The Definition of Insanity

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

“We have a responsibility to promote human freedom. Yet freedom cannot be imposed; it must be chosen.”

The more I ponder these words, the deeper my confusion grows — at the consciousness that confabulated them, at the futility of any possible response. And so the war enters its fourth year, impervious to its own unpopularity, disabling critics with the irony it generates.

In the context of what can only be called worldwide despair, the Bush administration has issued a National Security Strategy white paper oblivious to the extent that it fits the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time.

The report’s assemblers proudly announce to the nation that they have learned nothing, hoisting one more time the flag of pre-emption, as though no one will notice how tattered and blood-stained it is: “. . . we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.”

For the two-thirds of the country who do notice, and have withdrawn all support for the president and his sorcerer’s-apprentice war, this inane assurance is added: “We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just.”

The statement is breathtaking in its absolute failure to reference reality. I hope this failure is merely cynical (as in Greg Palast’s observation that Operation Iraqi Liberation is abbreviated O-I-L), rather than a reflection of messianic lunacy. The cynicism can be outed. Lunacy has no awareness of itself.

Whatever the case, the only antidote I know is the truth, which flowed through the streets this past weekend, as people marked the third anniversary of the worst foreign-policy disaster in American history.

Here’s 50cc of seldom-reported truth about how the Bush doctrine is working for some of us. Sara Rich, the mother of a female GI who has refused redeployment in Iraq, told an antiwar rally in Eugene, Ore. (as reported by

“The isolation and fear of being attacked, harassed, molested and raped was a huge part of her life in Iraq. She was always full of anxiety and stress just keeping herself safe when her commanding officers would show up banging on her door in the middle of the night, intoxicated and wanting to have sex with her. The intimidation and sexual harassment that our female soldiers are enduring is leading to massive stress and in some cases even death for our military women in Iraq. They are not supported but shamed when they bring these to the attention of their superiors.”

This is how skilled America is at promoting human freedom through militarism. “I took a deep breath” Rich went on, “and I told her either way she is my hero and I will support her decision. She decided that she was going to go AWOL and to leave the Army.”

On the ground, we’re inflicting hell on earth. But in the rarefied world of pure ideology, the Bush administration policies “champion aspirations for human dignity”:

“The United States,” the white paper informs us, “must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. . . . The United States Government will work to advance human dignity in word and deed, speaking out for freedom and against violations of human rights and allocating appropriate resources to advance these ideals.”

About the time the National Security Strategy paper was made public, the New York Times ran an expose of the detention site at the Baghdad airport known as Camp Nama, “the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26 ” — an elite special forces unit that specialized in the systematic abuse of detainees. Eyewitness accounts from Camp Nama help to “belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib,” the Times reported.

The story tells of the usual torture and degradation — the sort of fare the Bush administration regards as essential in the promotion of human dignity — along with a boys-will-be-boys touch of Americana in which soldiers “used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball”: dehumanization with a sense of humor.

And naturally, according to critics, “the harsh interrogations yielded little information to help capture insurgents or save American lives,” the Times reported.

“The goal of our statecraft,” the white paper says, “is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people.”

God help us all.