Watching a DVD of the New York Metropolitan Opera's version of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung (or Twilight of the Gods [TOG]) the other day, I was struck at how prescient the otherwise reactionary composer was in anticipating the destruction of the voracious classes. (One should not find it odd that in Wagner one finds mixed the most progressive and the most reactionary of views and trends, as in this he is the exemplar of the age, which mixes reason and progress with vile reaction, destruction, and mass murder.)
Dick Cheney, who is Alberich in my analogy with Wagner's opera, was on the stump beating war tom-toms against Iran during a 35-minute talk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which The New York Times calls "a research organization". In reality, WINEP is a well-known right-wing pro-Israel lobby. While praised by liberal dreamboat Al Gore as "Washington's most respected center for studies on the Middle East", according to Right Web:
its WINEP's Board of Advisers includes: Warren Christopher, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Alexander Haig, Max M. Kampelman, [the late] Jeane Kirkpatrick, Samuel W. Lewis, Edward Luttwak, Michael Mandelbaum, Robert McFarlane, Martin Peretz, Richard Perle, James Roche, George P. Shultz, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, and Mortimer Zuckerman. Wolfowitz and Roche resigned from the board when they entered the Bush administration in 2001, although WINEP still proudly lists them....
in April 2004 WINEP published Policy Focus #47, The West Bank Fence: A Vital Component in Israel's Strategy of Defense, written by Maj. Gen. Doron Almog of the Israel Defense Forces.
Okay. I think you kind of get the idea. This crowd will be quite receptive to Cheney's rant, and following Bush's "World War III" warning (and Bush is Hagan, in my TOG comparison), it would have to be quite a speech. And Cheney didn't let us down.
Cheney, the War God
“The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences,” Mr. Cheney said, without specifying what those might be. “The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon"....
...Mr. Cheney reserved his harshest language for Iran. Calling it “the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism,” he said, “our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.”
That language is not radically different from what Mr. Cheney has used in the past. But people at the conference said that, placed in the context of Mr. Bush’s remarks, it represented a significant step toward increasing pressure on Iran. The speech seemed to lay the groundwork for the threat of military action — either because the administration actually intends to use force or because it wants to use the threat of force to prod Europe into action.
The press has been awash in articles noting the build up to war with Iran. Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker earlier this month laid out pretty clearly what was up, with Herr Cheney firmly in charge.
This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.
Meanwhile, in the hall of the Gibichungs -- I mean, Congress -- Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are doing... what? Pelosi supposedly told Arianna Huffington that she wouldn't let a funding bill on the Iraq War come to a vote unless it carried a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Never mind that she has promised that before. Who believes her now, except kiss-up bloggers and media hounds?
And Harry Reid! According to Congressional Quarterly (via a story at TPM Muckraker), he's plotting to spike the hold Sen. Chris Dodd put on the shameful FISA wiretapping bill/capitulation, which will allow retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies for all its breaches of customer privacy in the years since 9/11 (if not before). Is this how a party leader is supposed to act, knifing one of his own in the back, and furthering the Bush totalitarian agenda?
Democratic supporters seem to be suspended between shocked awe and craven paralysis. Then there are those who are circling the wagons around idiot electoralism, placing all hope that the Ring of Power will be placed into the hand of their standard bearer in 2008.
The Sun Never Sets on Bushland
As Wagner understood, the Ring is cursed, and the power it brings is only destructive. In Götterdämmerung, his last installment of his monumental opera, The Ring of the Niebelung, Wagner portrayed a world where the quest for ultimate power had perverted all relationships, negated all contracts, and turned beauty and truth itself into a distorted mirror of its opposite. And so it is now, with the founding ideals of America -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- mutated into death, indefinite detention, and the pursuit of barbarism. Bush and Cheney's dark torture prisons extend like a sinister web even unto the farthest regions of the planet, as the recent stories about Diego Garcia reveal.
From satellite pictures, Diego Garcia looks like paradise.
The small, secluded atoll in the Indian Ocean, with its coral beaches, turquoise waters and vast lagoon in the centre, is 1,600 kilometres from land in any direction....
The little-known British possession, leased to the United States in 1970, was a major military staging post in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It continues to be, in effect, a floating aircraft carrier, housing 1,700 personnel who call it Camp Justice.
But intelligence analysts say Diego Garcia's geographic isolation is now being exploited for other, darker purposes.
They claim it is one in a network of secret detention centres being operated by the Central Intelligence Agency to interrogate high-value terrorist suspects beyond the reach of American or international law.
These prisoners are known as "ghost detainees" or the "new disappeared," and they're being subjected to treatment that makes the abuses at the military-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba look small-time, say intelligence analysts.
Tropical hideaways turned into torture chambers. "Research organizations" become centers of war propaganda. Opposition politicians acting like agents of the party in power. "Democracy" transmuted from ideal into bombing runs on innocent populations.
The Limits of Metaphor, and the Need for Societal Resurrection
As a petit-bourgeois artist of the 19th century, Wagner could see no way out for humanity, unless it consume itself in its inner contradictions, in a fiery twilight of the gods that brings down all civilization with its doomed quest for power, only to (perhaps) rise again and begin the whole process over again, endlessly through time.
Wagner, following some of the Eastern philosophies of his time, may yet prove right. But, the people in his music dramas, the Gibichungs of TOG, were passive bystanders, helpless except to view in horror the destruction that rained upon them. We do not have to be the same. But it will mean a quantum leap in consciousness, especially for the American people, who are tied to the myth of the progressivism of the Democratic Party, like flies to a rotting corpse.
In any healthy party, the clamoring to remove Pelosi and Reid would be deafening by now. But when one of the disgruntled few dared to speak the truth the other day, as Congressman Pete Stark did, the Democrats rushed to denounce him, the better to keep their oath of blood-brotherhood with the Bushites.
Stark told the GOP that Bush was vetoing a $35 billion dollar bill to fund children's health care because he needed the cash "to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement".
For, in my analogy with Wagner's opera, Stark plays the strange role of the Rhinemaidens, who, confronting the hero with a final chance to return the Ring to its primeval owners and destroy once and for all its curse, with all the dangerous questing after power it entails, are met with stony rejection and ridicule... just as Pelosi denounced Stark.
At the end of Götterdämmerung, it is Brunnhilde who renounces the ring out of love, and returns the cursed gold to the forces of nature, from whence it came. I'm afraid there is no redemption via love for our society. And Hillary Clinton is no Brunnhilde (she, like Pelosi, is a Gutrune figure).
But for love and not from fear change may yet come. If we truly love our children, if we truly love this planet and all life upon it, then we must come to terms with our own fears, and take dedicated action to remove those who would promote American imperium from power. And this is not only America's problem, because in each country the people must take the same stand. Or we face the tragic fate of Siegfried in Wagner's opera, destroyed by those we believe we serve, stabbed in the back because we thought we could live for love, for good times, in peace and happiness, while in fact all around us swirled dark clouds of hate and dreams of vengeful conquest.