The somewhat fanciful theory that 9/11 blasted a hole in the space-time continuum and propelled us all into an inverted alternate universe – Bizarro World – where up is down, right is left, and the President of the United States is the most uninformed person on earth, was only supposed to be a joke on my part, a literary device designed to make the point that American society, or most of it, has been thrown off kilter. But I fear that it has become quite literally true, and the evidence, I submit, is Pat Robertson’s recent statement to CNN’s Paula Zahn:
"I met with [George W. Bush] down in Nashville before the Gulf war started. And he was the most self-assured man I ever met in my life…. He was just sitting there, like, I’m on top of the world, and I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, ‘Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties.’
"’Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties,’ Robertson quoted Bush as saying. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s the way it’s going to be. . . . The Lord told me it was going to be, A, a disaster and, B, messy.’"
Compared to Bush, Robertson is a member of the "reality–based community" so disdained by this White House. But since both Robertson and the president claim to have a direct line to the Almighty, perhaps one of them has gotten his wires crossed. In any case, it isn’t readily apparent whether the fundamentalist preacher – who also claims some degree of control over the weather and recently threatened to start a third party if Bush messes with his plans for the Holy Land – is all that credible. Except that Robertson’s claim not only fits in perfectly with what we already know about George W. Bush – his incoherence, his invincible ignorance, the cocoon-like environment in which he operates – it also seems to confirm my Bizarro World thesis.
In Bizarro World, water flows up, bad news is celebrated, clocks tick backwards – and the least qualified person in the nation is routinely picked to be its chief executive.
In the real world – home base for those of us still stuck in the "reality-based community" – the most qualified people to advise the president and make policy are centered in and around the White House: the president has all the best, most updated information because he is surrounded by the Best and the Brightest.
But that was then, this is now. We are living in the Bizarro Era, a time when only obscure bloggers and other lone voices in the wilderness can predict the disastrous consequences of throwing a lighted match into the volatile Middle Eastern oil patch. The president, and his advisors, knew better.
Casualties? What casualties?
After all, the neocons had been whispering in the presidential ear that it was going to be a "cakewalk." The Iraqi people would pour into the streets of Baghdad and hail us as their "liberators," just as the French had lined the boulevards of Paris when the Allies took the city. In very short order we would find Saddam’s "weapons of mass destruction," uncover Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, and obtain irrefutable evidence that the administration was right all along. The only American casualties of this war would be the dire predictions of the antiwar movement and its few supporters in the "mainstream" media, who would be shamed into silence in the victorious aftermath.
Except it didn’t turn out that way.
The theory that 9/11 ripped a hole in the space-time continuum, and that this tear is expanding, and coming to envelop much of the United States and other parts of the world, may need to be amended. When even a wingding like Robertson begins to notice that there’s something screwy going on in the Bush White House, it is time to question the basic premises of the ever-expanding Bizarro universe. The shock of 9/11 was very great, but perhaps not so traumatic as to permanently impair our ability to perceive reality. Or it could be that the Bizarro Effect has impacted different people in diverse ways, or that, in most cases, the effects were only temporary. Now that the initial shock is beginning to wear off, and people are coming back to their senses, many are beginning to raise the question of whether the president is all there.
Quite aside from partisan attacks coming from the Kerry camp, the most biting critique has come from Brent Scowcroft, who mused to Britain’s Financial Times the other day that while the transatlantic relationship is "in general bad," George W. Bush’s attention is elsewhere:
"[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger. I think the president is mesmerized. When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, ‘I’m on the front line of terrorism’, and the president says, ‘Yes, you are. . . ‘ He [Mr. Sharon] has been nothing but trouble."
The colorful history of mesmerism and the recent evolution of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East do exhibit certain similarities. While Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer went around eighteenth century Paris bilking society matrons out of their money and the credulous out of their reason, convincing his patients to engage in all sorts of unlikely acts and attributing his quack "cures" to a superior knowledge, so our modern mesmerists – otherwise known as neocons – bilked the Bushies and a thoroughly propagandized American public, convincing the nation – including the Democratic nominee for president – that the decision to go to war was the right one.
