• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Support Our Annual Fund Drive!fund-drive-progress-thermometer

We only shake our readers down two times a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Plea for Hysteria

US attitudes towards Iraq, both pro-war and anti-war, suffer from a distressing lack of hysteria about an event of vastly underestimated importance. The event was called 9-11.

9-11 didn’t just challenge America’s hegemony; it challenged its sovereignty. Sovereignty is what defines a state, and political philosophers generally agree that it involves at least one hard-nosed requirement: a monopoly on the use of force in a geographic area. States that meet this requirement may of course be illegitimate–perhaps most are–but they are still states.

Naturally the monopoly is never complete: even in Switzerland or Canada, there is lots of unauthorized violence. But the monopoly must be substantial. Switzerland or Canada could never suppress all the violence occuring within their borders, but they could suppress any particular instance of it if they tried hard enough: nobody could withstand the government authorities. And the basic feeling is that Switzerland or Canada can handle any serious violence–riots, mini-insurrections, gang wars–unless another state intervenes.

The attempts to portray 9-11 as a crime which the US has inflated into a geopolitical excuse are misguided. No crime of the sort judicial systems address has ever had such stature. A few more such attacks, and you would no longer have a sovereign state. Yet thousands of intelligence chiefs and rebel leaders all over the world must have said: “Hell, I could get twenty guys together with box cutters… .” And by now, they must be pretty damn sure they could get away with it, too. 9-11 raised a faint but distinct possibility that the US might, with bad enough luck, collapse, in years rather than decades. Even without post-A-bomb style disintegration, one wonders whether the economy would withstand three or four or twenty times more security and hunkering down.

I suspect everyone knows this, but perhaps they do not know they know it, or know that everyone knows it. It adds new meaning to “the whole world is watching.” Its simple lessons are better understood from the much-scorned perspective of adolescents than from the analyses of experts.

Think of America as a strutting street thug, a high-school dropout. Someone sneaks up on him, beats the crap out of him, and walks away. Our thug has lost respect. He swears up and down the block, to all his friends and enemies, that he knows exactly who did this–call them, say, the Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden–and he will get them, good. He gets a few buddies together and strides into the hostile home turf of his enemies. He yells a lot, he talks trash, he breaks down a few doors, stomps through some houses, beats on a few scrawny punks and a few bystanders … but no Mullah Omar or Bin Laden.

People are starting to laugh at him, and not only behind his back. Bin Laden is taunting him. He has lost respect. Since he has always claimed to be the toughest of the tough, and made many enemies, if he doesn’t regain it, he may get worse than a beating. His survival may be at stake. Respect is everything: he cannot fight off all his enemies if they lose their fear of him. So he has to do serious damage to someone, anyone–it’s not the same as getting Bin Laden, but it’s the best he can do. How about this Saddam Hussein guy?

And that’s why the US is invading Iraq. Is it why the US thinks it’s invading Iraq? I have no idea. People delude themselves even in secret meetings. But the US can muscle its way into any oil goodies it wants without war, and it does not need to cow an Arab world already cowed almost into the ground. It doesn’t need to get anything, and it won’t; Iraq is a can of worms. It needs to prove something, the same thing the thug needs to prove; its ferocity and aggressiveness. Iraq is really the only place it can do this, because Saddam Hussein is the goldilocks’ choice of enemies: not too powerful, like North Korea, not too weak, like Libya, but just right, and an international pariah to boot.

Much of this is quite reasonable. Why shouldn’t the US try to survive? (No matter what it has to atone for, it can’t do it in pieces.) Why shouldn’t it do whatever it takes to make all those intelligence chiefs and anti-American movements scared again? But it’s too reasonable, not nearly hysterical enough. The US thinks, consciously or unconsciously, that it has room to breathe, that it can put on a show of force and its enemies will cower. It thinks, let Bin Laden laugh; his turn will still come.

But our turn may come first. Before 9-11, no one, with the possible exception of Bin Laden, dreamed 9-11 was possible. (Personally, I think he was stunned: who could count on four planes even taking off on time?) Now everyone knows it is. How many people will try to follow it? to top it? And what if they succeed? People who worry about the disintegration of Iraq should wonder what the disintegraton of the United States would look like or, short of that, a United States many times more raging and desperate than it is today. No one should welcome the prospect.

And that’s just why what the US needs right now is more and better hysteria. You might be forgiven for thinking that the US is hysterical enough already. But it isn’t scared enough about the right things. What the US really experiences today is structured, petulant paranoia, alternating between the vindictive, obviously ineffective persecution of minorities and trips to the hardware store. If the US could really face the extent of its vulnerability, it wouldn’t be playing with its color-coded alerts or bullying a basket-case dictatorship. It would obsess, day and night, about its real enemies and its really catastrophic humiliation. It would be in a veritable panic to make good on its vow to get Bin Laden and the Mullah Omar, as well as root out their allies. It would realize that the reason it has failed to get them is simply that it isn’t strong enough.

