Thursday, July 24, 2014

As the Dog Returneth to His Vomit...

Well, we're back in Iraq, and I, for one, couldn't be more relieved. I mean, the suspense was unbearable! Anybody with a grain of sense could have seen that even if we withdrew “all combat forces”, but left a square-mile embassy with thousands of employees, something was going to have to give sooner or later. (Actually, I'm not convinced we ever really left. Uniformed troops, maybe – but let's not forget the CIA and their mercenary army.) At any rate, now we send “military personnel” (not “combat troops”, mind) back to Iraq to protect all those American citizens, as well as “American interests” (whatever those might be), and to, as usual, act as “advisers and trainers” for the Iraqi army, which is... well, let's just say it's an army that we defeated and scattered to the four winds after the invasion, and then reconstructed in some way hoping that they would do some of the heavy lifting (AKA dying) when we started getting pushback from “terrorists”... i.e. people who were unhappy with our invasion and occupation and decided to do something about it. The newly re-formed Iraqi army was, of course, composed of the unemployed (thanks to our destroying Iraq's infrastructure) who were desperate for some source of income with which to keep themselves and their families fed, clothed, and sheltered. Problem is, people fighting for an idea have a tremendous advantage over people merely fighting for material gain – especially when the idea people are willing to use suicide tactics. So far from neutralizing Iraq as a source of Islamic aggression, we instead created a hotbed – a hatchery of sorts – for a new wave of Islamic fundamentalism and aggression. Well, it worked in Afghanistan, why not in Iraq?

Just kidding, of course. One more dollar tossed into that craphole is one dollar too many – to say nothing of American lives. And am I saying that American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives? Maybe, on some universal cosmic level, no – but in terms of foreign policy we have to operate on that basis, the same way Israel operates on the premise that Israeli lives are worth far more than Palestinian lives. This is, sadly, the way nations always operate in war time, and this mindset is, in a way, key to victory, just as it has always been in all wars down through history. Let's recall the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both premised on the notion that American lives were worth much more than Japanese (including civilian) ones. Sad, but true; this is how wars have always been fought, and in some sense it's the only way they can be fought – unless, of course, victory is not the goal, and when you look at our escapades in Southwest Asia you start to feel like maybe that's the case.

So yes, wars are not about internationalism, one-worldism, “kumbaya”, or anything else. On the most basic level, they're about killing (or at least disarming and neutralizing) people who aren't like us so that people who are like us (or who are us) can continue to enjoy their lifestyle. (I always wonder if we would ever have dropped an atomic bomb on Berlin, for example, even if the European war hadn't come to an end by that time. I think the answer is no, simply because the Germans, as mesmerized as they were by der Adolf, were still, basically, a lot like us, whereas the Japanese were “little yellow devils” who deserved no quarter, and no mercy. And yes, I'm talking about racism, which has a perfectly natural, if atavistic, role to play in war.)

So yeah, we're going back into Iraq because we have “interests” there. And because there are Americans in harm's way. But who put them in harm's way? And who on earth allowed anyone in this country to develop “interests” in Iraq that had to be defended? It's all a scam, basically – you send people into a war zone (or a place that's about to be), then declare them in danger, and send in troops to protect them, and then send in more troops to protect those troops, and before you know it we're right back where we started. It's a scam... but it works! It worked in Vietnam, it worked in Panama, and it's working in Iraq. It works everywhere it's tried; it's fool-proof. It is, in fact, one of the primary building blocks of empire. We don't just arbitrarily invade another country – we first establish “interests”... strategic necessities... we declare that country, and/or its leadership, to be a grave threat to humanity and especially to the survival of “the American way of life”. Or, when it comes to Southwest Asia, to Israel, which basically amounts to the same thing. Then you throw a few other ingredients into the pot, like “weapons of mass destruction”, “human rights violations”, “fascism” (a perennial favorite), “theocracy” (bad, bad), and you have all the evidence you need to mount a full-scale attack.

But if that's the basic, tried-and-true strategy, where does Obama stand? Well, first, he's just following orders. But imagine his frustration. He ran for president with an idea -- “hope and change” -- which, for him, meant turning the U.S. into a people's republic, or at least a socialist Utopia. In other words, it was all about domestic policy. Somewhere along the line, not unlike Bill Clinton, he forgot (or never learned) that there is also this thing called foreign policy – and it's messy, chaotic, thankless, and, in our time, not based on much more than the agonized writhing of a dying empire.

