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Decoration Day

Spiff Up the War Graves

by NORMAN POLLACK

Spiff up the war memorials, war graves, war stories, no, spiff up WAR itself, the underlying purpose, in the midst of parades, weenie roasts, and other festivities, though people have only subliminally acted out the celebratory function, for affirming US global hegemony and a lockstep Patriotism designed to stifle criticism of and dissent over America’s flagrant expansion of military power in shaping a world system patterned after its own imperative need for economic-ideological supremacy. Memorial Day Weekend (even Decoration Day no longer has sufficient bite to keep the citizens in accommodating mood to accept its government’s war crimes) rivets attention on Family and Baseball as the good-natured aspect of rallying the folk to the side of conquest. In town parks (as in Lansing MI) around the country, the holiday is dedicated to our Armed Forces, our Brave Warriors, protecting the homeland from destruction by unnamed (usually) forces, an exercise in fill-in-the-blank conjuring threats from Russia, China, Venezuela, Yemen, wherever the White House-Pentagon propaganda mill can generate interest.

As bad as all that? Actually, worse. The political discourse now going around portrays Obama as weak, not giving confidence and support to Allies and Friends in the face of Adversaries out there, “out there” covering the entire globe including, if massive surveillance of the American people be our guide, the US itself. No one is immune to the blandishments of Terror. Hence, suspect everyone. NSA, scoop up every scrap of “information”—the scope continues to expand and be redefined, starting from the Internet and telephonic communication—so that privacy is pummeled into the ground, no longer a right, and instead, like the Fifth Amendment of the postwar era, presumably the refuge of traitors, terrorists, and those who would harm us.

Why political discourse portraying Obama as weak, indecisive, an advocate for peace? Two obvious points: first, the LIE is cultivated by Obama himself, his alter ego, Rhodes, Democrats at large wrapped as a whole in the mantle of Liberalism, either to distract from the actual Obama record of intervention, constant pressure on China and Russia, targeted assassination, cyberwarfare, paramilitary subversion of other nations, embargoes, military exercises, the entire gamut of Cold War aggressiveness—and then some, and/or second (for the two work in tandem, feeding on and facilitating one another) Obama’s critics, assuming their sincerity, are so far to the Right, so viciously eager to assert American power, that Obama, himself doing the same, comes out smelling like a rose. Republicans need the portrayal of Obama as unsteady at the helm both to stiffen the will of the people and legitimate their protofascism edging toward outright expression, and the Democrats need the Republicans, as, a half-step if that much behind, gaining some cover while pursuing the same hegemonic goals abroad and silencing of dissent at home.

Obama is the perfect Janus-faced Maximum Leader, speak Liberalism (itself coded to cosmeticize Reaction), and sotto voce, give full support to the military and intelligence communities, capitalist upper groups foursquare behind them standing in the wings, the industrial infrastructure of Defense, and preening at the top, national security advisers whispering in his ear the lovelies of rapine, destruction, national greatness. OWS may fume at the 1%-99% dichotomy of the body politic; unfortunately, this is more menacing, as is Obama, because representing the structuralization of war as integral to capitalist advancement. Here the so-called 99% has become an exercise in self-debasement by largely going along with the geopolitical-military SCAM, wallowing in a preferred false consciousness, scrambling for the crumbs of an ubiquitous consumerism, rather than either face down the phonies qua moral monsters or give up the promised goodies held to be a validation of Exceptionalism (aka American world superiority).

Perhaps not coincidentally, two articles appeared in the New York Times smack dab in the middle of the Memorial Day Weekend, Mark Landler, “Obama to Detail a Broader Foreign Policy Agenda,” anticipating his speech at West Point on Wednesday, and looking to the same occasion, David Sanger, “Deterrence Revisited,” Sanger the new James Reston of The Times, an authoritative voice of the Administration and point-man for the Pentagon. Let’s consider Sanger’s first (both May 25) because the more conceptual—and hence revealing—of the two. Landler then fills in the shadings of political discourse. Together they fix in time for us Obama’s at-bottom militarism, although the furthest from their minds.

