Sunday, February 13, 2011

A New Line in the Sand

The mainstream media have been unusually candid – realistic, even -- in their reporting of events in Egypt, and I suspect that the reason is that they have found themselves without a party line to follow. So without a set of “talking points” and foregone conclusions passed down from on high, they are forced – out of sheer desperation – to actually report the facts for once, without a lot of contrived embellishment. Admittedly, they don't seem to know when, or whether, or for whom, to cheer... or to “regret”... or to “advise caution”... but this forced neutrality is, in my opinion, refreshing -- especially since it's virtually unknown when it comes to domestic reporting.

Well, if this is true – you might ask – are their masters in the Regime counseling neutrality and a “just the facts, ma'am” approach? Is it possible that they don't have any opinions on the matter? No, of course they have very strong opinions on the matter, but to express them through their media flunkies would create, let's say, a bit of awkwardness at this time. Because what they would have to say is something like: “We're mad as hell that one of our puppet Arab tyrants has been run out of office by an unwashed rabble, and we wish he had shown more courage in resisting this exercise in naked populism.” What is even more unspoken, of course, is: “At any other time in history up until recently, we would have sent troops [trans. - U.S. troops] in to prop up his regime. But we're already fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and gearing up for an invasion of Iran and who knows where else, so an operation in Egypt would have stretched our [U.S.] forces a bit too thin – not to mention the political problem of siding with a tyrant against his own people. The 'Arab street' has grown troublesome of late, and we, frankly, don't know exactly how to deal with it.”

That would have been an honest statement. Machiavellian, to be sure, but honest. But, since honesty is, to put it mildly, not the strong suit of the Regime, they had to be content to sit back and “wait for things to develop” -- and to counsel their servants in the White House, Congress, and the media to do likewise. It was good, you'll admit, to see people who usually spend every waking moment mouthing words be struck dumb for once -- or forced to mouth words that had even less content than usual.

The significance of this is not to be overlooked. Not only are the mouthpieces for the Regime speechless, but it's now clear that the Regime's power ends – or, at least, drops off precipitously – somewhere between the richly-upholstered parlors of the Arab ruling class and the streets full of ordinary citizens. In other words, if the rulers are puppets of, and collaborators with, the Regime, their subjects most definitely are not. And I'm not talking about the “militants” and “Islamists” here – to say nothing of the “terrorists”; I'm talking about ordinary people. It seems that they have never subscribed to the theory that what was good for the U.S., and for Israel, was also (or should be) good for them. Who knows, they might even have been interested in self-determination independent of the chronic power games we play in the Middle East. But this is the kind of ordinariness that totally escapes the notice of the Regime, because there is no place in for it in their philosophy. And this may, in fact, be why it seems to have worked – i.e. why the Egyptian people actually managed to pull off a relatively non-violent revolution. It's because it shouldn't be possible, and it can't happen, so they were able to sneak in under the radar. The oppressed peoples of the Third World are supposed to stay oppressed – and if they don't like it, they're expected to at least be quiet about it, and not riot or demonstrate... to say nothing of deposing a ruler. You see, the Regime has its theories too – and like all theoreticians everywhere, if events don't fit the theory, then the events must be wrong, because the theory can't be. And yet, there it is, staring them in the face. And all their lackeys in the administration can do is stand there with feces-consuming grins on their faces.

The next struggle in Egypt, as has already been pointed out by many commentators, will be centered around the issue of whether the people prevail or wind up compromised, co-opted, and duped, and get nothing more than “a new boss, just like the old boss” for their trouble. The same question can, of course, be asked about Tunisia, and it may have to be asked, before long, about other countries in the Arab world – you know, those other ones ruled by our “friends”. The power of ideas has once again asserted itself, and there's not a soul from Marrakesh to East Timor that hasn't taken notice, and hasn't started to think, “Maybe it could happen here as well.”

But will the Regime be caught (relatively) flat-footed the next time? Again I say, it's not a question of resources; in the old days we'd have landed a brigade of Marines on the quay at Alexandria and the whole thing would have been over with in 24 hours, and our man Mubarak would, once again, be set for life, after only a minor irritating incident. We've done this countless times over the years; it was a major theme in Vietnam, for example. Our presidents have, to a man, decided that they never met a third-world dictator they didn't like (except maybe for Saddam), and have without hesitation “invested” American lives and wealth for many decades in order to keep them in power. “American boys” have been propping up dictators as far back as anyone can remember – but it was always OK, because “American interests” were at stake. But even those interests have morphed over the years – from natural resources and trade to containing communism to defending Israel to dealing with “terrorism”. There is always another reason why we can't just stay home and mind our own business. And now we find ourselves not only slaves to our own rapidly-decaying delusional idealism, but servants of a global cartel that values the interests of the American citizen not in the least. And they do not hesitate to send us into quagmires and unwinnable wars, because even though we're their chief source of cannon fodder, they also want to put a ring in our nose politically and economically – which they have, in fact, done. So whether the ultimate cause is Israel or oil – or some combination thereof – they'll keep us healthy enough to do their fighting for them while expecting us to subsist on thin gruel, the main ingredient of which is delusions about empire.