That, at least, is what several conservative Republicans, and not only Scowcroft, have been telling us: Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan would have us believe that the high tide of empire has been reached, and the troops will start coming home after Iraq’s January elections. "This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” says Scowcroft, but “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first." Simon Jenkins, writing in the London Times, agrees.
"Even the most severe critic of the occupation must accept the need for an exit plan. This involves half-decent elections in January, a declared ‘victory for democracy’ and withdrawal, with the winner left to cut his own deals with the local militias. For this to be plausible, the holding of some sort of election in Sunni territory is vital. Fallujah was turned anti-American by Paul Bremer’s mass public sector dismissals and by the 82nd Airborne’s brutal patrolling. Ninety per cent of the population has apparently fled the nightly bombardment. If the Americans can now take and hold Fallujah for just a few weeks, a swift post-election exit is at least possible."
So that explains why they’re blasting Fallujah to smithereens: they’re in a hurry to get out. I tend toward an alternate explanation: that Fallujah is a symbol of Arab defiance that must not be allowed to stand, and that the same hard-liners in the Pentagon who brought us Abu Ghraib – and lied us into this mess to begin with – are firmly in control. Jenkins, however, is more optimistic:
"No sensible person on either side of the Atlantic wants this occupation to continue much longer. The only debate concerns the degree of indignity attaching to departure. Iraq is not ‘getting better’ under Western occupation. Wherever politics matters, Iraq south of Kurdistan is getting worse: worse for women, worse for the middle classes, worse for slum-dwellers, worse for local minorities, worse for Christians, worse for aid agencies and worse for their beneficiaries. Only a fool could see Iraq as being on its way to the tolerant, pro-Israeli, secular democracy of neoconservative fantasy. There are no fools left within a thousand miles of Baghdad."
I am not quite sure of the distance between Washington and Baghdad, but it’s surely more than a mere thousand miles. The point is that the Bizarro Effect seems to have had a much less severe impact across the Atlantic: the shockwaves did not totally deprive the Brits of their reason. Although they allowed themselves to be bullied by the more neocon-ized New Labourites into the role of fleas on Bush’s poodle, the British people are beginning to wonder why their own troops must be used as mercenaries in America’s political wars.
As the Bizarro Effect begins to fade, Americans are starting to wake up to the reality that their own troops were rushed into war to shore up the political fortunes of Israel’s Likud party. The Sharon government could not have long survived without the political support of George W. Bush, and the systematic reduction and elimination of Israel’s regional enemies: including not only the invasion of Iraq but U.S. sanctions imposed on Syria, U.S. approval of the "security wall," and a looming confrontation with Iran. Israeli extremists, along with the Iranian mullahs and Osama bin Laden, have been empowered as never before. Prime Minister Sharon, seen abroad as an uncompromising hardliner, is denounced by members of his own party as a "traitor" for abandoning Gaza, which is, according to radical Zionist dogma, part of "Greater Israel" by rights. The result is that Sharon’s life is in danger.
Some pretty weird stuff is going on in Israel, which has been suffering from the Bizarro Effect practically since the day of its birth. The country we are supposed to believe is a citadel of democracy holding out against a wave of medieval darkness regularly engages in a campaign of lies and disinformation that would do justice to any totalitarian state. The latest example: a video shot by an Israeli spy drone, unveiled with great fanfare by the Israeli government, which purportedly showed a terrorist stocking up a UN ambulance with homemade missiles. In New York, Israel’s ambassador to the UN demanded the resignation of the head of the UN relief agency, and this grainy black-and-white footage was added to the litany of proof that global anti-Semitism is on the rise.
The whole story began to unravel when a closer look revealed that the object depicted in the video was too thin and too light to be a missile. The next day, the UN agency produced the driver of the ambulance, who turned out to be no suicide bomber and explained that the object was a rolled up stretcher: the crew had just returned from a false alarm. The IDF and Israeli foreign ministry websites quickly deleted the video "evidence" of UN-Palestinian perfidy, and, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports:
"The Israeli security establishment was in disarray, with some anonymous ‘senior officials’ briefing journalists that the UN’s version was probably correct. Officially, a defense forces spokesman would yesterday only say that ‘we are reviewing the analysis because of the questions asked.’ He insisted that even if the defense forces has been wrong this time, it knew for a fact that the UN often helped terrorists in smuggling weapons and carrying out their missions."
Facts don’t matter. Objective reality doesn’t exist. Governments create reality, and the purpose of intelligence-gathering is to confirm what we already know. This is how we were bamboozled into war in Iraq, and it is how the Israeli people are being lied to by their own government in order to perpetuate the Israeli Right’s politics of hate.
I have warned, in the past, about the rising danger of ultra-Zionist right-wing extremism in Israel, and, in view of incidents like this one, it seems somehow ironic that all too many American Christians of Pat Robertson’s ilk are encouraging the growth of this dangerous phenomenon.
Of course, Robertson "knew" that our intervention in Iraq would be a "disaster," as he puts it, since his theology holds that the "end times" will be prefigured by Israel’s war against a Satanic Middle Eastern power, the whole thing will end catastrophically – and that’s when Jesus comes back to save the world.
So, you see, a war Robertson describes as a "disaster" in his theology is really a good thing. Disaster brings us closer to the "end times," the Iraq war is hastening Armageddon, and that’s a good thing, too, according to the Bizarro theology of Robertson and his mesmerized flock.
Get ready for the Rapture, my friends, and make sure you pull that lever and vote Republican – because if you don’t, then we’ll be spared the fulfillment of all those dire Biblical prophecies, and the Second Coming will be delayed. Yes, the Rapturists are crazed enough to believe that human intervention can have an effect on the timing.
It’s like a Bizarro World remake of that infamous television ad attacking Barry Goldwater, the one with the little girl pulling petals off a daisy as the countdown sounded, ending in a nuclear explosion. Originally meant to underscore a dire threat to the peace, in the Bizarro world of Robertson and his followers it amounts to an endorsement – because we just know that little girl is going to Heaven.
I keep hearing that things can only get better. Bruce Bartlett assures us "If Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3." Ron Suskind’s much talked about piece in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine opens with the complaints of "libertarian Republican" Bartlett,
"Just in the past few months, I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.
”This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about al-Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them. . . .
”’This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts’ Bartlett went on to say. ‘He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.’ Bartlett paused, then said, ‘But you can’t run the world on faith.’"
Buchanan and Novak are pushing this same meme, and I even wrote a piece speculating on the possibility that it just might be true: the president will pull a U-turn in Iraq if he’s reelected, and more interventions are off the table. On second thought, however, this scenario seems oddly counterintuitive. If Bush wins, the Republican party and the "mainstream" conservative movement are going to be confirmed in their interventionism. The neocons will hail his reelection as a mandate for war, and a fresh wave of triumphalism will sweep through the GOP and embolden the War Party. The Republican civil war Bartlett predicts is not likely to break out until and unless Bush is defeated.
In which case, it won’t be confined to the GOP. If Kerry wins, the peaceniks who stopped demonstrating against the war to devote all their energies to getting him elected are going to demand he start delivering. That’s when a civil war is going to break out in the Democratic party that will make Bartlett and his fellow libertarian Republicans green with envy – or am I giving antiwar Democrats too much credit?
Will an immoral war that was started and continues to be fought on Israel’s behalf – one that has turned into our very own West Bank – become Kerry’s war, and therefore a holy crusade for the American liberal-left, just as the war to destroy Yugoslavia was a Clintonian jihad? It’s not too hard to imagine.
Bizarro Kerry will assure his "antiwar" followers that we have to "win" before we withdraw, and that a war we should never have started must be fought to the bloody finish. Will they swallow it?
They’ll do it because they have faith in their leader, their party, and their emotional attachments that transcend human reason. Absolute faith overwhelms the need for analysis, and dispenses with empirical facts – like that Israeli spokesman who insisted that even if the evidence wasn’t what it was purported to be, still it illustrated an intrinsic truth. It’s all perfectly logical – in Bizarro World.