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The Rational Unreason of Imperial War
It certainly is a fine mess the warmaking establishment has gotten the US into. From the Middle East and South Asia to Europe, war and threats of war are once again the stuff of the daily news. Inflamed by warmongers in the media who would put William Randolph Hearst to shame and fostered by a legislature beholden to the gods of war and their corporate minions here on earth, the present situation is dismal at best.
I’m not one to disparage the potential and real violence of the entity calling itself the Islamic State. Then again, I am also not one to call for the unleashing of violence by the entity calling itself the United States. As the entire world knows, it is due in large part to the latter’s violence that we are where we are today—in Iraq and elsewhere. Those champions of US military violence who insist on its innate humanitarianism also want us to believe that the violence is undertaken with no economic or hegemonic designs real or implied. Of course, this is nonsense. Powerful states do not intentionally act against their own interests, especially when it comes to military intervention.
Instead of humanitarianism, one should always consider power and money when it comes to the machinations of empire. In the case of the IS and Iraq, there is still a lot of oil in those sands, not to mention the strategic importance to Washington of keeping Iraq more or less whole and more or less willing to go along with Washington’s plans. An Islamic State unfriendly to the West that controlled Iraq’s oil would not be a positive scenario for Washington and its corporate sponsors. Although, given the natural greed of capital (especially in the energy sector), one can speculate how long it would be after an IS seizure of the oilfields that big oil would be trying to make some kind of deal. After all, murderous authoritarian governments have never stopped the energy corporations from negotiating for those governments’ resources before.
After the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) set up by Washington government types and associated think tanks made a series of moves based in imperial arrogance informed by ignorance and designed to remove all vestiges of Saddam Hussein’s regime from the new US-installed Iraq government. This decision led quickly to a well-armed and militant resistance to the occupying forces. Soon those forces were joined by various Sunni groups—some fundamentalist in nature and others just angry at their loss of power. This was the Iraqi resistance and this gave birth to the Islamic State’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. Since that time, most US forces in Iraq went back home, a predominantly Shia regime friendly to big oil took power in Baghdad, and other regions of Iraq either went along with Baghdad, created their own autonomous regions, or protested against the lack of jobs, social services and corruption of the new Iraqi state. The latter group were mostly Sunni and was mostly ignored. When their protests did not go away, Baghdad security forces fired on them and killed dozens. This is apparently when IS saw their moment.
Although the scenario in Syria was slightly different, the fact of IS taking advantage of popular anger is the same. In response to popular and mostly secular protests against the Assad regime in Damascus, Assad’s military and security forces brutally attacked the protests. In response, the protests turned to armed struggle. This phase of the resistance seemed to turn almost immediately into a force led by Islamic militants and jihadists, many funded by outside forces. Inside this maelstrom IS pushed its way to the forefront through its military prowess and willingness to force other resistance forces to join them or die. Now, IS forces face US airstrikes and Special Forces in both Iraq and Syria. One wonders how long it will be before Washington uses its missiles and bombs against the Assad regime as well. There are those who insist that it doesn’t matter whether one supported the 2003 US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. According to them, the presence of the Islamic State jihadists means everyone should support US military intervention in Iraq and Syria designed to stop them. Barack Obama is obviously one of these people. This refrain is not new. As I wrote back in 2004 regarding a book by CPA member Noah Feldman:
In an argument that twists a bit here and turns a bit there, Feldman attempts to answer the question he himself poses early on in the text: “How can American nation building in Iraq be morally acceptable if it is designed to serve U.S. interests?” Of course, the growing consensus among most of the world’s citizens is that this so-called nation building (or imperialism) is not morally acceptable. However, Mr. Feldman refuses to give into this consensus and insists in the afterword to the book that even though the continuing presence of US troops in Iraq may not head off either a civil war or contribute to a negotiated settlement of the insurgency, those troops should remain. Indeed, states Feldman, not only should they remain, maybe there should be more. After all, he concludes, “moral amnesia is no route to a clear conscience. It is that last sentence that provides the framework for this book. Feldman, like so many other humanitarian imperialists, seems to honestly believe that the countries of the world would be better off if they were all like the United States-corporate capitalist republics. More dangerously, he also seems to think that the US has a moral imperative to transform as much of the world’s nations into such entities. Therefore, he assumes a moral stance that uses as its basis the belief that invasions and occupations of countries that don’t meet such a standard are not only morally justifiable, such invasions are morally right, as long as they are done for the right reasons.
Further north, a series of recent statements from outgoing NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen prove that world politics really are a matter of déjà vu all over again. In a series of statements leading up to the NATO summit in Cardiff the first week of September 2014, Rasmussen discussed the ongoing situation in Ukraine. In what could have been a statement from almost any NATO commander during the Cold War, Rasmussen was quoted in the British newspaper The Guardian, saying, “We will adopt what we call a readiness action plan with the aim to be able to act swiftly in this completely new security environment in Europe. We have something already called the NATO response force whose purpose is to be able to be deployed rapidly if needed. Now it’s our intention to develop what I would call a spearhead within that response force at very, very, high readiness…. In order to be able to provide such rapid reinforcements you also need some reception facilities in host nations. So it will involve the pre-positioning of supplies, of equipment, preparation of infrastructure, bases, headquarters. The bottom line is you will in the future see a more visible NATO presence in the east.”
In other words, NATO plans to build and maintain military bases in several nations that share direct borders with Russia. This is the opposite of what Russia was told after the Soviet Union disintegrated over two decades ago. Although I think the tendency among commentators to call the current situation between Russia and the West a “new cold war” is not only symptomatic of the Western press’s short term memory, but a misnomer (inter-imperialist rivalry is a much more accurate description), the truth is permanent NATO military bases along Russia’s borders are nothing short of a serious provocation. The news they are even being considered proves once again imperialism’s permanent state of war and threat of war. The poet Robinson Jeffers once wrote “Reason will not decide at last: the sword will decide.” It is when the men and women in command of those that wield the sword insist their murder and destruction is reasonable that war becomes the norm. The 20th century (and the 21st, it appears) prove that imperialism, by its very nature, assumes this logic. By pretending war is reasonable, the possibility of preventing it becomes ever more remote.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.