“We’re not miracle workers…some nations are never going to change.”
The white man’s burden is alive and well, despite all the listless undergrads in Humanities 324 being instructed to place Kipling in the historical context of his time. I saw that Bill Maher was having Ta-Nehisi Coates and Greenwald on and thought it might be worth watching. It wasn’t. It was ruined in large part by Paul Rieckhoff, some former Wall-Streeter turned grunt whose smugness nearly exceeds Maher’s. He got loud, spouted State Dept talking points. Greenwald snapped back that he respected Wikileaks, then lied about publishing “thousands of documents.” A conservative woman whom Reickoff wants to fuck was ignored. La-di-da. The end.
After the panel discussion, Maher did his “New Rules” segment. As anyone who watches the show knows, it usually runs about 5-8 minutes where Maher makes some witty quips about pop-culture and then, for the last 4 minutes or so, he rants on a single topic. On Friday, he tackled nation building. During the 4-minute stint he sanctimoniously compared America to a woman trying to change the ways of her wayward lover. In this poorly thought-out metaphor, he described the countries that America has invaded as “assholes, badboys, whore-chasing drunks, poorly located businesses, and broken people.” The central premise is that countries like “Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Pakistan, [and] Somalia” and its people are uncivilized. They are therefore unable to wield the gifts of freedom and democracy that America bestows on them.
Maher also throws insults at Iraq for apparently no reason at all, “I’m sorry Iraq, not to be mean, but you’re a shitty location.” Apparently there is something inherent in the Iraqi landscape that makes the country ill-suited to gerrymandering, grift, and freedom. While that may be true for a mountainous country like Afghanistan without easily navigable roads, it certainly isn’t true for Iraq, the fucking cradle of civilization and all that. Even more offensive is when he takes shots at people who refuse to live in large enough herds, “some of them aren’t even nations, they’re just tribes.” The disdain he has for the hold-outs who prefer not to cluster in nightmarish megacities is palpable. He cannot fathom the idea that some people actually prefer herding goats to earning $1.15/day to stitch together his skinny neckties.
At the core of his belief is the American mythology of noble intent. No matter when and where the country might go astray, it was acting for some greater good. For these believers, there is forever a disconnect between what the country does and what the country is. What always matters, is the latter. During the 1960s, some Ivy leaguers got the bright idea to arm 500,000 men and fly them to the other side of the world. Nobody really knows why or how it started. Something about a parlour game involving dominoes that got out of hand. Long story short, those men murdered an entire ecosystem along with a million plus people in 3 countries: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A similar story would later occur in Iraq. In the nearly 20 year siege (yes, 20 years), millions fled and hundreds of thousands were killed.
What does Maher takeaway from these American invasions? Some people just can’t be helped; “whenever presidents dealt with [those countries] and got bad results, we always blamed the president. But maybe it’s not the president, maybe it’s the place.” This victim blaming is pathological and psychotic. He uses “dealt with” to describe the interaction between the two countries, the verb dripping with connotations of paternalism and disdain. Omit the euphemism and it becomes clear how insane it is, “whenever presidents [invaded those countries] and got bad results, we always blamed the president. But maybe it’s not the president, maybe it’s the place.” It’s the fault of the invaded country for failing to live up to the standards set by the invader? Yes, if you’re an imperialist monster.
Maher has also been going on for years with this looney idea that the middle-east is stuck in their own dark ages, beset by a religious schism. The chattering classes regularly call this “sectarian conflict,” as if wars could have any other kind of conflict. So-called regional experts get on TV and after 10+ years of war, do little more than tell us this is a fight between the Sunni and Shi’ite. They conveniently forget that we set the Shi’ite on the Sunni with unlimited crates of cash, weapons, and power-drills. Back to the point, Maher routinely barks about how “this is JUST LIKE the protestant reformation and European wars.” From that astute observation he concludes that the Muslims are simply behind-the-times, stuck in the 16th century and we need to let them fight it out. One problem with this analogy is that the Sunni and Shi’ite split right after Muhammad’s death. This is not some recent development that the two camps are still trying to come to terms with. It’s disgustingly disingenuous to regularly meddle, prop-up, overthrow, and invade multiple countries in the region and when all that goes to shit, throw your hands up and exclaim, “well, that 1,400 year old schism is a bugger, isn’t it?”