The first thing that you notice, via television, is that the place is a desert, a vast wasteland. It is difficult to imagine dinosaurs goring each other in bloody verdancy to create the oil that lies beneath, much less the fourth wonder of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with lush plateaus of flora, the envy of Beverly Hills, a garbage heap by comparison.
The closest I can come in my own experience is driving across the Dakotas in 1973, reflecting that a three-degree yearly average increase in temperature from 1870 to 1930 turned the Indians' verdant plains to rock.
Pity the American Association of Art Museum Directors, chaired by the powerful Maxwell Anderson, who pre-war, lamented the dusty "treasures" of Iraq. I'm afraid that the circus already left town.
More importantly, pity our gallant, youthful troops who have to slog their way to victory, and say a prayer for the Iraqis, longtime victims of a forced social contract, in which Saddam Hussein looted them at gunpoint in exchange for some freedom from the anal retentive structures of Wahabbism.
9/11 made this war a strategic necessity, but one can derive only a sense of security and gratitude to our grunts, volunteers all, no joy, while deeply mourning the dead -- it is hard to imagine a more terrible place to die than Iraq.
To get a sense of the Iraqi people, all one has to do is walk 50 feet in any direction in my East Village neighborhood. Iraqis, mostly men, handsome, fit, honest, with the signature brush moustache, run many businesses here. Many of the people leaving Baghdad, under cover of coalition bombing, will join them in New York. For that is the paradox of 21st-century America -- the liberated still come here, not vice versa.
Winston Churchill sat in the British Admiralty 80-odd years ago and drew the lines of present day Iraq before the necessity of Mideast oil to fuel the world emerged.
The artificiality of the British protectorate in the Middle East, coupled with Franklin Roosevelt's key blessing of the scavenger Ibn Saud, created a bunch of Fascist "countries" as a ridiculous parody of the old caliphate.
The never-ending series of terrorist hijackings, bombings, kidnappings, suicide bombings, throat slittings and ultimately 9/11, as repugnant as they continue to be, are the actions of a deeply masochistic culture. Every few years we have to wipe them out, we Americans, to buy a little peace of mind here at home.
As justified as this war is strategically, there must be a better way, and that way lies in abolishing the nation state as an entity in the Middle East.
What would be preferable, however farfetched it seems, is a series of city states, reminiscent of the Moorish, Venetian and Prussian cultures of past centuries, with free flow among the Muslim diaspora. Such trade and commerce would break down the anti-female, anti-modern, anti-intellectual culture of Wahabbi dominance, as well as the control of Shiite mullahs, paper lions all.
Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan, which allow zero Palestinian emigration, would evaporate into liberated city-states such as Amman and Riyadh, future centers of Palestinian culture.
Baghdad, Damascus, Teheran and Beirut could, mirabile dictu, return to their rich, Renaissance identities of only a century ago. This will, of necessity, require a Pax Americana imposed by the U.S. military in the short run -- the overthrow of the Syrian Baath party, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranian mullahs and the Saudi princelings.
After 9/11, we are the driving force in the Mideast and true democracy must be the American and Islamic goal. For that to happen, Mideast nationalism must end.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).