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Reflections on Fascism
Fascism is not a dirty word, it is 21st century America. Since we live it, we should own it. Given the US corporate structure, wealth concentration, record of intervention, polity-saturated militarism, disdain of world opinion and international law, disparagement of equality as a structural-economic proposition, we give ourselves little wriggle-room for the democratization of what cannot be democratized, a system of power predicated on global expansion, capitalist internal features of commodity-worship, alienation, and habituated submission to authority (economic, political, military alike), and now, with American capitalism experiencing a stage of evolving decay, accompanied by a sense and spirit of desperation to reverse the decline in its own right as well as relative especially to world historical forces, themselves becoming more capitalistic, the striking out, full-blown counterrevolution, to arrest the process of social change.
It is not a pretty picture. Simply to have NSA, CIA, FBI, free to act without restraint, a triumvirate worthy of any police state, massive surveillance, foreign assassination and intrigue, domestic suppression of radicalism, all brought to a convergence under the heading of national security (aka counterterrorism), is—or should be—enough to satisfy Webster’s. It isn’t though. Introspection is not an American strong point; we like to obfuscate, play the angles, anything but look squarely at ourselves, for fear of what lies behind the democratic mask, and therefore, for fear of what we might see. Uppermost, a moral void, an emptiness from top to bottom, Obama cynically accepting the manipulation of upper groups (including the military and intelligence communities, but equally if not more so the financial and corporate elites) while himself manipulating blacks, workers, the unemployed and dispossessed in general on behalf of the selfsame upper groups. What of the PEOPLE? Will we fight back, or has the narcotization process of patriotism destroyed resistance to what is happening?
The very fact that Obama is free to act in the ways he has, positioning America into confrontation with Russia and China, positioning American capitalism through government assistance, positive, bailouts and subsidies, negative, deregulation, to greater consolidation, and positioning bottom groups to a status of ultimate underclass, from weak unions to stagnant wages, does not auger well for an inspired citizenry, whom, by their inaction, confirms the, for at least now, mass acquiescence and political docility which is a hallmark of fascism. From both ends of the structural framework, an advanced capitalism oligopolistic if not in fact monopolistic in character, and a nonmilitant, spiritless, somewhat brainwashed working class, the efflorescence of fascism—nothing in the American historical tradition of preoccupation with capitalism, individualism, class-and-race differentiation, to hold it back.
Look around. The national budget testifies to an overweening military purpose and presence. The last two wars—Iraq, Afghanistan—liberated base instincts as only wars can, so that indiscriminate killing is perhaps chief among them, followed by drone assassination, torture, rendition, and a tightening of the screws by which to nullify civil liberties, all of which can be found in present-day America. Bush 2 cannot be blamed for the failure of American liberalism, as though creating a framework from which the nation had no other choice but to continue. Elections could be about extrication rather than continuity; liberals chose the latter, practically seamlessly, thus Obama’s intensifying main elements identified with Bush, from enlarging executive power and demonstrating contempt for civil liberties, to a foreign policy that was geared to permanent war, even going his predecessor a giant step further in the Pacific. Yet even in Europe and the Middle East one finds a belligerence hard to match, primarily the use of Ukraine to place NATO on Russia’s doorstep—as though Obama had to wear his war credentials to stave off Republican critics.
Iraq is back, as in blowback: this replaces Ukraine for the moment, America always on the lookout for a situation which can be turned, because of US policy in the first place, into a source of provocation. Iraq, our intervention guaranteed internal civil war, here, with the gains of ISIS, a chance to return in some form, concentrated drone attacks, rather than so-called “boots on the ground,” possibly to inflame the entire region, itself destabilized for obvious reasons (protection of Israel and the continued plight of the Palestinians). As Spinney and Polk wrote in CounterPunch, contradiction plagues American policy, in this case, turning to Iran for help against ISIS while threatening Iran for some time with severe military and economic punishment. How Obama and Kerry can keep straight faces is one for the annals of war.
Yet contradiction is not quite right; consistency in seeking conclusive dominance come hell or high water is more like it. One need not root for ISIS to see the failure of US policy with respect to Iraq, Iran, Israel, and Syria, for they are all tied together—except for Israel, paramount in American war considerations, in each of the others the side chosen by the US, first, is determined by a regional balance of power which favors factions in Israel’s favor (presumably this affects policy toward Sisi in Egypt, too), and second, the side chosen at the beginning is frequently America’s adversary next time around. This is what happened in Afghanistan with the Taliban. Let’s see what happens in the others. Will we need Iran to help Maliki, will we need Assad to conquer ISIS?
