A #NoWarInIran Reading List

Yesterday the Trump Administration assassinated Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad. This attack represents not only an illegal escalation of the US’s long conflict with Iran, but also, inevitably, another chapter in the Global War on Terror, begun by George W. Bush in 2001. n+1 was founded in 2004 in opposition to that war, and especially its most horrific outgrowth (so far), the Iraq War; from its founding, n+1 has sought to chronicle America’s wars in the Middle East as they unfolded, as well as their impact on daily life and culture in the US and throughout the world. This week, we’ve put some of the best pieces from the archives in front of the paywall. From Richard Beck on Andrew Bacevich’s history of US military policy in the Middle East to A. S. Hamrah’s Iraq War film chronicle, these essays aim, as n+1 does in each issue, to make some sense of the dark historical moment we continue to inhabit.


Why Are We in the Middle East? by Richard Beck (from Issue 26)

As a style of foreign policy thinking, humanitarian interventionism can only be reactive, because it is wholly at the mercy of the emergency; there is no intervention that doesn’t need to happen right now. This persistent panic and desperation prevents humanitarian interventionists from thinking about the fact that after the emergency has been averted, the intervention will have consequences requiring humanitarian solutions of their own. Meanwhile, the traditional hawks to whom the humanitarians must make their case simply do whatever they were going to do in the first place.

Which Country Shall We Bomb Today? by Nikil Saval

It is a feature of America’s unyielding narcissism that much “news analysis” has been devoted to how these attacks affect the standing of this dangerously entitled country and its vile President. There is no other country in the world whose citizens wake up wondering which country their leader will bomb next—and what those bombs will do for said leader’s approval rating. But because the consequences of American warmaking are mostly deeply felt outside the US, it bears wondering what these attacks will likely do.

Coalition of the Willing by the Editors (from Issue 34)

When Trump took power, he inherited a rationale for global war that had been worked out and institutionalized by the two Presidents who preceded him and that had the full support of both political parties. All of Washington has spent the past eighteen years working to expand the set of circumstances under which it’s acceptable for white people to observe and harass and kill Muslims, and to minimize the justifications that are required to do so. To date, the climate of hatred and fear they have produced is the 21st century’s most important bipartisan achievement.

The Drone Philosopher by Marco Roth (from Issue 17)

My fantasies are fed by the same logic and apparatus that authorizes the drone strikes and maintains the torture prisons: namely, the desire to distinguish good from evil, friend from enemy, without allowing the objects of our attention to speak to us for themselves. And it is this effort at sorting — through surveillance, data-mining, extracting confessions, and “philosophy” — that provides us with a sense that, in the end, we are superior to them, who kill indiscriminately and unintelligently. Our very language of precision and protocol, our military planners’ analogies to surgery, and our government’s invocations of secret “intelligence,” all this licenses the continuation of perpetual warfare as though it were some chronic illness, manageable only by skilled doctors committed to the care of our vulnerable bodies.

Seattle to Baghdad by Kim Phillips-Fein (from Issue 2)

The sporadic, flickering nature of the opposition to the war makes it appear, in this winter moment after Bush’s reelection, as though resistance has vanished altogether. And yet Klein’s work, her patient documenting of the anticorporate movement of the 1990s, gives reason for hope. The war, like the spread of neoliberalism around the globe over the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, has been bloody and painful, yet the men and women in charge of our politics are sustained by their apocalyptic, evangelical faith that great good will come of it in the end. Living in the comfort of their homes far away from the conflict, they have an abiding confidence that over time, the violence, economic weakness, and hunger of the present will all be redeemed through the transporting force of economic growth. It is as though any pain in the present must be endured for the sake of the glorious hereafter.

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations by Daniel Bessner

McMaster’s views about the United States’ role in the world are highly traditional: he believes the nation presently confronts existential challenges that, because they threaten the values of “civilized peoples,” must be annihilated. For all his supposed intellectual independence, McMaster clearly and unquestioningly embraces the premises that have supported the American empire since 1945. The fact that such a perspicacious officer could endorse such an outdated vision of the world suggests that not only the Trump Administration, but also the entire culture of the American national security establishment, is broken.

Special Journey to Our Bottom Line by Elizabeth Schambelan (from Issue 34)

In 2016, Eric Trump said that “waterboarding is no different to [sic] hazing.” Like his father, Eric has the moral intellect of a tapeworm, and so he intended his remark as a defense of waterboarding, not as an indictment of hazing. But his basic point was sound. It should be noted that of the twelve enhanced interrogation techniques that the CIA asked the Department of Justice to approve in early 2002, the only one deemed too extreme to green-light, mock burial, has long been a recurrent feature of frat initiations.