This is the central fact of the post-9-11 world, and it is only by denying it that the US staves off salutary hysteria. A strong country, having found that a few white folks with Afghan cannon fodder won’t do the job, would have sent maybe half a million troops into Afghanistan and, with or without permission, into Pakistan. These troops would have had to fight, on the ground, and many thousands of them, perhaps, would die. One can hardly imagine the US even contemplating such action.

US weakness is also manifest in its strategies, or rather in the strategies it pretends to itself it is following. Whatever the administration may believe, the push against Iraq does not implement a policy of pre-emptive strikes against potential threats, because such a policy would focus on the biggest threats first, or at least on substantial ones over insubstantial ones. Iraq isn’t any substantial threat to the United States. And the US, it is clear, would never dare to implement such a policy against serious potential threats, like North Korea or China. The US is too weak to do that, and it doesn’t want to admit it, even to itself.

Were the US to realize just how weak it is, it be scared enough to take the measures it really needs to take for its own survival. It would understand that it cannot do without genuinely useful allies–not British twits, or Israeli goons who are happy to drag America down with them.(*) The allies it needs are not simply governments. They are the people, not everyone but many of them, who live in predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan (who first warned the US about 9-11-style attacks), the Gulf States, and Turkey. With substantial popular support, the governments of these countries could and would destroy violently anti-American terrorist organizations; without such support they cannot. And for enough people to become inclined to oppose, not fundamentalism, but anti-American terrorism, there would of course have to be a huge shift of sentiment in the Islamic world. The only thing that could bring this about would be an equally huge shift in US policy. The only thing that could stop anti-American terrorism would be American opposition to Israel.

MICHAEL NEUMANN is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Neumann’s book What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche has just been republished by Broadview Press. He can be reached at: mneumann@trentu.ca

*Is the US invading Iraq to provide a smokescreen for Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinians? I’m amazed at the wild optimism of those who think Israel is so weak as to need a smokescreen, or indeed help, for anything it decides to do to in the occupied territories.

 

More articles by:

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at a Canadian university.  He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel.  He also contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.  He can be reached at mneumann@live.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
Richard Moser
The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?
Roger Harris
Why Trump is Facing Impeachment
Doug Lummis
Everything Going Wrong in Okinawa
Ramzy Baroud
Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison
Christopher Ketcham
Ode to the Drums of Ginger Baker
W. T. Whitney
Upcoming Elections Represent Testing Time for Bolivia’s Socialist Government
Louis Proyect
Building Soldier Resistance Under the Shadows of Fascism
Mark Ashwill
Reflections on General Giap and the End of an Era in Vietnam
Gabriel Leão
Killing the Messengers: Rising Violence Against Journalists and Indigenous Leaders Defending the Amazon
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: All Talk No Action
Arthur Hoyle
The Meaning of Donald Trump
Dean Baker
Those Quaint Corporate Scandals in Japan
Laura Santina
Take Their Feet Off Our Necks
Julian Vigo
The New Workers’ Revolution is Afoot
Robert Koehler
The Rights of Nature
Dan Bacher
New Report Reveals Oil Waste in CA Aquifers
David Swanson
Trump’s Opponents Have Him Beat . . . When It Comes to Incompetence
Ben Debney
Liberals, Class and the Joker Complex
Brian Wakamo
Paying College Athletes: California Takes on the NCAA
Theo Wuest
Don’t Leave Equality to the Supreme Court
Jesse Jackson
To His Wealthy Donors, Trump is the Grifter
Mairead Maguire
Pathways to Peace
George Wuerthner
Logging Wild and Scenic River Corridors in the Name of Reducing Wildfires is a Really Bad Idea
Tracey L. Rogers
We Can’t Hug Away Injustice
Mike Garrity
How the Alliance for the Wild Rockies Stopped Trump From Bulldozing Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk Grizzly Bears into Extinction
Lawrence Wittner
Why Are Americans So Confused About the Meaning of “Democratic Socialism”?
Nicky Reid
Climate Cthulhu: A Post-Modern Horror Story
Seth Sandronsky
A Sacramento King’s Ransom: Local Tax Dollars and the Owner’s Wealth
Susan Block
Cougar 2020?
David Yearsley
Mother Mallard’s Little Boy Grows Up
Elliot Sperber
Taking Out Columbus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail