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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Time for a counter-narrative part II
U.S. President George W. Bush announced today that U.S. troops would be leaving Iraq by midnight tonight, although he failed to clarify what time zone he was talking about. "Every brave man and woman who dies in the service of their country," Bush said in the finest speech of his presidency yet, "is a person who can't buy one of my W'04 Western Hats and I won't sit by and let that happen."
Or maybe he said something else. I've yet to read the comments due to my infuriation at this exchange from yesterday:
THE PRESIDENT: ... Deb, you've got a question?Laughable. It really shouldn't be too much work to answer a simple question but I guess it is. And as far as these actions being "terrorist" some of them no doubt fit the U.S. government's own ostensible definition of terrorism but others don't since are most certainly directed at combatant targets, not that you should expect Bush to do any better on this than U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. This may seem like nit-picking but so long as Team Bush is going to talk about "the terrorists" as if they are some sort of cohesive group, they ought to explain how they are defining this group, especially if their working answer amounts to "terrorism is violence that we don't like and which we label as such" as I suspect it does.
"ur war on terror will continue until every enemy who plots against the American people is confronted and defeated," U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said on Friday without explaining what any of that claim had to do with Iraq.
Cheney also said, "I've never been prouder of the United States military. These young men and women deserve our wholehearted support. They deserve to have their bravery in battle recognized and to have us acknowledge, as well, the progress they've made in helping the people of Iraq emerge into a new era of self-rule and stability" but did not run down the criteria that have to be met first.
As you may have surmised, I get great joy out of ridiculing Team Bush. At the same time I don't think it does much to change their course of action, and I believe that it wouldn't have much impact even if I were reaching a much larger audience. The problem, as I first sketched out in July 8's "Time for a counter-narrative," is that the Bush Administration's "war on terror" rhetoric makes people feel good about themselves and their country. It positions them as the modern day incarnation of those who first said, "Don't tread on me." They are the victim but resilient in that role because they aren't going to let it happen again. In contrast, a pure critique -however intellectually justifiable- feels cold and cynical.
An alternative vision -a "narrative" if you will is needed- is bolster a critique of the "war on terror." I don't have the answer(s), and I’m pessimistic about the possibility of discovery, but the search for it or them is something that desperately needs to be done by every person who is concerned, for one reason or another, by the current direction of this war.
That said, the value of critiquing the war on terror should not be underestimated. I'm doubtful that any alternative narrative will be as attractive as the "war on terror," one is and thus the playing field would not be a tabla rasa, due to a desire for historical inertia or, to be more precise, the desire to have the best narrative be a narrative that requires little change. Critiquing the "war on terror" is therefore an essential, but by no means self-sufficient, part of promoting an oppositionist vision.