Sanger begins on a solemn note (as though Kennan were announcing a new theorem): “The graduation exercises at West Point have long been a moment for American presidents to offer midcourse adjustments—or something more radical—in their strategies for dealing with foreign adversaries.” Unlike Landler, who refers to Russia and China, Sanger, consistent with his lofty tone and the universal character of the vision, uses “adversaries” unspecified, countless times in his article. Yet the midcourse adjustment is hardly that, more of the same with the assistance of Rhodes’s soothing rhetoric. It is Sanger who is deceived or wishes to parrot the party line.

And what a line! Obama seeks peace, peace above all, nothing but peace. Bush’s pre-emption strategy (strike first, don’t ask questions) had been presented at West Point earlier. Now, Obama’s turn: When he appears there, “he will face a far different challenge: convincing the world that American willingness to deter aggressors lives on, even in a post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan era when neither the president nor the nation has much appetite for engaging in direct confrontations overseas. From Libya in 2011 to Syria for the past three years and Ukraine in recent months, Mr. Obama has repeatedly assured Americans that he understands—and shares—the national mood.” Staggering presumption this, that the Big Lie can be hidden, as is the practice, through asserting the opposite.

“American willingness to deter aggressors”—what aggression, except America’s own? And post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan, as if the US DETERRED aggression in these wars of its own creation. And “convincing the world,” for Sanger, is the test of leadership, not only Obama’s, but America’s, exemplified through toughness, an unwavering commitment and willingness to act on it, of the whole bit: global leadership, Exceptionalism, the divine right of hegemony. If not, the world order will collapse, and America betray friends and allies and its place in history as the bulwark against all challenges to that World Order, which is defined as the stabilization of international capitalism, and within it America’s unilateral preeminence.

Whether Obama’s or the nation’s “appetite for engaging in direct confrontations overseas” is lagging or surfeited, is hardly a matter of doubt, as in the dangerous geostrategic encirclement, containment, and isolation of China via the Pacific-first strategy and the accompanying Trans-Pacific Partnership, not to say, using his own example, being instrumental in staging the coup in Ukraine. Sanger’s examples—Libya, Syria, Ukraine–are ludicrous in support of his argument. Nor do Obama and the nation SHARE a conviction for peace; rather, for both, securing victory through techno-superior weaponry. Yet, Sanger betrays nagging doubts. What if Obama and the nation are losing their appetite for confrontation, and horror of horrors, losing face in the world and all that presumably implies about stopping aggression? Here (solicitude for Obama as misconstrued), he writes: “But even inside the Obama administration some senior officials worry about the global perception that Mr. Obama has let the pendulum swing too far, creating space for American adversaries and assorted strongmen to challenge, or ignore, the rules of global order the president says he wants to restore. In short, they don’t fear the prospect of American action the way they might have in past eras.” Sanger conflicted, however, is not the point. We see in microcosm the unapologetic framework of the Cold War—Obama’s national security advisers, assuredly, but both Sanger and Obama as well, “the pendulum swing[ing] too far,” dropping our guard against the Enemy, and “the rules of global order,” US-defined ground rules for market penetration, investments, currency valuations, above all, an inadmissibility of socialism and/or insurgent democratization, a world therefore stabilized on the principle of counterrevolution.

If Obama falls short of maintaining that world, he deserves criticism. Sanger turns the screws, citing Kerry’s Yale commencement address stating that the US must avoid “an excess of isolationism,” Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, echoing the sentiment, chastises Obama for “backing away from a military strike” on Syria, and an unnamed “top Southeast Asian official, accusing him of being soft on China. Where is all this leading? In essence, toughen up, Mr. Obama (the quintessential NYT position): “Deterrence, of course, is all about the perception of power. It hinges on convincing adversaries that, with force, guile or economic isolation, you can make them [Putin and Ji ?] think twice about acting against American interests.” Unabashed Cold War thinking, even the words. And when Sanger writes, “Whatever one’s view of the morality of using drones,” for after all this “wiped out Al Qaeda’s central command,” ditto, “the cyberstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities,” my inclination is to run for cover. He puts Obama on the pedestal above the petty snarling of critics: “And of course there was the Navy SEAL mission to kill Osama bin Laden three years ago; the primary mission was to settle scores with the most wanted terrorist on the planet, but the secondary effect was to amplify the message that if you attacked the United States sooner or later you would be hunted down.”

