Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Exit

Now here's a shocker. Whereas Obama, in arguing for the 30,000-troop “surge” in Afghanistan, promised – or seemed to promise -- “the beginning of a drawdown” by July 2011, now Gen. Petraeus is already sounding major notes of caution regarding that, or any other, deadline. What he told the House Armed Services Committee is that “I would not want to overplay the significance of this review” -- i.e. the year-end review that is supposed to “evaluate whether it will be possible to begin” a drawdown in July 2011. Now – first of all, I've already lost count of all the cascading conditionals in this language. No one has said we will simply leave Afghanistan in July 2011. But by the end of the year we will “evaluate” whether it will be “possible” to “begin”... and now Petraeus is saying that even that evaluation, although it will indeed take place, should not be taken too seriously. He recommends, rather, that we anxiously await something called “a date when a process begins based on conditions”. Um... OK. But what will this “process” consist of, other than more waiting? And what are these “conditions” likely to be other than the ever-elusive and ever-changing criteria that, because they are never quite achieved, form the conceptual basis for war in perpetuity?

One reason this is interesting is that what Petraeus is saying is, basically, ignore what the president said about the surge. So he has basically applied a brisk dash of cold water to anyone's hopes that we will be out of Afghanistan in July 2011... or, frankly, at any time in the foreseeable future. But is he thereby “correcting” the president – his own commander-in-chief? Is he “second-guessing” the administration? No – it's just another round in the by-now-familiar game of good news/bad news when it comes to the administration and the military. Today the administration is delivering the good news, and the military is coming, hot on their heels, to correct and “clarify”. Tomorrow it will be the other way around – the military will put out the good news, and their civilian masters will come along right on their heels to correct and clarify. But it's the perfect scam, since no one can claim there is never any good news... only that it's "conditional" on "circumstances", etc. And "reassessments" can always be made at the time, etc.

What this all amounts to is a tacit admission that there is no intention, on the part of the administration, the military, or anyone else, to leave Afghanistan or Iraq – not next year, not ever. And this is all to be expected, since the reasons for the invasions were highly ambiguous (and intentionally so). If there was no good reason for going in, there doesn't have to be a good reason for staying, does there? And there certainly can't be a good enough reason for leaving, because what can possibly compete with a fait accompli? “We're here because we're here” is all anyone needs to know. (No one ever brings up the contrary notion of cutting our losses.) And this is how a perpetual war system is initiated and maintained. If the administration (the present one or its predecessor) had, at the outset, provided exit criteria... criteria for mission accomplishment... criteria for “winning”, even... then someone could have held them to those criteria. But when no criteria are provided, what is there to hold anyone to? There is no standard... and therefore any reason for perpetuating the conflict – or no reason at all – is sufficient to insure its perpetuation.

Of course, there is nothing new about the “perpetual war” strategy. One could go all the way back to World War I, when we were supposedly fighting to “make the world safe for democracy”. The problem with that mission is that it's neverending, since there is always someone out there who doesn't care much for democracy and sees fit to threaten it in some way. But, as it turned out, after Wilson's welcome demise, we enjoyed a brief “return to normalcy”, i.e. what is now termed (by liberals and the media) “isolationism” but what was then termed “minding our own damn business”. But wouldn't you know, along came the Depression, and the New Deal, and the communist infiltration of the Executive Branch, and the next thing you know we were back in the mix again – this time to exterminate one form of collectivism (i.e., fascism or national socialism) and make the world safe for another (i.e., communism). And this worked – for a few years at least. But then someone decided that communism was as much of a threat – or a bigger one! -- than fascism had ever been. So there we went again.

See the trend here? Find an enemy – any enemy – and declare war on him, them, or it. And there are always plenty of candidates. And the Cold War served as our version of perpetual war for a good lifetime – right up until 1990 or so, at which time peace broke out in unprecedented numbers, and the military was in a complete funk (not to mention the arms makers and anyone who wanted to be a “war president”). It was just getting too hard to drum up business! And those few pathetic military “operations” with all the inane titles didn't quite fill the bill. But then, a miracle! 9-11 happened, and we were back in business again... but this time it was even better. Unlike World War I, we didn't have to go home after Germany and Austria-Hungary were defeated, and unlike World War II, we didn't have to go home after Germany, Italy, and Japan were defeated, and unlike the Cold War, we didn't have to go home after the Soviet Union broke up. Now we were fighting “terrorism” -- the ideal enemy! Because “terrorists” can be anywhere, or anyone... and we can never be sure that they're all either dead or neutralized. And it's not a matter of conquering a country or a given piece of territory... even though “regime change” is one of the high-priority pieces of the strategy. But here's what's best -- “terrorism” is based directly on the tenets of a major world religion (monotheistic, even!) -- one that's been around for 1400 years and is actually gaining strength and adherents, many of whom are of the militant cast and are thus available to take the role of enemies virtually in perpetuity.

