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During the last week we have seen Sunni militias take control of ever-greater swathes of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the mainstream media, the analysis of this emerging reality has been predictably idiotic, basically centering on whether:
a) Obama is to blame for this for having removed US troops in compliance with the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated and signed by Bush.
b) Obama is “man enough” to putatively resolve the problem by going back into the country and killing more people and destroying whatever remains of the country’s infrastructure.
This cynically manufactured discussion has generated a number of intelligent rejoinders on the margins of the mainstream media system. These essays, written by people such as Juan Cole, Robert Parry, Robert Fisk and Gary Leupp, do a fine job of explaining the US decisions that led to the present crisis, while simultaneously reminding us how everything occurring today was readily foreseeable as far back as 2002.
What none of them do, however, is consider whether the chaos now enveloping the region might, in fact, be the desired aim of policy planners in Washington and Tel Aviv.
Rather, each of these analysts presumes that the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq are undesired outcomes engendered by short-sighted decision-making at the highest levels of the US government over the last 12 years.
Looking at the Bush and Obama foreign policy teams—no doubt the most shallow and intellectually lazy members of that guild to occupy White House in the years since World War II—it is easy to see how they might arrive at this conclusion.
But perhaps an even more compelling reason for adopting this analytical posture is that it allows these men of clear progressive tendencies to maintain one of the more hallowed, if oft-unstated, beliefs of the Anglo-Saxon world view.
What is that?
It is the idea that our engagements with the world outside our borders—unlike those of, say, the Russians and the Chinese—are motivated by a strongly felt, albeit often corrupted, desire to better the lives of those whose countries we invade.
While this belief seems logical, if not downright self-evident within our own cultural system, it is frankly laughable to many, if not most, of the billions who have grown up outside of our moralizing echo chamber.
What do they know that most of us do not know, or perhaps more accurately, do not care to admit?
First, that we are an empire, and that all empires are, without exception, brutally and programmatically self-seeking.
Second, that one of the prime goals of every empire is to foment ongoing internecine conflict in the territories whose resources and/or strategic outposts they covet.
Third, that the most efficient way of sparking such open-ended internecine conflict is to brutally smash the target country’s social matrix and physical infrastructure.
Fourth, that ongoing unrest has the additional perk of justifying the maintenance and expansion of the military machine that feeds the financial and political fortunes of the metropolitan elite.
In short, what of the most of the world understands (and what even the most “prestigious” Anglo-Saxon analysts cannot seem to admit) is that divide and rule is about as close as it gets to a universal recourse the imperial game and that it is, therefore, as important to bear it in mind today as it was in the times of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, the Spanish Conquistadors and the British Raj.
To those—and I suspect there are still many out there—for whom all this seems too neat or too conspiratorial, I would suggest a careful side-by side reading of:
a) the “Clean Break” manifesto generated by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) in 1996
b) the “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” paper generated by The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in 2000, a US group with deep personal and institutional links to the aforementioned Israeli think tank, and with the ascension of George Bush Junior to the White House, to the most exclusive sanctums of the US foreign policy apparatus.
To read the cold-blooded imperial reasoning in both of these documents—which speak, in the first case, quite openly of the need to destabilize the region so as to reshape Israel’s “strategic environment” and, in the second of the need to dramatically increase the number of US “forward bases” in the region—as I did twelve years ago, and to recognize its unmistakable relationship to the underlying aims of the wars then being started by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, was a deeply disturbing experience.
To do so now, after the US’s systematic destruction of Iraq and Libya—two notably oil-rich countries whose delicate ethnic and religious balances were well known to anyone in or out of government with more than passing interest in history—, and after the its carefully calibrated efforts to generate and maintain murderous and civilization-destroying stalemates in Syria and Egypt (something that is easily substantiated despite our media’s deafening silence on the subject), is downright blood-curdling.
And yet, it seems that for even very well-informed analysts, it is beyond the pale to raise the possibility that foreign policy elites in the US and Israel, like all virtually all the ambitious hegemons before them on the world stage, might have quite coldly and consciously fomented open-ended chaos in order to achieve their overlapping strategic objectives in this part of the world.
Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released Livin’ la Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies.