Desert Storm vs. Hurricane Katrina
I find it interesting--mind-boggling, really--in the wake of Katrina, to watch the various pundits
opening their eyes to the general incompetence
, and corruption
that have always lain at the heart of the Bush administration.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows full well that Bush and his people lie
as readily as they breathe, and have no compunction about misleading an entire nation, even into a needless war
. Hell, Bush can even joke about it
without doing himself harm.
Why on earth have the various media hemmed and hawed for months and years over the American invasion of Iraq, an arrogant, illegal, and inhumane act of political will on the part of the neoconservatives
, only to begin lambasting
Bush because of Katrina, a natural, rather than a man-made, event?
I know, I know, the destruction caused by Katrina was without a doubt vastly exacerbated by Bush’s standard mismanagement. He didn’t fund the levees
, he didn’t take charge in advance of the hurricane, and he strummed a guitar
while people were drowning. Still, Katrina was an act of nature made worse by Bush
; the Iraq war is a disaster springing from nothing at all except the actions of Bush.
So, why is Katrina the wake up call that Iraq never was (and never will be as far as I can tell)?
My theory is this: The brown folks are different.
I phrase that in a flippant manner, but it is a fundamental and serious issue.
In Iraq, as in New Orleans, the actions of this administration have led and are leading to the unnecessary and avoidable deaths
of nonwhite people
However, all Arabs have now been linked to the ever-more-mythologized
events of 9/11. That the Iraqi people now dying had absolutely nothing to do with it is quite irrelevant. The brown-skinned bogeyman
is there, nurtured carefully by the Bush administration, and that image will remain active and powerful in the American imagination for years to come.
And, in fact, our utter failure in Iraq will only feed this paranoiac hallucination. The comparisons to Vietnam are growing these days, and they are quite apt. And that means that the fundamental conundrum of Vietnam is alive and well: the inability while occupying a foreign land to tell friend from foe. This unsolvable problem feeds into the initial paranoia, in which all Arabs are out to get all of us; if any one of “them” could be the enemy, then all must be suspect.
Compare the wake of Katrina.
The people of New Orleans, pictures of whom are streaming out of the city (despite governmental attempts to arrest the flow), are, quite simply, poor, largely nonwhite victims. The Republicans can and will lash out against Blanco, and against Nagin,
but there is simply no way that whatever guilt they bear can be generalized.Foucault
long ago pointed out that power is no simple, top-down expression of force; rather, power emanates from a vast multiplicity of societal nodes. And while the Iraqi people are certainly victims of American aggression, they are hindered from the pure expression of the power that accrues from victimhood by the (arbitrary and unjust) association in the American imagination with the perpetrators of 9/11.
The people who suffered and died as a result of Katrina, on the other hand, wield the untainted power of the abject. They are strategically situated to lay blame.
So, the origins of these two catastrophes, which together will define the Bush administration in the years to come (provided he doesn’t nuke Iran or something), are actually less relevant than the results. Bush, as the agent, is eclipsed by these people, the acted-upon.
The fact that Bush himself created the horror of Iraq, and was but a negligent bystander in the horror of Katrina, pales in comparison to the accusing finger that can only be leveled against him by “pure victims.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have been stripped of their possessions, their communities, their normal lives—and suddenly the emperor is the one who is naked.