Happy Memorial Day Weekend; it would be hard to beat that, and Landler’s article is the launch in the wake of the battleship. He writes: “President Obama, seeking to answer criticism that he has forsaken America’s leadership role, plans to lay out a retooled foreign-policy agenda on Wednesday that could deepen the nation’s involvement in Syria but would still steer clear of major military conflicts.” Again, “forsaken,” as though withdrawing from what is prima facie right, unilateral global hegemony. But, have no fear on that score. Obama abandons nothing, and if anything, adds to “America’s leadership role.” What is retooled, or perhaps better, fine-tuned, are the means and methods of intervention without diminishing the goal. The West Point address will “articulate his view of the proper American response to a cascade of crises, from Syria’s civil war to Russia’s incursions in Ukraine,” as though the US response is just that, belated involvement, and not in ways initially causative.

Then the Great Sophistry, near as I can tell, the creation of Ben Rhodes—in Landler’s words, Obama’s “determination to chart a middle course between isolationism and military intervention,” or in Rhodes’s own, “It’s a case of interventionism but not overreach. We are leading, we are the only country that leads, but that leadership has to be in service of an international system.” The self-proclaimed “middle course,” since isolationism is rejected from day one, glosses intervention (which he readily, nay, proudly, admits), shifting the middle over to the Right, and, “as the only country that leads,” means that “service” is to an American-defined “international system.” Back where we started from. Landler even admits that, given Bush’s having “signaled new directions [at West Point] in foreign policy,” (i.e., preemption), Obama’s “ideas are likely to have a familiar ring.” Whether Landler recognizes or not, he places the two in policy continuity, which I find, quite correct, with the caveat, that Team Obama exceeds Bush/Cheney in sophistication—hence the fraudulent “middle course”—in enlarging the scope and damage of a policy framework more ambitious in its interventionism. For gourmet Obama, the world is his oyster!

POTUS is taking on the stature of cerebral cool and Roman poignancy, a heady mix: e.g., “The president’s calibrated rationale for military intervention,” or “Mr. Obama’s anguished response to Syria has hung over the White House,” in both cases, crediting calibrations denied by the drastic upswing in drone assassinations and anguish contradicted by the determination to display his mettle backed by military force. Same old, same old—despite the propaganda campaign of assuming a middle path in world affairs. Whatever the subsuming term/s of choice, “counterrevolution,” “liberal fascism,” or simply, “global hegemony,” you can’t pour new policy into old bottles, the steady quest for domination in all things pertinent to the safety and security of advanced capitalism, goals intimately connected to massive surveillance at home and a political economy featuring wealth-concentration, deregulation, and the formation of an ever-widening underclass.

My New York Times Comment on the Landler article (Sanger’s did not afford this opportunity), same date, follows:

Landler’s article should be read along with Sanger’s news analysis, both implicitly calling for a vigorous foreign policy to satisfy domestic critics and foreign allies. In sum, war, intervention, regime change, drone assassination, cyberespionage and cyberwarfare, more joint maneuvers, more carrier groups to the Pacific, further nuclear modernization to ensure greater lethality–in a word,FASCISM. To which Obama by his every move reveals personal sympathy.

The Times as Glenn Greenwald points out in No Place to Hide is an establishment paper, careful not to antagonize the government, and indeed (just ask James Risen) solicitous about clearing everything the least bit controversial with Government before it publishes. We call this SELF-CENSORSHIP. One would have hope The Times would stand up for Freedom of the Press, but, as in these pieces, with constant reference in Sanger to “adversaries,” and Obama’s moderation and thoughtfulness, Landler, we see utter capitulation to POTUS, the anxious desire to please.
Rhodes seems to be talking, Obama, the puppet, but that is incorrect. Obama has demonstrated his thirst for lawlessness by personally authorizing assassination, by invoking the Espionage Act to silence whistleblowers, by presenting an image of peace while stoking the fires of confrontation. For what else is the Pacific-first strategy? What else, having an instrumental role in the Ukrainian coup d’etat overthrowing an elected government?

Draw back from the brink.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.