There is a child-like quality to the American political psyche that against all history and reason believes fairy stories against the savage misery the U.S. creates. Just how plausible is it that the same bombs being used by Israel to slaughter innocents in Gaza are now being dropped to protect innocents in Iraq? By official logic shouldn’t the U.S. be bombing IDF (Israeli Defense Force) positions to end the slaughter in Gaza? And who is it threatening innocents in Iraq? It is in fair measure the very same army being armed and trained as ‘freedom fighters’ by the U.S. across the Iraq border in Syria. The capacity to reconcile renewed ‘humanitarian’ bombing in Iraq with the wholesale slaughter of innocents in Gaza stretches cognitive dissonance to the breaking point.
Graph (1) above: Given the U.S. history of carnage and slaughter in Iraq the contention that protecting the lives of a few thousand Yazidis is the motive for renewed bombing is beyond ludicrous. The ‘humanitarian’ U.S. bombing mission in Iraq against Islamic State is to prevent further seizure of oil fields. Additional evidence lies in the U.S. arming the Kurdish peshmerga to protect Exxon Mobil and Chevron ‘investments’ in Iraqi Kurdistan. That President Obama gave sincere treatment to such implausible content in explaining renewed military action in Iraq is testament to his very special combination of rhetorical skill with absolute moral vacuity. Sources: Daily Mail and BBC.
The back-story sold domestically in support of repeated U.S. political and military incursions across the Middle East, that oil is a ‘strategic resource’ worthy of ‘sacrifice’ in terms of engineered slaughter, chaos and misery, hasn’t been given a reality check in recent history. Just because multi-national oil companies and their political lapdogs in Washington and London say it’s so doesn’t make it so. There has been no serious effort in the U.S. to conserve this ‘strategic resource’ since Jimmy Carter occupied the White House (1980). And global warming is evidence of the exponentially increasing cost, otherwise framed as radical un-sustainability, of oil and gas dependence. Taken together, U.S., British and European machinations across the Middle East (and now Ukraine) appear as end-of-empire flailing about to maintain imperial prerogative— the ‘lifestyles’ of the West, at all costs. But with the global environment pushing back, if not breaking, ongoing Western actions in the Middle East are ultimately futile against the inevitability of either substantially reducing fossil fuel usage or ending the planet.
Graph (2) above: the U.S. contention that oil is a strategic resource is better explained that it has been made a strategic resource. The contrived fantasy that ‘adequate’ supplies of oil are the only thing standing between ‘us’ and invading hoards is belied by geography, history and that most peoples and cultures aren’t as prone to aggressive slaughters as ‘we’ are. The truth is that the U.S. has armed the world making ‘us’ the greatest threat to ourselves there is. Of interest is that all of the major protagonists of WWII, the most deadly war in human history, are among the top users of oil. To those who learned history in American schools, the U.S. voluntarily entered WWII. And unless global warming is resolved all of the current and future slaughters for oil will be for naught— just as many of us always imagined they were. Source: EIA.
The hold that multi-national oil companies have on the foreign policies of the West ties to the breadth of engineered dependencies that support these economies. Following Jimmy Carter’s energy conservation efforts in the late 1970s Ronald Reagan appointed James Watt, who publicly mocked Mr. Carter’s efforts, to be Secretary of the Interior. Only a decade ago George W. Bush and former oil company executives in his administration gave tax breaks to encourage people to buy gas-guzzling cars. The automakers responded by manufacturing millions of gas-guzzlers under the misdirection that subsidy driven demand represented what people ‘wanted.’
The facts of Western capitalism have it that energy companies benefit from energy dependence, automakers benefit from car dependence, utility companies benefit from gas and electricity dependence and the providers of goods and services benefit from dependence on their goods and services. In the U.S. the corporate-state nexus has spent the last century embedding these dependencies into Western political economy.
There is nothing ‘natural’ about them, no foundation to be found in human wants. Conversely, the contrived misdirection that they are could be put to the test: Western political leadership could forgo war mongering and directly solicit volunteers to fight wars for oil— what they claim we ‘want,’ if they believe differently.
