The year is 2007. After a clash with Turkish forces in northern Iraq, US troops stage a surprise attack. Reeling, Turkey turns to Russia and the European Union, who turn back the American onslaught.

This is the plot of “Metal Storm,” one of the fastest- selling books in Turkish history. The book is clearly sold as fiction, but its premise has entered Turkey’s public discourse in a way that sometimes seems to blur the line between fantasy and reality.

“The Foreign Ministry and General Staff are reading it keenly,” Murat Yetkin, a columnist for the Turkish daily newspaper Radikal, recently wrote. “All cabinet members also have it.”

Several other columnists have also written about the book, suggesting its depiction of a clash between the two NATO allies could become a reality. Serdar Turgut, the editor of Aksam, one of Turkey’s largest newspapers, penned a recent column that took one of Metal Storm’s premises - that members of Skull and Bones, the secret society that President Bush joined as a student at Yale, has taken control of US foreign policy - and presented it as fact.

“Powerful people, nearly all of whom are members of a secret ’sect,’ are aiming to bring a radical change to the order of the world,” Turgut wrote. ~The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 15, 2005

The premise that the United States is ruled by a small cult obsessed with secrecy and power seems to be taking different shapes around the world, but these perceptions are certainly not all that far from reality. From Seymour Hersh’s declaration that our country has been taken over by a “cult,” namely the neoconservatives, to less dramatic but firmly founded documentation of the concentration of power in the hands of this ideologically homogenous band of hyper-chauvinist, hegemonist, pro-Israel extremists, the sense that a narrow, vicious cadre is determining the policies of the most powerful country in the world has spread far and wide, not least because there is plenty of evidence to support this impression.

What is more striking is how badly the self-professed ‘democratisers’ of the Near East are playing in one of their favourite prop countries, Turkey. Even though they repeatedly drag Turkey into their arguments to show that Islam and democracy are perfectly compatible (even though the Turkish example has yet to confirm this convincingly), the incredible sales of the new novel, Metal Storm, which depicts a major armed conflict between Turkey and the United States, seem to show that ordinary Turks and Turkish government officials are scared to death that these cultish people will come for them next.

Without meaning any disrespect to Messrs. Hersh and Buchanan, whose factual claims themselves are not in dispute, their having cast the debate in terms of a radical “cult” or “clique” vs. everyone else has let a great many other responsible parties off the hook. Granted, Mr. Hersh makes the case that all our other institutions have been complicit by failing to oppose the “cult,” but there is still the sense that the basic goals and vision of the “cult” really are on the fringe. Those goals are, of course, extremist, but they are surprisingly all the more common in spite of that. What has been so horrifying about the rise of the “cult” is that it has so many willing assistants, apologists and anxious, would-be members. The assumption that we can or should invade other countries for things that go on inside their borders is a view that, partisan politics aside, commands a digustingly large number of adherents across the spectrum. The conviction that “spreading democracy” is basically a legitimate function of our government finds few outright opponents, and these have only emerged relatively recently: most everyone else accepts that the goal of democratisation is entirely proper and justifiable, and it is only the methods that are in question. This is to follow the approach of The Economist and the Democratic leadership with respect to our present foreign policy: the goals are all worthy, but what a pity about the execution and competence. It is the lame, halting criticism of a John Kerry: of course we should attack countries without reason, provided that it is done in the right, pleasant, cosmopolitan way. These people, and millions more like them in both parties, have created the atmosphere in which the “cult” thrives, because the “cult” is only saying things bluntly what politicians and pundits in both parties have been saying more reservedly for years.

Ascribing our massive national failure (this is the only way I can describe the total collapse of self-government regarding the war in Iraq) to a weird “cult” or “clique,” though these individuals are undoubtedly the movers behind the policy, allows us to believe that if only better apparatchiks are installed in the system then everything will be fine. This is not unlike the naive conservative fantasy that electing the ‘right’ people or appointing the ‘right’ judges can fix the death-grip Leviathan has on our society and our way of life. One does not fix a decaying and corrupt power structure, but either abandons it or falls prey to its ways. Nonetheless, there have been numerous, confident assertions that neoconservatism was dead and on the way out as early as last summer, and some longtime opponents of the war, such as Georgie Ann Geyer recently, have engaged in a sort of neocon Kremlinology as they pretend to find rays of hope in the sheer, jet black surface of a dreadful government. When reliably antiwar, anti-Bush people begin to be encouraged by the appointment of John “What Human Rights Violations?” Negroponte to ever-higher and more powerful positions, we can begin to see that some of the opposition to this war has truly lost its way.

When I see people define our government as one of a secret society or a cult, I see the kind of people who have made up the modern American antiwar movement. I am reminded of the utter impotence and ineptitude of the antiwar movement, if we might even describe it as being so organised, before the war, when Americans who desperately wanted to stop the war from happening were left relying on some supremely dubious allies. If only the Security Council would stop the war! If only the Turks refuse to participate! If only the British public would get Blair kicked out! If only the Arab nations would unite in outrage! Of course, none of these things happened or, if they did happen, they did not make much of a difference. This preoccupation with foreign opposition somehow preventing the war was a basic admission, as the focus on the “cult” to the exclusion of all other guilty parties is an admission, that the American public has no meaningful influence on foreign policy and that our government can only be controlled by the obstacles thrown up by other states.

Further, the focus on the “cult” is based on the assumption that the American public (or any public) would never tolerate such lunatic policies–it must be some high-powered secret society or gang of ideological villains alone. It is based, in its way, in a democratic faith as naive as the zeal of the democratists themselves. As we know, the public does tolerate these policies and even seems to reward them. Some of us have come to attach such importance to the shuffling of bureaucrats and appointees because we have become prone to ignore the broad, deep national failure in which we are all somewhat complicit.

The conspiracy theories and fears of Turkish writers, in their own inability to influence their government’s policies, mirror our own impotence as they attempt to locate and isolate the cause of their loathing for U.S. policy to a small group that might, we could hope, be ousted. What these Turkish writers, and more than a few American opponents of the war, cannot imagine is that the United States government is structurally and fundamentally committed to the hegemonist project in general, and only the details are in dispute. To admit this would be, I suppose, even more awful and horrifying in its way than to believe simply that a secret society or cult has dominated the government, as if this had little to do with the rest of us.