To illustrate the weird logic of dreams, Sigmund Freud used to evoke a story about a borrowed kettle: When a friend accuses you of returning a borrowed kettle broken, your reply is, first, that you never borrowed the kettle; second, that you returned it unbroken; and third, that the kettle was already broken when you borrowed it. Such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments, of course, confirms precisely what it endeavors to deny: that you, in fact, did borrow and break the kettle.
A similar string of inconsistencies characterized the Bush administration's public justifications for the U.S. attack on Iraq in early 2003. First, the administration claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which posed a "real and present danger" to his neighbors, to Israel, and to all democratic Western states. So far, no such weapons have been found (after more than 1,000 U.S. specialists have spent months looking for them). Then, the administration argued that even if Saddam does not have any WMD, he was involved with al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks and therefore should be punished and prevented from launching future assaults. But even U.S. President George W. Bush had to concede in September 2003 that the United States "had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th." Finally, there was the third level of justification, that even if there was no proof of a link with al Qaeda, Saddam's ruthless dictatorship was a threat to its neighbors and a catastrophe to its own people, and these facts were reason enough to topple it. True, but why topple Iraq and not other evil regimes, starting with Iran and North Korea, the two other members of Bush's infamous "axis of evil"?
So, if these reasons don't hold up to serious scrutiny and merely seem to suggest that the administration was misguided to do what it did, what, then, were the real underlying reasons for the attack? Effectively, there were three: first, a sincere ideological belief that the destiny of the United States is to bring democracy and prosperity to other nations; second, the urge to brutally assert and signal unconditional U.S. hegemony; and third, the need to control Iraqi oil reserves.
Each of the three levels works on its own and deserves to be taken seriously; none of them, including the spread of democracy, should be dismissed as a simple manipulation and lie. Each has its own contradictions and consequences, for good and ill. But taken together, they are dangerously inconsistent and incompatible and all but predestine the U.S. effort in Iraq to failure.
THE NOT-SO-QUIET AMERICAN
Americans have historically seen their role in the world in altruistic terms. "We just try to be good," they say, "to help others, to bring peace and prosperity, and look what we get in return." In fact, movies such as John Ford's The Searchers and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver or books like Graham Greene's The Quiet American, which provide fundamental insight into the naive benevolence of Americans, have never been more relevant than with today's global U.S. ideological offensive. As Greene said about his American protagonist, who sincerely wants to bring democracy and Western freedom to the Vietnamese, only to see his intentions totally misfire: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."
The supposition underlying these good intentions is that underneath our skins, we are all Americans. If that is humanity's true desire, then all that Americans need to do is to give people a chance, liberate them from their imposed constraints, and they will embrace America's ideological dream. No wonder the United States has moved from "containing" the enemy to promoting a "capitalist revolution," as Stephen Schwartz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies put it in February 2003. The United States is now, as the defunct Soviet Union was decades ago, the subversive agent of a world revolution.
But when Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union message, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity," this apparent burst of humility, in fact, concealed its totalitarian opposite. Every totalitarian leader claims that, in himself, he is nothing at all: His strength is only the strength of the people who stand behind him, whose deepest strivings only he expresses. The catch is, those who oppose the leader by definition not only oppose him, but they also oppose the deepest and noblest strivings of the people. And does the same not hold for Bush's claim? It would have been easier if freedom effectively were to be just the United States' gift to other nations; that way, those who oppose U.S. policies would merely be against the policies of a single nation-state. But if freedom is God's gift to humanity, and the U.S. government sees itself as the chosen instrument for showering this gift on all the nations of the world, then those who oppose U.S. policies are rejecting the noblest gift of God to humanity.