Interestingly, when the Moslems accuse the West of fighting a crusade, they're only half right. The original Crusades were designed, principally, to insure the safety and access of pilgrims to the Holy Land. The current “crusade”, if you listen to the Evangelicals, is bit different. For one thing, Christians (and everyone else) already has access to the Holy Land, so that can't be the issue. And it's not just about keeping it safe either. What it's about this time around is, in fact, not Christianity at all but Judaism – specifically the notion that the State of Israel, a totally man-made entity, has somehow, mysteriously, acquired the status of key to the “end times”, and thus to the world's salvation. But there's another difference as well. In the case of the original Crusades, once the Holy Land had been conquered (more or less) it was then a matter of consolidation, and maintaining a power base. The Moslems could go right on worshiping in their own way, and no one cared, as long as they stopped harassing Christians. And the Jews could do whatever they did as well – the few who were still left in that part of the world, that is. So the criteria for success were fairly objective and achievable, all told. But this time around... well, I suppose one criterion for success would be “no more terrorism, anywhere on earth”, which means “no more militant Islamists”. Lots of luck with that one. Or, if you want to get even more extreme, it could be “no more Moslems, period”; this is certainly what the Evangelicals and outfits like Blackwater seem to believe is appropriate. But in that case, you're also going to have to wipe out fairly large chunks of the current population of France and a few other European countries. So you see, there can't be an ultimate goal, or criterion for success, that makes any sense or that satisfies anyone. So we're asked to be satisfied with limp-wristed “interim” or “transitional” goals – which usually involve turning the control of a given country over to the people who actually live there. But that's certainly not going to solve our problem, which is “terror” -- which can strike anywhere, at any time, and for any reason (or for no reason at all). And clearly, we can't trust the people in those flea-bitten places to ever do the right thing, either as individuals or in the aggregate, so our only option is -- regretfully and with a heavy heart -- to just stay there forever – which is precisely the intent, but for some reason it isn't yet possible to admit this in any public forum. I mean... Obama could get on TV, the way he did the other night, “from the Oval Office”, and just say “We're going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan forever. You don't have to like it, but that's the way it is. Good night and good luck.” Now that would be concise... and, best of all, honest – which is why it will never be done.

And this is not – I hasten to add – about “empire building” in the traditional sense. As I've pointed out before, all of our attempts at empire end the same way – with a hemorrhage of our national wealth. We just can't do it right. So it is far from our national interests to occupy places like Iraq and Afghanistan – or have them as colonies; it only costs more in money and lives with every passing day. But it is very much in the interests of certain parties for this situation to persist – and I've cited the “unholy foursome” many times in the past: the arms makers, the Evangelicals, the Neocons, and the Israeli lobby (including Israel itself). These are all parties that want us “over there”, that want us in a perpetual war, and their combined power is something that no president, or administration, or Congress, can possibly oppose successfully, even if they wanted to, which they don't. But I shouldn't leave this point without also mentioning that, most importantly of all, it's the Regime that's the most in favor of all of this – and, after all, the Neocons are creatures of the Regime, the arms makers and Israel are key elements in the Regime, and the Evangelicals – well, let's just say they're dupes of the Regime, for lack of a better word. Of the four, they're the only group that is not cynical, and that, in a way, makes them the most dangerous. The other three might be willing to stop before, say, the complete bankruptcy of the U.S. -- but as far as the Evangelicals are concerned, no price is too high, including the sacrifice and self-immolation of America itself. This is what misdirected religious fanaticism comes to – and, ironically, it has come into play at the very same time that a particular form of Moslem religious fanaticism has – namely, what we call “terrorism” (but which the “third world” considers to be “our way of making war against the powerful”).

But as I said before, it is apparently not yet time to admit, to ourselves as a nation, that perpetual war is not only in our future, but is already here. And the reasons for this are far from obvious. Clearly, as a nation we are not only used to war but we severely miss it when there is a too-long period of peace. The military certainly cannot get along without war for more than a few years, because peacetime is a very unsatisfactory time to properly assess training and weapon systems. The Evangelical or neo-Puritan mindset, being the foundational American attitude, is militant by definition. And, as a nation, we have chosen to define ourselves – our identity, our destiny – almost exclusively in terms of war... ones we have fought, ones we are fighting, and ones we are likely to engage in in the future. And when you look at the pageant of observances, ceremonies, military burials, and memorial services across the land – both for veterans and for those lost in combat – you realize that America would simply not be America without war, and without its ritual, iconography, and even its long-term impact. I don't think it's dishonoring the dead to point out that we have piled fetishes upon fetishes in our drive to turn war and death into some sort of neo-pagan religion. We are willing to sacrifice lives by the million (our own, but even more those of other peoples), and a large portion of our national wealth, in order to maintain our status as the biggest and best war makers in all of human history. I mean, forget about those pathetic “empires” of ancient times – we could flatten Napoleon's entire army with one gunship. And the paradox is that we have not, in the post-Soviet era, become the gentle giant; our alleged monopoly on military power has made us, if anything, more belligerent and more peace-hating. We used to at least express a passing interest in peace as the goal of any conflict – but when's the last time you heard this point even discussed? No one wants peace any longer... or, at least, if they do they don't dare express it in a public forum. No – George W. Bush did succeed in one respect – he made the expression “cut and run” into the most fear-evoking term in the English language, when it comes to politicians and their position on war. No one wants to be seen as a coward – even vicariously. So for a politician in our time to come out in favor of peace for its own sake... well! That would evoke images of... well, let's say George McGovern. Or Gene McCarthy. Or some other mush-headed liberal who wants nothing more than to sell us down the river to... OK, the commies are pretty much history at this point, so who is left to be sold down the river to? About the only possibility I can think of is China... or Israel... or both. Whoops, those deals have already been made. And this just aggravates the absurdity. We are no longer our own country, or our own people; we have been sold down the river by our “leaders” and by the Regime... and yet we fight on, as if “we” still had something to fight for, and defend. This, in my opinion, is the most pathetic thing of all.

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