Quote of the Day: On ‘Dictators’, Common Denominators, And Preparing For The Worst

The ultimate goal of the strategy of war is the shape of the peace that follows.

This is especially true of a war of choice. If someone attacks you, you fight back, and the goal is to stop them and be safe. But if it’s a preemptive or preventive war, then a great deal of thought must be given to what happens after the attack. Will it make us safer? Stronger? More prosperous? How? And for how long?

It is clear that this administration did not give enough thought to that before the invasion of Iraq. There were plenty of dreams about the best-case scenario, but no plans for the worst, and the worst is what happened.

Now we are creating a new fog of mythologies — about a “dictator” who isn’t one, about “appeasement” that is completely inapplicable, about nuclear weapons that don’t exist, about a country that is “evil” — that make it seem like we must do something.

But what will the consequences of military action be? If we’ve learned but one single thing from the current war in Iraq it’s that after we panic ourselves with descriptions of the worst that will happen if we don’t act, we had better consider the worst that will happen if we do. And be ready for it.

– Larry Beinhart, Four Myths Government and Media Use to Scare Us About ‘Dictators’.

An interesting if ultimately myopic essay. Beinhart stumbles when he claims Ahmenajad is merely “a loud mouth, jingoistic conservative, rather like — dare we say it? — the current incarnation of Rudolph Giuliani in his run for U.S. president.”


Iran may not be the immediate existential threat the trigger-happy jingoists in Washington and Paris paint it out to be, nor is its figurehead president an all-powerful despot in the vein of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi. However, Ahmenajad does, as Beinhart acknowledges, represent a formerly Revolutionary (now bourgeois nationalist) theocractic regime. One that has, in recent years, viciously and violently attempted to stifle and roll back serious (and, for a time, at least partially successful) attempts at cultural and democratic reform and shore up its not-so-absolute influence, as Robert Tait outlines in a riveting report from this past Sunday’s Observer (h/t Shiraz Socialist).

Either/or should not be the only considerations; fuck binary options, ideological zeros and ones. Sometimes I wonder if Bush’s greatest ‘crime’ (or ‘legacy’ – at this point the terms are largely interchangeable) has been his reduction of theoretical discourse to cowboy Manichean extremes. Nuanced, inconclusive, even contradictory analysis–the desire to first understand, rather than jump to conclusions, even if the dialectical process takes precious time–was an early and unfortunate GWOT casualty.

To clarify (and perhaps further muddy the waters): I am entirely, unequivocally opposed to any U.S.-led military action against Iran; I am also entirely, unequivocally opposed to a corrupt, millenial, paranoid-yet-pragmatic theocratic regime that spits upon womens’ freedom, worker’s freedom, democracy in the name of its patented brand of revolutionary Islam. These two sentiments, equally zealous, should not be considered in opposition. Just because I’m not with ‘you’ does not reflexively preclude my solidarity with ‘them’ (whether ‘they’ be Shiite bourgeois nationalists in Iran, transnational Sunni jihadists, Maoist rebels in Nepal, Hindu extremists in India, Marxist militants in Sri Lanka, etc etc etc).

Because the one common denominator, caught between the two (false) extremes, ‘us’ and ‘them’, are the people–ordinary men and women trying to go about their lives in peace, watch a football game, earn a decent wage (maybe even organize a trade union), walk down the street bare-headed without risking grievous bodily harm or arrest. The elites always see the working class as grist for the ideological charnel house, pawns in the (latest) Great Game.

Not to reduce ‘the proles’ in toto to mere innocents, imbued with mythical, savage nobility. For every Gandhi, there’s a Castro or a Lenin, and none of the preceding were entirely saintly nor demonic (nor of the working class). Even the current near-Jesus of the post-revolutionary zeitgeist, Nelson Mandela, has bloodstains beneath his now-well manicured fingernails.

But an Iranian Revolutionary Guardsman, much like an American Special Forces officer, likely has a family; certainly harbours lusts, fears, dreams; maybe has a preferred brand of cigarettes, or even a poster of Robert Smith circa Pornography in his or her bedroom. (“It doesn’t matter if we all die.”) Even the martyr Sayyid Qutb, he who indirectly engendered transnational Islamic extremism all those years ago, possessed a deep affection for Hollywood movies, read Shelley and Hugo, listened to classical music.

Contradictions, uncertainties, confusion; the only universal traits.

