Web of Deceit and The Enemy at Home

By Barry Lando
By Dinesh D’Souza

During the build-up to the invasion of Iraq a favourite neo-con text was a book by the historian Bernard Lewis titled What Went Wrong? The title referred to the failure of Arab countries to develop, modernize, democratize, and get with the twenty-first century. Today there are many, many books coming out about America’s misadventures in Iraq that are also concerned with the question of “what went wrong,” only now from a different perspective.

Barry Lando’s Web of Deceit is the latest such effort, providing a brief history of Western involvement in Iraq since its creation in 1921 as a client state of the British Empire. Over the course of the next century this unhappy country would go on to become the Congo of the Middle East, exploited for its natural resources, riven by sectional violence, ruled by a series of corrupt puppets and brutal strongmen, and awash in human suffering. Iraq’s history has been, and continues to be, “an appalling series of failed rebellions, ruthless reprisals, cynical manipulations, and great power betrayals.”

There is nothing new in any of this, though Lando does a decent job of pulling it all together. Of particular interest are his accounts of Iraq’s war with Iran (the real First Gulf War) and the UN sanctions regime.

From 1980 to 1988 Iraq was at war with Iran. There was a reason it had to go on so long. As Lando details, “Everyone wanted to cash in on the Gulf War bonanza.” And with so many billions being made selling weapons systems, including poison gas, to both sides, nobody wanted it to end. In fact, steps were taken to deliberately prolong the conflict by strengthening first one side and then the other (leading Lando to dub the war “the tilting game”). “I hope they kill each other,” Henry Kissinger remarked, “too bad they both can’t lose.” Presumably he took some pleasure in the fact that as many as a million people may have died. Bertrand Russell once defined the economics of war as “maximum slaughter at minimum expense.” But that’s only if you’re not selling weapons. The Iran-Iraq war was maximum slaughter at maximum expense. And the West made a killing.

Then came nearly thirteen years of sanctions, “the most lethal weapons of mass destruction to hit the people of Iraq.” It is estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to one million Iraqis died as a result. Two UN administrators overseeing humanitarian relief in Iraq during the sanctions period quit, considering the sanctions to have been a crime against humanity. The sanctions were, of course, politically ineffective. But they did manage to kill a lot of people.

In Robert Fisk’s epic The Great War of Civilisation the author argues that you can’t understand the Middle East today without seeing it as trapped in a nightmare of history. Web of Deceit provides some context for such an understanding, describing the present chaos as the result of the “cumulative impact of each cynical episode of foreign intervention.” But other commentators have a different take on “what went wrong.”

Dinesh D’Souza is a quack intellectual who made a name for himself as a leading conservative commentator in the “culture wars” of the late 80s and early 90s. Obviously he longs for those days and feels somewhat disgruntled that the culture wars have lost their media cachet to real wars being fought in foreign lands. His solution is to yoke the two together. He does this in The Enemy at Home by making the bold assertion that the “cultural left” (a big tent that includes names like Hillary Clinton, the ACLU, Michael Moore, and Planned Parenthood) “is responsible for 9/11.”

This is because “the garbage heap of America excess” (that is: reality TV, Internet porn, rap music, and all “the grossness and sensuality of contemporary popular culture”) “is the primary reason for Islamic anti-Americanism as well as the anti-Americanism of other traditional cultures around the world.” America’s enemies in the Middle East are not at all upset by the bloody results of cynical intervention that Lando describes in his book. They understand and accept that every nation acts in its own self interest. No, what really makes them mad is The Vagina Monologues. In other words, the War on Terror is the globalization of America’s Culture War, with Islamic radicals actually sharing many of the same concerns as American conservatives.

There is something comforting in D’Souza’s nostalgic message. After all, given the current state of world affairs I’m sure many culture warriors wish that we were still arguing about postmodernism in the classroom and the politics of Murphy Brown as though these matters really meant something. The presentation, however, is every bit as stupid as the premise. The book is built out of sweeping generalizations, revisionist history, mischaracterizations, and quotations ripped out of context. The whole things culminates in an epiphany of delusion where one of Osama bin Laden’s videotaped messages is interpreted as a coded communication to Michael Moore. Obviously Mr. D’Souza has gone through the looking-glass.

Having said all this, it’s clear that The Enemy at Home isn’t seeking to convince anyone of its arguments. If you like this kind of red meat, dig in. If you don’t, then chances are you’re one of the enemy anyway.

Review first published February 10, 2007.

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