The grotesqueness of Bush administration officials sneeringly pushing tax cuts for gas-guzzling cars at the very time they were launching a murderous war against oil-rich Iraq suggests that those who supported the effort well deserve whatever resulting misfortune might come their way. As providence has it, Mr. Bush likely launched the last large-scale U.S. land war in the Middle East. U.S. funding and development of al Qaeda in the 1970s and 1980s could have taught that proxy militaries have a propensity to eventually fight their own battles. Through the CIA current U.S. President Barack Obama funded and developed the Syrian opposition that has now morphed into Islamic State. This leaves al Qaeda, Islamic State, neo-Nazi thugs in Ukraine and a few remaining dictators as the residual representatives of U.S. foreign policy in current U.S. conflicts. Lest this seem less than evident, while the U.S. undoubtedly ‘deserves’ these ‘partners,’ they aren’t likely to (mis)represent U.S. interests as enthusiastically as sequential U.S. Presidents and militaries have (mis)represented them.
Picture (1) above: finishing America’s business in Iraq requires bringing those responsible for the deaths of a million Iraqis and the destruction of a modern nation-state to justice. Evidence in favor of this necessity is provided by Barack Obama’s decision to re-commit ground troops to Iraq while renewing aerial bombardment. Had Mr. Obama allowed fair trials followed by swift punishment for (George W) Bush administration officials found guilty of aggressive war, torture and crimes against humanity his own propensity for illegal slaughter might have been held in check. As it stands, while Mr. Obama is unlikely to match the scale of carnage of the Bush administration, his disregard for the rule of law puts him at equal risk of eventual prosecution for his crimes.
Apparently unbeknownst to Mr. Obama and the rest of the U.S. political leadership is that it’s only in American history books that the U.S. ‘won’ WWII— the rest of the world knows better. Whatever geopolitical predominance the U.S. has had has required coalitions that aren’t likely to be found to launch conspicuous wars of aggression. Over the last two decades NATO has put a stranglehold on Russia that has left little room for additional acquiescence. The European members of NATO have a lot more to lose from a land war in Europe than the U.S. does. And as with global warming, the U.S. fetish for ‘efficiency’ leaves the choices against Russia between mutual nuclear annihilation, having NATO launch a land war in Europe against the interests of NATO members or eventually shutting up and going home. And the large U.S. military presence needed to maintain access to Iraqi oil is to place an imperial army thousands of miles from home against increasingly insecure supply lines— a famously losing strategy. The only certainty at this point is that the U.S. leadership is profoundly incapable of much beyond further pointless slaughter.
Left largely unarticulated in the U.S. is that we, the people, have little to gain and everything to lose from this corporate-state militarism. Leaving aside the prospect of nuclear annihilation that U.S. political leadership seems remarkably complacent about, looming environmental catastrophe that will require radically re-imaging Western ‘lifestyles’ is already on the horizon. Committing additional resources to perpetuating the fossil fuel based economy will come at exponentially greater cost as global warming proceeds. The political leadership in the U.S. is uniquely unwilling to address it leaving increasingly desperate overseas predations like those currently being undertaken as the waning gasps of empire. This trajectory was made obvious when the gimlet-eyed baby Bush launched his ill-considered slaughter in Iraq. What Mr. Obama has made abundantly clear is that there is no ‘course correction’ possible from within Western political establishments. The consequences of sequential U.S. imperial adventures overseas are aggregating and slaughter and destruction are about all that ‘we’ have left.
Finally, to U.S. President Barack Obama’s dim blather about ‘who we are’ as a people in the U.S. U.S. foreign policy in my lifetime has included grotesque slaughters against the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Iraq and ‘lite’ wars in Panama, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria and now once again Gaza. Domestically the U.S. has the largest overall prison population and the greatest percentage of the population in prison in the world. Mr. Obama himself has claimed the rights of absolute monarch to kill citizens and non-citizens alike at his whim without evidence. In Iraq the U.S. resurrected the Abu Ghraib prison and ran it pretty much as ‘one of the worst dictators in world history’ Saddam Hussein ran it. And as events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri illustrate, America is a racist, quasi-fascist open-air prison for poor people of color. This is who we are as a people Mr. Obama.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is forthcoming.