The American Empire – which was never really much of a success as empires go – has now morphed into a globalist, if not global, empire overseen by a nameless, faceless cartel. The main role that is left for us is to pay for it and fight for it – but certainly not to profit by it, at least not anyone except the ruling elite. And in this, I say that it has roughly followed the trajectory of other empires down through history, even though they were, by and large, much less amorphous and less hidden. Our pursuit of empire is supposed to be done, by and large, in secret – hence the neologism “military-industrial-security complex”. The “security” part means that we pursue empire without anyone noticing. But the funny thing is that the rest of the world – even the most unwashed of the unwashed peasants and urban poor – can recognize our hand in things. They considered Mubarak our puppet, and rightly so – not that he necessarily hung on our every word, but he would never do anything in direct opposition to our interests, and most of the time he was serving our interests quite well, thank you. He was, for one thing, one of the more de-fanged, de-clawed Arab leaders when it came to Israel – and thus, I'm sure, a further source of indignation for the true believers in Islam. And yes, the notion of restoring the caliphate in the Middle East is a bit delusional – but since when does an idea have to be non-delusional in order to gain strength? It's almost the opposite. The peoples of the Arab world are reacting against us and our puppets... but they are also acting “for” the reclaiming and purification of their faith and their culture. And yes, I know, they have no “right” to do that, but they're doing it anyway.

In any case, the Arab world has miles to go before it... well, “sleeps” is not the word. Maybe “fully awakens” would be more apt. And whatever happens cannot possibly be more compatible with our, or Israel's, interests than keeping dictators in place over a drugged and anesthetized populace has been. I'm content, for now, to take courage from the obvious fact that there are limits to the Regime's power... that it can't simply do anything it wants to anyone at any time. And there are two (at least) corollaries to this. The first is that technology – high-tech weaponry, drones, atomic submarines, cruise missiles, etc. -- the entire extravagant armamentarium of the New World Order – is not enough to overcome popular movements and the will of the people, if enough of said people get together at the same time and in the same place, inspired by the same idea. We already experienced the limits of air power in Vietnam, for example – the fact that when you're fighting an asymmetrical war, high-tech against low-tech (or no-tech), bombs are not enough. (Or, when it comes to Afghanistan, how can you bomb people back to the Stone Age when they're already _in_ the Stone Age?) You've got to have “boots on the ground”, and when you get to that point you're no better off than the people you're fighting. You're worse off, in fact, because they're on their home turf. They have, if you will, “home field advantage”.

See, if you're fighting a symmetrical war – when the enemy is as technologically sophisticated as you are, and has the same attitudes about strategy and tactics – then air power makes sense, because you can go after immovable infrastructure like factories, shipyards, etc. This is the way it worked in World War II, for example. But this notion of, if we can lick a heavily-armed place like Germany, or Japan, why can't we lick a rag-tag bunch of peasants like the Vietcong? -- this is based on the wrong set of premises. We depend on certain things for our success, first and foremost being weaponry – overwhelming superiority of firepower, combined with logistical capability. The combination of the two is called “force projection”, and it is the very foundation of our foreign policy. Take it from me, there is no other; without that threat behind everything we say, no one would sit down across from us at any conference table. And sure enough, “force projection” enabled us to throw Saddam out of Kuwait, and later on out of power and into the arms of the hangman, because he was playing by the same rules we were, in the military sense. But those rules did not serve us well in Vietnam, and they are not serving us well in Iraq and Afghanistan... and they won't serve us well anywhere else in the Middle East, if we find ourselves fighting an asymmetrical war against the people, or insurgents, or some combination thereof.

Secondly, when it comes to dealing with a “native uprising”, besides their obvious advantages in cover and concealment, and fighting on their home soil (or the home soil of a passably familiar place), they also have a demographic advantage. In other words, there are just too damn many of them. We like to think that if we only send a few highly-skilled “specialists” into a war zone, our sheer technological superiority will carry the day. “Gentleman's war” and all that. Well, fine, then how about explaining IEDs? And how about explaining why bin Laden is harder to catch than Hitler, Mussolini, or Tojo? Again, different rules – and this doesn't even include the “psy ops” factor – you know, what happens when we keep accidentally-on-purpose bombing wedding parties, family gatherings, meetings of village and tribal elders, bar mitzvahs (oops, wait...). Despite what we think of “terrorist” tactics, the propaganda war seems to favor the other side more often than not... or if “favor” is not the word, then it at least seems to disfavor us. The “terrorists” are at least the devil that they know, and they do share the same creed... but what are we? Invaders and infidels. I mean, we've seen this elsewhere in the world; if someone is going to be blown up, then they'd rather it was by a countryman than by an invader or occupier. Strange, but true – and our great minds in Washington never seem to get it. I mean... at least the “terrorist” is willing to put his own life on the line. Those drones of ours are operated by some guy in an air-conditioned bunker in Nevada. Which one would the average person in the Arab world think of as having courage, and which as being cowardly?

So we encounter, once again, limits to our power... which means that those whom we serve encounter limits to their power as well. But the wars will rage on, since they have nothing to lose, even if we do. It's a delicate balance, and a very subtle game that they're playing... and I admit that large portions of their agenda remain murky. What is their long-term plan for the United States, for instance? Suffice it to say that it's in their interest that the wars continue, and that we continue to make meaningless and absurd sacrifices – made possible not by an intimidated and overtly-enslaved citizenry, but by our ideational fixations, politics, cultural habits, and delusions. We are being used – the American citizenry is being used, and its leaders are being used. But very few see it, because it's too big – like “the big lie”, if you can make something big enough, it becomes invisible. It becomes part of the baseline – part of that which people consider “reality”. The U.S. “has to” do this, that, and the other, because if we don't, who will? Never is the question asked, do these things have to be done at all, by anybody? Because that would probe too deeply into the reality – it would rock the foundations of the world we think we live in if we started to think that way. So it's left to a few lonely souls... and they are wasting no time commenting on events in Egypt. They see it as a new line drawn in the sand, with the Arab people on one side and the American Empire on the other. True, but they don't go far enough. It's not the American Empire on “our” side of the line, but the Regime itself, of which the (increasingly feeble) American Empire is just a subset. But they are correct in seeing it as a major fault line – perhaps the major fault line of our time.

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