He didn't ask for this; he didn't want it. But it was dumped into his lap, along with marching orders from the usual suspects – Wall Street, the international banking/financial cartel, the neocons (yes, still very influential, even in an administration they pretend to despise), the Evangelicals (ditto), Israel, the countless racial, ethnic, and victim-group lobbies, and, I'm sure, any number of others. So he races around like Lucille Ball in one of her classic sitcoms, trying to do everything at once and please everybody, and gets very little thanks and a lot of criticism, and... well, what's a community organizer from Chicago supposed to do? So he, basically, checks out. He doesn't know anything, he didn't know anything, and it was all (still, after 5 ½ years) someone else's fault.

Now, don't get me wrong – this is not an expression of sympathy. He wanted this job, and he got it, and now he's paying the price. And I guess this could be said of all presidents, although a few manage to come out on top in spite of it all. But in the array of what I'll call “victim presidents”, Obama certainly is in the top rank, along with other sorry specimens like Carter and Bush II. What distinguishes victim presidents is that they start out behind the power curve, never catch up, and only manage to make things worse. And one could say, well, they were only victims of history – but there were still plenty of opportunities to do better, and the fact that they all failed shows a certain... what? Level of hubris? Plain stupidity? Spite? More like all three, and more. The other distinguishing trait is that they never show any insight. They are absolutely blind to not only their own failings and the impact it has on the country, but they continue to defend their record, and their “legacy”, where someone with more insight (or at least shame) would retire to the farthest reaches of the country and never raise their voice in public again. (At least Bush II deserves a bit of credit for shutting the hell up most of the time, unlike his former cronies.)

But having said that, it's nonetheless true that the cards are stacked against The Anointed One. He's faced, on a daily basis, with a myriad of intractable problems – dilemmas that simply can't be solved by any mortal, because they are the products of years – decades – centuries, even – of folly and delusion. It's no wonder he runs off and plays golf on a regular basis; I would too. He is, as I've said, a face in a suit, basically... not his own man... and yet he must feel the sting of this situation now and then. At least in Chicago he had a willing audience and could talk himself into thinking he was accomplishing something; now it's just one debacle after another, with no end in sight. So he's turning gray... getting more glum by the day... and whatever happened to that dazzling “hope and change” smile? He looks, acts, and talks like a defeated man – and he is, basically, no matter how many pathetic “victories” he manages to eke out through executive orders. Now it seems he's buying a house in California. Why not Chicago? Doesn't he want to return to his roots, a home town hero? Don't ask...

Here's the point. When you're the leader, or even the figurehead, of a nation that is on the way up in the world, you never have a bad day. You go from victory to victory, and even failures can be, somehow, recast as “strategic” victories. And you get credit – most of it undeserved, but nonetheless sufficient to have your name cut into countless blocks of stone around the Mall in Washington, and, with any luck, to have your likeness rendered in stone, or on coins or (worthless) paper money. You become, in short, part of the American Pantheon. On the other hand, when you're the leader, or figurehead, of a dying empire, you never have a good day. Even events which might have been considered victories in better times turn out to be fatally flawed... all the idols have feet of clay... and rust and corruption are everywhere. And again, it's not necessarily to your discredit (Obama isn't entirely wrong in continuing to blame everything on Bush) but try telling the populace that – or the media, or (dread!) the historians. They will ignore what small, pathetic victories and achievements you might have managed to pull out of the mire, and you'll be known forever after as “the president who...” (did something really bad, or allowed something really bad to happen).

And yet, such is the typical politician's genius for denial and delusion that most of them never come to terms with their true record. Oh, maybe on some surface level they wish things had gone better, but to gaze out over the bottomless chasm of failure... this is too much to ask. So Carter, for example, remains delusional in thinking he has something to offer, even though his administration was an exercise in farce and folly... Bush II continues to live in a fantasy world... and Obama? It's only a question of what grotesque form his delusions take as he fades into obscurity (or, worse yet, doesn't).

Of course, he does have 2 ½ more years. He could repent. He could wander over to the National Archives and take a good, hard look at the Constitution. He could grant Congress the respect it doesn't deserve but nonetheless ought to have. He could quit being a thug. But what are the chances?

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