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Playing With Fire

After Al Qaeda

by ANDREW LEVINE

The Bush-Obama perpetual war regime has gotten nearly all it can out of Al-Qaeda.

But Obama is taking his time moving on.   He and his advisors haven’t yet quite settled on a suitable replacement.

Therefore they continue to stir the pot throughout the Muslim world — with weaponized drones and assassins — knowing that, as long as Obama is behind it, Democrats won’t object.

Instead, they praise him for bringing the troops back home.  The vast majority of them, that is; with two repackaged occupations to maintain, withdrawing them all would be out of the question.  Luckily for Obama, there are “private contractors,” mercenaries, available to take their place.  Who said capitalist markets don’t work well!

Republicans do their best to block almost anything Obama tries to do.  But their obduracy stops at the nation’s edge; overseas escapades get a pass.  Rand Paul might object, but John McCain and Lindsey Graham set the tone, while ordinary Republicans, Tea Partiers especially, like nothing more than authorizing murder and mayhem abroad.  It even beats cutting the taxes of the rich.

Still, what George Bush and Dick Cheney called the War on Terror has been going on for so long that more of the same isn’t quite doing it anymore for Obama and his crew.  The time has come to seek out greener pastures.

The circumstances are favorable.  The world’s oil is under control and the whole world is under surveillance.

Even that pesky Bill of Rights isn’t the problem it used to be; not with Obama, the Constitutional scholar in the White House, a Justice Department committed to protecting the too-big-to-indict, and a judiciary servile enough to exceed even Ronald Reagan’s expectations.

This is why the empire’s stewards can take their time developing new pretexts.  As long as they stay on the attack, the supply of Islamist terrorists will not run out; and as long as Obama is in the White House, the public will not revolt.

The impetus for moving on is therefore mainly psychological, just as it was in the years before World War I.  Then scrambling for colonies had gotten boring; now the endless wars Bush and Cheney started have gotten old.  We’ve been there and done that.

So the plan, for now, seems to be to continue those wars at lower levels of intensity, while contriving new opportunities for “growing” the national security state.

“Seems” is the operative word; it will be years before we really know what is going on.   When memoirs start appearing, it will help.  But we will need to wait for the archives to open and for historians and journalists to get at them.

If only there were an Edward Snowden with access to the White House’s secrets!  But lightening is not about to strike twice.

The only sure thing is that we cannot rely on what corporate media pundits tell us.  For all the insight they provide, we might as well read the press releases government flacks confect.

It is has always been this way to some extent; but in the post-9/11 years, the level of mendacity has reached unprecedented heights.

Therefore all we can do is practice what old-school logicians called “abduction.”   If we wake up in the morning to find snow everywhere, we can infer that snow fell overnight, even if we have no direct evidence that it did.  We are justified in making an inference to the best explanation.   The more unlikely rival explanations are, the more confident of that inference we can be.

Now it could be that the on-going unrest in Venezuela or this week’s coup in Ukraine resulted from spontaneous eruptions of popular indignation, and that the United States did nothing more sinister than offer moral support for democratic reformers.  This is what the media tell us, and it is what Obama earnestly declares.  But it is about as likely as that a practical joker had dump trucks spread snow all around while everyone was asleep.

We know how snow normally comes to cover the ground; in that case we can be confident that the obvious inference is sound.  We know too how “spontaneous” movements for regime change that benefit American designs come to be.

In short, forces operating out of the American embassy, in conjunction with local elites, create economic chaos and pretexts for military coups.

In Latin America, this has happened countless times since even before the Spanish-American War.  By the time Nixon and Kissinger helped Chilean fascists overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, the process had become a well-honed art.

As an oil rich state close by the United States, Venezuela has suffered more than most from American machinations.  The Bush administration’s role in the attempted coup in 2002 against the government of Hugo Chavez has now been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  The current unrest – directed against Chavez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, is part of the same story.  Nothing could be more obvious.

Joe Wilson, the risible Republican from South Carolina, will be remembered for delivering the definitive word on Obama – for the wrong reason and at the wrong time.  In 2009, as the President addressed a joint session of Congress to lay out his plan for health care reform, Wilson shouted out “you lie.”  Can any sane person, contemplating what Obama and others in his administration have said of late about Venezuela, not see how right he was?

