Hubris and the End of the Bush Era


Hubris.  One of my favorite words.  It's a Greek word actually.  We Americans usually first learn it when we study Greek tragedy in university.  In a Greek tragedy, we are told, the protagonist will demonstrate "hubris"--a certain overweening pride or arrogance, an insistence on going about things in his own way.  As the action of the play progresses, we see the protagonist refusing to take advice from others, refusing to recognize any sense of balance or moderation.  Eventually, of course, this hubris leads directly to the protagonist's destruction.  Usually a number of others fall along with him.  That's why it's a tragedy.


I think I first learned the word "hubris" my freshman year.  Some people, it's true, never learn the word.  I just did a Google search on "Bush Administration" and "hubris" and found that the search engine came up with 21,400 pages.  That's pretty grim.  It suggests to me that the Bush Administration might be a tragedy.  I wonder if any of the Administration insiders know this.


Recently I read the following article, one that managed to sum up what I've felt for some weeks now:


Vatican calls prison abuse a bigger blow to U.S. than Sept. 11


ROME (AP) - The scandal of prisoner abuses by U.S. soldiers in Iraq has dealt a bigger blow to the United States than the Sept. 11 attacks, the Vatican foreign minister told an Italian newspaper.


In an interview published Wednesday in the Rome daily La Repubblica, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo described the abuses as "a tragic episode in the relationship with Islam" and said the scandal would fuel hatred for the West and for Christianity.


"The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than Sept. 11. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves," Lajolo was quoted as saying in La Repubblica.


. . .


I won't quote the whole article.  Just the main points.  I find the Vatican occasionally states perfectly my position on things.  I agree with them entirely on genetic research, on cloning, on various other issues.  And now again in the war on terror I can see they take the long view of things: "The prisoner abuse is a more serious blow to the United States than 9/11."  That is stated correctly.


When the prison abuse issue broke, it was quickly spun by the Bush Administration as a few bad eggs thinking outside the box according to their own perverse and punishable inclinations.  In fact it seems now that the issue is rather a few bad eggs who won or barely won the White House: a few bad eggs who have seriously fucked America's standing in the world, step by step making what was once one of the shining lights of democracy and human rights into something getting dangerously close to a pariah state.


Hubris.  The good thing about this word, as I studied it in university, is that it leads almost ineluctably to disaster.  The protagonist is destroyed or destroys himself in the end.  That is good news for us and for the world too.  It means that with each new overly confident policy, each new bending or outright breaking of the rules, this American Reich of neo-con nitwits is digging itself further into the grave. 


As the end nears, there will be earthquakes and tidal waves, the moon will rise blood red on many a night, and monstrosities will be born across the land.  But then finally November will come, and we will find them strewn there on the floor with their dropped rapiers and spilled goblets tainted with poison.  And then how good it will feel for us who are left.  How good it will feel to sweep out the place.






Following is the article that broke the story of the secret program set up under Rumsfeld and how it was finally and recklessly activated in Iraq.  The article makes rather long reading for Bush supporters, so I've excerpted a few paragraphs below (I haven't, however, simplified the vocabulary: sorry).  Non-Republicans can go and read the article directly:


"THE GRAY ZONE, How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib."  Seymour M. Hersh, 5/24/2004, New Yorker


1) The CIA had initially been part of the secret program, but when they saw how the neophytes at the Pentagon were starting to use it they backed out:


-----The C.I.A.'s complaints were echoed throughout the intelligence community. There was fear that the situation at Abu Ghraib would lead to the exposure of the secret sap [special-access program], and thereby bring an end to what had been, before Iraq, a valuable cover operation. "This was stupidity," a government consultant told me. "You're taking a program that was operating in the chaos of Afghanistan against Al Qaeda, a stateless terror group, and bringing it into a structured, traditional war zone. Sooner or later, the commandos would bump into the legal and moral procedures of a conventional war with an Army of a hundred and thirty-five thousand soldiers."


The former senior intelligence official blamed hubris for the Abu Ghraib disaster. "There's nothing more exhilarating for a pissant Pentagon civilian than dealing with an important national security issue without dealing with military planners, who are always worried about risk," he told me. "What could be more boring than needing the cooperation of logistical planners?" The only difficulty, the former official added, is that, "as soon as you enlarge the secret program beyond the oversight capability of experienced people, you lose control. We've never had a case where a special-access program went sour--and this goes back to the Cold War."-----


2) Sexual torment was considered a particularly effective way to interrogate uptight Arab men:


------Last week, statements made by one of the seven accused M.P.s, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, who is expected to plead guilty, were released. In them, he claimed that senior commanders in his unit would have stopped the abuse had they witnessed it. One of the questions that will be explored at any trial, however, is why a group of Army Reserve military policemen, most of them from small towns, tormented their prisoners as they did, in a manner that was especially humiliating for Iraqi men.


The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was "The Arab Mind," a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. "The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world," Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, "or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private." The Patai book, an academic told me, was "the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior." In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged--"one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation."


The government consultant said that there may have been a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought that some prisoners would do anything--including spying on their associates--to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends. The government consultant said, "I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population." The idea was that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and gather information about pending insurgency action, the consultant said. If so, it wasn't effective; the insurgency continued to grow.-----


3) This so-called "conservative" Administration breaks with long-standing legal tradition:


-----"This shit has been brewing for months," the Pentagon consultant who has dealt with saps told me. "You don't keep prisoners naked in their cell and then let them get bitten by dogs. This is sick." The consultant explained that he and his colleagues, all of whom had served for years on active duty in the military, had been appalled by the misuse of Army guard dogs inside Abu Ghraib. "We don't raise kids to do things like that. When you go after Mullah Omar, that's one thing. But when you give the authority to kids who don't know the rules, that's another."


In 2003, Rumsfeld's apparent disregard for the requirements of the Geneva Conventions while carrying out the war on terror had led a group of senior military legal officers from the Judge Advocate General's (jag) Corps to pay two surprise visits within five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of the New York City Bar Association's Committee on International Human Rights. "They wanted us to challenge the Bush Administration about its standards for detentions and interrogation," Horton told me. "They were urging us to get involved and speak in a very loud voice. It came pretty much out of the blue. The message was that conditions are ripe for abuse, and it's going to occur." The military officials were most alarmed about the growing use of civilian contractors in the interrogation process, Horton recalled. "They said there was an atmosphere of legal ambiguity being created as a result of a policy decision at the highest levels in the Pentagon. The jag officers were being cut out of the policy formulation process." They told him that, with the war on terror, a fifty-year history of exemplary application of the Geneva Conventions had come to an end.-----








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