FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Exterminators

by MICHAEL BRENNER

Captain Ahab’s obsessive hunt for Moby Dick was driven by the thirst for revenge. The great white whale had maimed Ahab – in soul as well as body. Ahab was consumed by the passion to restore his sense of self, and make himself whole again, by killing his nemesis – a compulsion that his wooden leg never let weaken.

America’s “war-on-terror” has become our national mission for restoration. The psychic wound is what grieves us; it inflames our collective passion for vengeance. The physical wound is already healed. By now, it must be memorialized in order for the scar to be seen.  It never did impair our functioning. In that sense, little more than a broken toe. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was genuine fear of a repeat attack – something that we now know never was in the cards. Our enemy has been emasculated; the great Satan was shot dead in Abbottabad. Only pinpricks at long intervals from within our midst draw blood.

Catharsis has eluded us, though.  We still seethe with emotions. We suffer from the free-floating anxiety that is dread, from vague feelings of vulnerability, from a seeming lost prowess and control. A society that talks casually about ‘closure’ on almost all occasions cannot find closure on 9/11. Instead, it has a powerful need to ritualize the fear, to pursue the implacable quest for ultimate security, to perform violent acts of vengeance that neither cure nor satiate.

So, we search the seven seas hunting for monsters to slay; not Moby Dick himself, but his accessories, accomplices, enablers, facilitators, emulators, sympathizers. Whales of every species, great and small, fall to our harpoons. The dead and innocent dolphins far outnumber them. Fortunes of war.

Since there is no actual Moby Dick out there to pursue, we have fashioned a virtual game of acting out the hunt, the encounter, the retribution. We thereby have embraced the post-9/11 trauma rather than expunged it. That is the “war-on-terror.” That war is about us – it no longer is about them.

Ahab destroyed himself, destroyed his crew, destroyed his ship. He sacrificed all in the quest – a quest for the unattainable. The United States is sacrificing its principles of liberty, its political integrity, the trust that is the bedrock of its democracy, its standing in the world as the “best hope of mankind,” and its capacity to feel for others – including its fellow citizens. America’s Moby Dick has migrated and transformed itself. It now is lodged in our innermost being. To kill its transmuted self is to kill our soul – just as Ahab was sucked into the ocean depths entangled in the very ropes he had fashioned to ensnare Moby Dick.

* * *

The emotional turmoil that underlies everything connected to the “war-on-terror” helps explain its many irrational features. The Pentagon this week sent to Senator Levin, chair of the Defense Committee, a classified document listing our enemies and the war’s targets. They include “al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups.” The Taliban, though, have not killed a single American outside of Afghanistan and we currently are engaging them in talks.  As for “associated groups,” that is judged too sensitive information to make public. The rationale: doing so would alert those groups to the fact that they are being hunted, droned, and eliminated by the United States. The absence of the most elementary logic is barely noted. Why? The political class long ago freeze dried its critical faculties when it comes to all WOT matters. The Pentagon itself is fain to admit that the “associated” category covers a myriad of Islamist groups too weak and/or uninterested to pose a threat to the United States. This is a modern day passion play – not a national security strategy.

Those underlying emotions surfaced as a high-powered Security Forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute early in July that brought together officials, journalists, politicos and sundry other members of the foreign policy establishment. Its pep-rally atmosphere is conveyed by these remarks, all of which evoked heavy applause.

John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror under the administration of George W. Bush, responded to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the “kinetic” approach of drone strikes and special forces by reminding the audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just “exterminate” them: “We wouldn’t have so many detainees if we’d relied on the ability to exterminate people…We’ve had a blended and nuanced approach …. for the guy who’s on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn’t see that as a nuance…. And maybe there are people who wish they were on the end of one of those missiles.” Moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News interjected, “You have a way with words.”

Former NSA chief Michael Hayden stressed the importance of Obama’s drone assassinations. “Here’s the strategic question,….People in Pakistan? I think that’s very clear. Kill ’em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill ’em.”

Remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bush’s Counterterrorism Center, declared: “We don’t smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally I’d support it,” to loud guffaws from his fellow panelists.

James Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, was asked: “What could we have done better?” “Probably not too much.”

General Keith Alexander: “The reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, but to hide it from the people who walk among you and are trying to kill you.”  Therefore, the need for the very domestic spying which doesn’t exist according to Alexander and the White House.

Corporations like AT&T, Google and Microsoft collaborate with the NSA because they “know that we’re saving lives,” the General explained. He continued, “And that’s good for business because there’s more people out there who can buy their products.”

“Just seeing us here,” he said, “that inspires [public] confidence, because we’re not a bunch of ogres.”

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

 

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail