“We … displayed weakness. And the weak are always beaten.”
“We cannot show weakness in this world today, because the enemy will exploit that weakness. It will embolden them and make the world a more dangerous place.”
On one level, it is somewhat amazing how similar these two statements are. The former, made by Russian Premier Putin the day after the horrifying end to the siege of a school in Ossetia province and those inside by Chechen nationalists, represents the summation of the Russian government’s approach to the long denied desire of the Chechens for independence. The latter statement, from US President Bush, was made in an interview at the beginning of the 2004 GOP Convention in Manhattan. Both statements exhibit the sum total of these men’s approach to problems too complex to be answered with violent force. Unfortunately, there are no other voices in positions of power to counter this approach. John Kerry insists that he could perform these tasks “better,” and, in Russia, there is no counter to Putin at all.
What that means for the world is clear: more war and less freedom. We have seen this scenario unfold in the US in the years since the 911 attacks. While one must acknowledge that some type of police work must be done to prevent future attacks, especially of the nature and magnitude of those that occurred on 911 in the United States and the Ossetia school siege, it is important to understand why exactly the US and Russia are so insistent on trying to win these wars militarily. After all, why doesn’t Russia allow Chechnya to be independent? Likewise, why does the US insist on maintaining and expanding its presence in the Middle East and Central Asia? It can be argued that part of this insistence stems from these men’s need to appear “masculine.” However, the deeper and more likely reason lies elsewhere. Like so many other conflicts of the automobile age, these wars have something to do with petroleum.
Chechnya has important oil deposits, as well as natural gas, limestone, gypsum, sulphur, and other minerals. Its mineral waters have made it a spa center. Major production includes oil, petrochemicals, oil-field equipment, foods, wines, and fruits. For centuries, the Chechen people’s history and relationship with the regional power, Russia, has been full of turmoil. Like Washington saw lands to its west as rightfully theirs, Russia has historically considered Chechnya and other adjacent regions as essentially an inland empire. Just as the indigenous nations in the US opposed their destruction and take over by Washington, so have the citizens of these various republics opposed their assumption into Moscow’s empire, whether it was run by a Tsar, a central committee, or a Yeltsin or Putin.
Washington, having consolidated its inland empire in the 19th century (when such endeavors were militarily and politically easier), has been involved in extending its overseas reach ever since. This endeavor has intensified ever since petroleum began its move toward center stage in the world economy. Because Washington long ago consolidated its inland empire, it has been able to expand its influence around the world, especially since the end of World War Two. Today, it reigns virtually unchallenged except by those in the Iraqi insurgency, the Afghani resistance, and the network of various groups currently labeled terrorist by the US Pentagon and State Department. It is anyone’s guess how or to what extent these various opponents are interconnected. Nonetheless, they are Washington’s only armed opponents. Consequently, they represent the only challenge to Washington’s rule that the men and women in DC seem to take seriously.
A strategy of military assaults and what would seem to be overpowering strength obviously seems to be an effective strategy to those who support it. However, as history tells us time and again, military strength does not stifle nationalist desires. Terror in the name of government and its interests is different from terror in the name of religion or nationalist revolution only in its magnitude-the state’s terror is usually more murderous and less transitory. Indeed, it is a foundation of the state’s existence and, when the state is under attack, its only bulwark against its disintegration. Anarchists and others who argue that the state exists because of its monopoly on violence may oversimplify their case but are correct in their essential analysis. This is one reason why those referred to as terrorists utilize violence as part of their strategy-the violent act itself works to de-legitimize the state itself by removing the state’s monopoly on death and destruction.
I saw a news piece on the Russian military forcing the guerrillas accused in the school siege to view the consequences of their action.. Perhaps the sight of all the dead innocents will convince those guerrillas that there might be another way to win their battle. Now if only the soldiers (and their avid supporters in their respective homelands) in official armies like that of the US and Russia were forced to see the consequences of their actions. If they saw the bloodied and dead women and children, the bombed out houses, the destroyed lives-instead of seeing only the computerized graphics in their tank’s sighting device or the greenish images in their nightvision goggles, then maybe we would begin to see a more humane approach to resolving the world’s injustices. After all, the soldiers are humans who have compassion (unlike the policies that place them in war zones). Until then, innocents will suffer at the hands of the soldiers who work for the state and those who work against it.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: email@example.com