THE WAR ON TERROR, according to left-wing critics, has any number of root causes: It’s an effort to divert the public’s attention from the weaknesses of the American economy. George W. Bush is avenging the Iraqi attempt on his father’s life. The Zionist conspiracy is pulling America’s strings. Oil barons Bush and Cheney are doing the bidding of their masters at Shell and Exxon-Mobil.
But the most novel explanation to date comes from self-professed “left-conservative” Norman Mailer, the 79-year old, Pulitzer Prize-winning author who offers his explanation in the latest issue of Pat Buchanan’s fortnightly misnomer, The American Conservative. According to Mailer, the war is all about—what else?—sex.
Bizarre analysis of the war, of course, is nothing new for Mailer. It is Mailer who infamously opined that the rubble of Ground Zero was “more beautiful than the buildings” of the World Trade Center, which he likened to “two huge buck teeth.” He has described America as a nation of “cultural oppressors and aesthetic oppressors” that largely invited the attacks on itself. He has sneered at the “patriotic fever” of the last year, and denounced it for going “too far.” He has called the prospect of losing some 3,000 Americans annually to 9/11-style attacks a “tolerable level of terror,” undeserving of a military response.
Like many of his political persuasion, Mailer harbors a preoccupation with the right’s supposed preoccupation with sex. “From (the right’s) point of view,” Mailer explains, “America is getting rotten. The entertainment media are loose. They are licentious. The kids are getting to the point where they can’t read, but they sure can screw. Morals are vanishing.”
So how does the right correct the Clintonization of America? By becoming “a twenty-first century version of the old Roman Empire,” of course.
“Behind the whole thing in Iraq is the desire to have a huge military presence in the near-East as a stepping stone for eventually taking over the world,” Mailer says. The puritans in the White House believe that “if America becomes again a military machine that is huge in order to oversee all its new commitments, then American sexual freedom, willy-nilly, will have to go on the back burner. Commitment and dedication will become necessary national values (with all the hypocrisy attendant on that).”
So a new Roman Empire (one, presumably, not given toward the sexual predilections and excesses of the first one), is the only way to make Britney Spears cover up her midriff. Who knew?
Now, this is quite an insight on Mailer’s behalf. It’s nothing new, of course, for left-wingers to condemn any sort of assertive American foreign policy as imperialism—throughout the Cold War, the I-word was routinely slapped on American efforts to contain the spread of Communism. And since the War on Terror began, both Buchanan and fellow peace activist Al Gore have denounced Bush as a would-be empire-builder hell-bent on global denomination. But only Mailer seems to possess the requisite Freudian insight to see that the ultimate motivation is little more than a severe case of repressed sexuality.
Still, skeptics might ask: Doesn’t 9/11 have something to do with all this? Might not America’s war against radical Islamists and their enablers have something to do with the fact that radical Islamists slaughtered some 3,000 Americans on our very soil?
Not really, according to Mailer. In his view, the worst day in modern American history turns out to be something of a happy accident—a terrorist-sponsored boon for the imperialistic sex-haters. “There is such a thing as luck in human affairs. Without 9/11, I don’t think (White House officials) could have exploited this push to have a war with Iraq. I think, rather, the administration would have been in trouble. The attention of the media was fixed on the bad market, the increase in joblessness, the Church and corporate scandals, the high school serial killers, the drugs, new and old.”
Echoing the likes of Cynthia McKinney, Mailer concludes that Osama bin Laden saved Bush’s bacon. “The right wing benefited so much from Sept. 11,” he once remarked, “that if I were still a conspiratorialist, I would believe they’d done it.”
Yet Mailer sure sounds like a conspiratorialist when he speculates about the War on Terror as a proxy for the right’s secret War on the Libido. Were the author’s theory true, Bush, Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and the other supposedly hubristic warmongers would have to be doing an extraordinary job of concealing their motivations. After all, none of them has uttered a peep about their collective vision of a sexless empire. Not even a single, bitter multilateralist over at the State Department has leaked the plan to the New York Times. Even the conservative commentators sympathetic to the Bush agenda—National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, and other members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, have all perfectly concealed their deepest ambitions and goals.
How is it that President Bush, who is “not a bright man,” according Mailer, has been able to disguise so masterfully such a far-flung and far-reaching effort?
Easy. Bush is such a dimwit, he doesn’t even know he’s plotting to take over the world, let alone why. In fact, Mailer explains, it’s possible that no one knows—no one, that is, except for Mailer. “I don’t know if the White House principals talk to one another in private about this,” he says, adding that “they may not even be wholly aware of it themselves, not all of them.”
So without so much as a hint of evidence, Mailer has been able to psychoanalyze the administration’s true motivations. For both the American left and its fledgling twin, the paleoconservative right, such absurd ramblings pass for reasonable analysis.
That’s because for the anti-war crusaders, any conspiratorial interpretation of America’s motives will do, even multiple, sometimes contradictory ones, from oil, to world domination, to Bush family grudges. The only theory the new isolationists won’t accept is that maybe, just maybe, America has some business resisting the efforts of murderers out to inflict more “tolerable” levels of terror on its innocents.