations, the Arab world will come after us. Why should their thirst for revenge be any less passionate than our own post 9/11. We've walked into a Sicilian world of vendetta and the only way out is humility and contrition.
Unlike the Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey, we are not yet been condemned to an eternity of blindness, our vision can be restored and we can actually become the benevolent giant that we imagine ourselves to be. But we must stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe. No matter how hard the Catholic church tried to suppress science and fact, the truth that the world is not flat prevailed. And no matter how hard the United States tries to suppress the self-determination of the rest of the world, the truth that the world is a diversity of legitimate cultures and philosophies will also prevail. We can participate in that diversity or we can go the way of Ozymandias.