Latin America has born the brunt, but the model has been deployed worldwide – in the 1960s, Indonesia and South Vietnam got their share.  And, since Communism imploded and the Soviet Union fell apart, efforts at destabilization within what used to be (and basically still is) the Russian sphere of influence have picked up.

Areas peripheral to the Soviet sphere – for instance, Iran in 1953, when Kermit Roosevelt led a coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh government and then installed the bloodthirsty Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – used to get the worst of it.  Then the action moved to the Balkans and to the former Soviet republics that are now independent states.

In the case of Ukraine, if abduction isn’t enough, there is also direct evidence.  On January 28, Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, had a telephone conversation with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, in which they chatted about which Ukrainian opposition leaders the U.S. should steer into office when, after chaos takes its toll, the elected government of Viktor Yanukovich is overthrown.

Somebody, most likely the Russians, intercepted the exchange and put it up on You Tube.  The media paid attention because in it Nuland said “Fuck the EU.”  No matter that it was a private conversation or that the sentiment is appropriate.  She uttered a naughty word.

That the exchange provided direct evidence for what could otherwise only be inferred  — that the United States was actively creating the conditions for a coup d’état that would advance its interests, was not worth more than passing attention.

That the Russians were probably behind the posting was an additional reason to overlook what was actually newsworthy.  First Snowden, now this; what temerity!

Do Obama et. al. want to revive the Cold War?   That would certainly get their juices flowing again, now that Al Qaeda and its offshoots are no longer enough.

In this case too, we can only draw inferences.  But what else is bringing “Europe” up to Russia’s borders about?   Today, the EU, tomorrow NATO, and then what – Russia itself?

As with Yugoslavia in the nineties, there seems to be some tension between the EU, Germany especially, and the United States; hence Nuland’s remark.  But it is a friendly rivalry.  The problem for both governments is Russia.  It is just not subservient enough.  There are shades of Yugoslavia there too; Serbia was not subservient enough either.

But does Obama realize that he is playing with fire?  This too will become clear some day – when the information the government keeps from public view comes to light and when Obama’s lies stand exposed, like Pinocchio’s nose, for all to see.

From now, though, it looks like Obama and his minions are just bumbling along – forward into the Cold War past.

The “pivot” towards Asia is part of it.  So far, it has been mostly talk.  Obama now seems to want to get on with it.  What else was the point of provoking China by meeting in the White House with the Dalai Lama?  Democracy?  Human rights?  Whoever believes that might as well believe that the snow arrived overnight by truck.

Real men, regardless of gender, like two Cold War enemies at once; Russia if only for old times’ sake, then China too.

That’s what Henry Kissinger had; the sorry crew now in his place wants nothing less.  They probably think they deserve it after all the time they spent on Al Qaeda.

And they are just clueless enough to think they can revive the old Cold Wars without events spinning out of control.  That is also how it was before World War I.  Then the conventional wisdom had it that the economies of the several imperial powers were so intertwined that they would never make war on one another.

Then war broke out and more than thirty-seven million people were killed or wounded.

That, in turn, paved the way for countless other disasters, including another World War.  It also helped fashion the conflicts still unfolding in the Middle East.

Today, once more, the economies of the great powers – America’s and China’s especially – seem too intertwined for anything catastrophic to result from tempting fate.  We should take that bit of conventional wisdom as a portent, not an invitation.

Murphy’s Law, that if something can go wrong it will, holds sway in world affairs, especially when least expected.

For example, in the nineties, conventional wisdom had it that the peoples of Yugoslavia were too melded through intermarriage and commerce for anything very dire to happen when the Germans and others set out, with American backing, to dismember the Yugoslavian state.  We know how that worked out.

The moral is: don’t play with fire.  The War on Terror ought to have established that maxim for generations to come.  Evidently, it did not.

What it did do was make Obama and his advisors antsy.  For them, the impulse to play with fire is becoming irresistible.

To his everlasting credit, Obama pulled back from being drawn into a war with Iran, dealing AIPAC a blow in the process.  Did he do it, in part, because he had even bigger targets in sight?

Does he even appreciate the risks inherent in provoking Russia and China, and does his administration have a plan for keeping the consequences under control?  We will probably find out eventually.  Meanwhile, worry!

The furies are out there, waiting to be unleashed.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).