Beware the Utopians, those convinced–convinced–of the pathological, millenial inevitability of their desired outcomes. Whether they reside in Tehran, eager to quell popular dissent, perhaps even hasten the return of the 12th imam (or, at the very least, retain their grip on power); or in Washington think tanks, clamouring for the next opportunity to destructively and disastrously test out their vain theory of aggressive democratization (or at least keep getting face time on the Sunday talk shows). They (ie, us + them =) are all too ready to reduce the ‘other’ to future statistics, convenient caricatures: Judenreich, Dhimmi; Infidel, Rejectionist. Casualties of sociopathic conviction, means to various ends.

Zeros and ones.

Whether the bodies pile up as a result of bunker busters, suicide bombs, or Sharia’s noose, dead is still dead.

Beinhart’s certainly right about one thing:

Always prepare for the worst.

13 Responses to “Quote of the Day: On ‘Dictators’, Common Denominators, And Preparing For The Worst”

  1. Laura says:

    VERY good, MatttB!! You’ve probably heard about my Iranian hair stylist… ah nevermind. You’ve nearly convinced me that there may be other options besides blowing everybody to smithereens. Don’t those other options require consultation with people who understand the players and that particular region of the world? To figure out ways to talk crazy dictators down from ledges and entice them with a little good old-fashioned reverse psychology or something? Aren’t you really trying to energize something like, I don’t know, what would you call it?… A State Department!! I think there are people who are paid a lot of money to point out what you just did in order to have ‘cooler heads prevail’. How did an entire governmental department disappear? I can see why this administration needs to keep the Secretary of State smiling and saying very little, but where are the rest of the large brains in the department? Mummy-wrapped to their office chairs with duct tape listening to ‘sirius patriot’? I don’t know. It just seems like somebody….. Why are we sooo focused on Iran?!! (I don’t mean ‘we’ as in you guys at CFLF, I mean as in the US considering military action in Iran.) Crazy, nothing but crazy.

  2. mick says:

    matt: Nuanced, inconclusive, even contradictory analysis–the desire to first understand, rather than jump to conclusions, even if the dialectical process takes precious time–was an early and unfortunate GWOT casualty.

    Not really. That horse done lef’ the bahn loooong befo’ the GWOT was a gleam in W’s bloodshot eye. The minute the SCOTUS elected him, nuance was dead. The man wouldn’t know nuance if it melted a clock on his pancakes.

    Laura: Aren’t you really trying to energize something like, I don’t know, what would you call it?… A State Department!!

    Yes, I believe that’s what they used to call it. I vaguely remember we had one once. Oh, a loong time ago it was, back in the Ancient Days before reason abandoned her throne and handed it over to Homer Simpson. As I recall, it used to, like, talk. You know, negotiate and stuff. But it was kinda slow and the 101st Keyboard Brigade grew restless waiting for a decent bloodbath, so it had to go.

    Altho it didn’t, as you seem to believe, disappear altogether. It morphed into a travel agency principally used to make arrangements for the Chevron BOD as they flit from country to country with a patented doubletalk act hosted by a female impersonator whose name I’ve forgotten. It’s some sort of grain, I think. Wheat? Rye? That’s it. Rye.

    9/11, you see, changed everything. Common sense changed into the gibberishtic ravings of lunatics and the State Department changed into the Dept of Snake-Oiled Parthenogenesis and Pork-Rind Bar-B-Q Rib Cook-Offs.

    I must say, tho, I miss the Old Days before every problem meant a Gunfight at the OK Corral. It seemed, I don’t know, more peaceful then.

  3. Laura says:

    Peace is dangerous.

  4. Wow.

    When is the last time we heard “trigger-happy jingoists” and “Paris” in the same breath?

    19th Century?

  5. Damn good post! I’ve been waiting until I had the time to read it, and again, damn good post.

    One of the most frustrating things I’ve encounteredis that every time I write against going to war in Iran, I will add that, no I don’t love Iran, no I don’t love Ahmadinejad, no, I don’t think what they are doing is necessarily right just because I don’t want to bomb them, and still, STILL I end up getting someone either linking me, or commenting that I LOVE Iran, I LOVE Ahmadinejad.

    This is the post that shows the middle ground between the two.


  6. Laura says:

    Iranian Ahmadinejad lover.

  7. I’m not the one with an Iranian hair stylist

  8. Laura says:

    Now you’re just acting jealous.

  9. Well, I dunno. Are they any good? I used to have a gay guy do my hair, he was FABULOUS, but now I can’t find him anymore, and I’m looking for another good barber.

  10. Laura says:

    She can give you some dynamite eyebrows!

  11. *facepalm*

    you win

  12. matttbastard says:


    When is the last time we heard “trigger-happy jingoists” and “Paris” in the same breath?

    19th Century?

    Try 1954-1962.

  13. sorry for hijacking your comment thread dood.


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