Bringing the War Home by the Editors (from Issue 31)

Soon after September 11, 2001, Americans made a collective decision that in response to a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe, an event whose scale and devastation were unrepeatable, large swaths of American life, as well as the country’s relationship to most of the world, would be militarized on a permanent basis. Since then, the ways in which politicians and journalists have responded to terrorist attacks and school shootings have been so consistently similar that it seems foolish not to think of the shootings as extensions of the war we are waging around the world, epiphenomena of the war on terror. Public discussions of terrorism and mass shootings both lean heavily, for example, on an exaggerated sense of danger that bears little resemblance to the risks that actually menace us.

Mogadishu, Baghdad, Troy; or, Heroes Without War by Mark Greif (from Issue 1)

The oddity of this mode of fighting isn’t quite that it marks a new formation in the history of the world, or comes unknown to us. It’s that we thought we would never see it again. We are witnessing a temporary reconvergence with an ancient bit of history, caused by technology and the superior value the United States can now afford to put on the lives of its citizens and soldiers. In contemporary US warfare, the hero returns, in the manner of the Iliad, and “hero” has here a purely technical definition. He is the lone fighter, who takes the stage amidst a sea of mere mortal beings—one of only a few heroes who are comparable in abilities and significance.

Jessica Biel’s Hand by A. S. Hamrah (from Issue 8)

For two months this summer the only movies I watched were movies about the war on terror. I watched three dozen of these movies and maybe 15 percent of them were any good. The rest, like the war itself, represented an enormous waste of manpower and resources that would have been better spent on something good for people, like entertainment. When I say this I do not mean any disrespect to the three thousand men and women who died on September 11, 2001, or the over four thousand American soldiers who have died overseas, or the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed, or the unknown number of detainees who have been tortured in prisons. But watching these movies was like being buried under rubble while working in an office, like being stuck in the desert far from home, invaded by an occupying army, left tied in a stress position for days.

Yarmouk Miniatures by Matthew McNaught (from Issue 23)

A famous slogan of the regime thugs known as the shabiha is “Assad aw nahraq al balad,” meaning “Assad, or we burn the country.” This slogan, sprayed on the walls of the neighborhoods that they target, is a succinct summary of Assad’s game plan over the past four years. The massacres, starvation sieges, and Scud missiles send a simple message to restive populations: the only alternative to Assad is hell on earth. The rise of ISIS in the east of Syria, largely unimpeded by regime forces, has strengthened this narrative: What better propaganda for the regime than ISIS’s nihilistic savagery? Perhaps a more insidious threat to the regime was anyone who told a different story, exposing the deception of its propaganda and raising the possibility of an Assad-free future that was something other than apocalyptic.

Base Culture by Lyle Jeremy Rubin (from Issue 33)

I now conceptualize the society I came from and the war to which I went as part of the same grotesque amusement park ride. If I have discovered anything since my homecoming, it is not that I never came home. It is not that my soul resides in Afghanistan. It is that my home has lost its peaceful veneer, stripped bare, like Twentynine Palms. An American who leaves for war never leaves America. The war that is America, rather, comes to the American. The war is the society and the society is the war, and one who sees that war sees America

My Life by Chantal Clarke

I fly all over the world. I am 27 feet long, with an armspan of 48.7 feet. Fully loaded with Hellfires I weigh 2,250 pounds, but empty I weigh only 1,130. People say I look like a mako shark or a penis, but I don’t agree. I’m a nice person once you get to know me. Let me tell you my story.

Why Literature Matters When It’s Somewhere Else by Marco Roth (from Issue 1)

The dynamics of overt oppression are easier to grasp than the more sublimated pressures we now face. Coming to us from far away, they cross our mental borders as metaphors; they enter our minds to give shape to our vague feelings of nameless unhappiness, our luxurious ennui that may appear motiveless but isn’t. But we can’t rely only on egotistical appropriations of other lives, elsewhere. We, too, need to read American novels as if we were foreigners dreaming of America. Our attentiveness must get us past the veil of everyday signs, revealing the apparently smooth and satisfied surface image to be chipped and scored through by comedies, tragedies, and histories. If we learn to read again, to read as if our lives were at stake, we’ll have to thank the Iranians.

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