Even the constancy of objectives, perhaps summarized as global hegemony, but beyond even that, a self-willed inner destructiveness taking the remainder of the world with us, does however bear out the Spinney-Polk thesis of contradiction, in that America itself is a contradiction. In Freudian terms, we find Eros vs. Thanatos, the tug-of-war between the life and death impulses, in the context of international rivalries and keeping class-stratification intact at home, prospering capitalism while encouraging war-producing tensions. But more simply, America’s internal contradiction lies in its slick professions of democracy as a life-giving historical force, yet because of this very slickness, a more fundamental layer underneath of authoritarianism: submission to a giant corporate business AND social order, hierarchy fashioning and maintaining both, submission as well to all things which pertain to militarism, war, the reification of force as the blunt instrument of national policy, and finally submission to a self-justificatory ideology which grants America a Uniqueness in world affairs to prosper, conquer, be divinely guided for all eternity.
Today, Iraq lies in US cross-hairs, tomorrow, another target, but the fact of targets always. On June 13, we learn, from Tim Arengo’s NYT article, “Choosing Rebels Over Army, Iraqis Head Home,” that ISIS’s progress, overrunning city after city thus far, is at least partly the result of the Maliki government’s own repression of the Sunni population (for The Times to admit this, is earth-shattering). My NYT Comment on the article, same date, follows:
Kudos to Arango. NYT has so taken the US-Maliki line that it is surprising to note such Iraqi tactics as the bombing of Falluja, attacks on the civilian population, official corruption, AND popular support for ISIS over the Iraqi government in the affected areas. One thinks of Pogo: We have met the enemy, and it is us—the us being both the US-installed unpopular government and the US itself.
It is unconscionable (read, a moral evil) to have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. The world has our number, utter militaristic power moves to maintain a global hegemony no longer possible to enforce, given the emergent multipolar structure of the world system. Yet how many in America realize that events in Iraq and Afghanistan both are a searing refutation of US foreign policy–a policy still persisted in?
Russia and China await America’s wrath. We have sunk to the point–this is entirely bipartisan, not a bunch of whackos on the Right–of having internalized a death wish–a go-for-broke attitude if we cannot remain top dog–that could set the stage for nuclear annihilation, not just for enemies but all of humanity.
Watching Obama muttering on tv about options brings home the absolutely unqualified person who is the most powerful on earth, shallow, belligerent, chained to the military and intelligence communities and national-security advisers drawn from central casting for Strangelove, Episode Two.
Then on June 18 we find ISIS’s further advances, to which Obama responds with his all-options-on-the-table posture, translated as a typical coyness in the use of force, the normalization of political murder through the use of drone attacks, here described by Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt’s NYT article, “Obama Said to Consider Airstrikes on Sunni Militants,” in a way that shares Obama’s own complacency about the use of force. Also June 18, The Times’s editorial, “A Balancing Act on Iraq,” credits him with a moderation and wisdom hardly deserved. My NYT Comments on both, same date, follow:
The account matches the actual war-planning rationale, so moderate, rational, antiseptic—the psychopathology of everyday mass murder. Drones, options, expanding or contracting the response, etc., how pleasant and neutral-sounding. Obama thirsts for war; liberal humanitarianism is the cosmetic for hegemonic glory.
The Iraq war was a miscarriage of international justice, and moral abomination. Yet America continues. The scene is ugly, chilling–par for the course.
The Times continues to sanction Obama’s war plans, equating them and him with rationality, moderation, sweet reasonableness. Even drones emerge as surgical instruments that destroy the bad guys. Why not face the horrific consequences of Obama’s passion for intervention? How even recommend the vacuous distinction between support for the Iraqi army without specific endorsement of al-Maliki? They go together, neither of them other than a US creation and plaything.
Imperialism is ugly. Collateral damage is ugly. Regime change is ugly. Lies about WMD legitimating the Iraq War are ugly. Yet The Times persists in going forward, lacking the moral courage to condemn the whole rotten mess.
ISIS did not arise through spontaneous combustion. Nor probably did bin Laden. What would the world have been like had America not encircled the globe (including Saudi Arabia) with military bases? And now, after threatening the destruction of Iran (and six decades earlier, CIA overthrow of a democratic government there which led to the Shah) we seek their assistance–absurd contradiction.
Washington is gunning for war, lest the recognition sets in of US decay and decline because of worldly ambitions of military superiority starving out needed improvements at home. By not exposing Obama’s militarism, the paper abets it–as more civilians die.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.