As Dexter Filkins describes it in The Forever War, the contractors relied on soldiers to do the heavy lifting. These soldiers, however, were often ill-equipped and ill-prepared to do the jobs they were assigned. In one case a young man with a bachelors degree in agriculture, who only three months before had been responsible for nothing more challenging than issuing insurance checks for the state of Georgia, found himself in charge of rebuilding dams. Others lieutenants and captains were put in charge of rebuilding villages, operating power plants and water works, ensuring that hospitals and schools operated properly, that food and medical supplies were available, and that “the new normal” included a smoothly functioning infrastructure. The locals were assured that these takeovers of their jobs by the military and the contractors were steps necessary to stabilize their country, to bring order out of the chaos we created, and to return its economy to solvency.
It didn’t work. None of it. Within six months of President George W. Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished,” Baghdad was torn apart by a bloody civil war that spread like a deadly virus throughout the country. A Mahdi Army took over villages and ruled the south. Fallujah was reduced to ruins after repeated attempts to work with the insurgents when 6000 Marines and massive air support found there was no other way to restore order than to kill the city and everyone living there.
It took six more years, nearly 5,000 American lives, over 100,000 Iraqi lives, and over a trillion dollars of U. S. taxpayer money to reestablish at least some semblance of order. We rebuilt schools and hospitals, trained police and fire departments, and hired over 100,00 Iraqis to keep them from killing us and/or each other. The “order” that we restored is today so paper thin, so politically vulnerable, that 47,000 American “non-combat” troops are still there propping up the infrastructure of a feckless and deeply divided government.
Make no mistake: It is a government and an infrastructure paid for by workers in the U.S., not by the rich who benefit from war nor the large corporations who thrive on it. It is a government that still lacks cohesive power and that still struggles for legitimacy amid a resurgence of tribal loyalties, complete with the daily spectacle of suicide bombers and continuing threats of another civil war. Increasingly, it is a government that we established but that we would be foolish to trust.
Why is this important to events in Wisconsin and Michigan? Because the pattern of overreaching and an insistence on control that led us into chaos is so eerily similar.
What happened in Baghdad was a result of how a gang of neocon thugs, acting in concert and claiming a public mandate, implemented an extremist ideology while in control of our government and foreign policy. The first step for extremists is always the same: declare an emergency, subvert the rule of law, ban existing organizations that could oppose them, and then place cronies in positions of authority.
The narrative used to justify extreme measures is also always the same: As a result of an unprecedented event (e.g., 9/11 or, say, a huge deficit caused by a lack of revenues due to a collapsed economy), the world/state is in chaos and disorder; justice (or financial stability) must be restored by driving out those who do not share our values (or religion, or politics) and by reinstituting the One True Way (or the intent of the founders, or the true faith).
From the appeal of this narrative comes the authority to act on it. And when your goal is claimed to be virtuous, no action is too extreme. Or, as Barry Goldwater used to say, “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.”
No one, not even me, likes to make a comparison of Iraq to Wisconsin or Michigan. There are differences in size and scope and circumstances, and it’s true that the governors in question were elected fair and square, not appointed as was Paul Bremer. But the well-documented extremism of Paul Bremer while Viceroy in Iraq is very much like the extremism of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The will and abilities of the citizens in both cases was summarily dismissed in favor of an extremist ideological agenda organized and funded by operatives in Washington and elsewhere who were, and who are, making big money on the deal. Bremer’s plan to bring financial order and stability to Iraq failed miserably because of a lot of things, but chief among them is that he made enemies of the people he was there to help. Are you listening, Scott Walker?
So now we learn there is a new law in Michigan that allows Governor Rick Snyder to declare “financial martial law” and to replace civil servants as well as duly elected representatives with political appointees. Hmmm. Wonder where he got that idea? It smacks rather loudly of the Republican occupation of Baghdad. Are you listening, Rick Snyder?
It’s not much of a stretch to assume that the same right wing consultants and the money behind them that gave the Bush administration its talking points is still at it. Only this time this well-oiled political machine that has always beat us on message is using the so-called “public mandate to balance the budget” after the midterm elections as an excuse to drive the legislative extremism so clearly apparent in the undemocratic actions of Governors Walker and Snyder.
Now here’s the question: Are we listening? And if we are listening, and taking notes, and making comparisons, what are we willing to do about it?