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Murder By Proxy

Not satisfied with having the largest military budget in the world, the US allocates military assistance to practically any and all who will further its hegemonic purposes.  Why dirty our hands directly when we can do so indirectly—as though an Enemy is needed just to keep the momentum of power fueled by hate and fear going?  This is an old story, endemic counterrevolution from at least the aftermath of World War II, but now USG bearing down with urgency because the world system no longer blindly serves US interests.  The result: up the ante, with drone assassinations, embargoes, interventions, more lethal weapons systems, a China-strategy based on thinly-disguised aggregated force pointed toward containment and isolation, and domestically, the boldest attempt yet in American history by means of surveillance to fuse the National-Security State with its inevitable partner the Police State.  All under liberal auspices, Obama’s 21st century form of fascism, with megabanks, defense contractors, and the Homeland security industry all with their hands out.  Secrecy in government, ever the marker for an authoritarian regime, gives the lie to democratic pretensions.  This state of affairs would be intolerable to a people aware of and committed to acting on their rights.  Instead USG from Obama down expresses contempt for the people satisfied that such contempt will go unchallenged because the people in their docility show contempt for themselves.  Ostensive liberalism harnessed to repression disarms potential critics.  The wanton killings in Egypt have engendered little protest in America, making our nation, given its financial support to the Egyptian military, complicit in these crimes.

The Egyptian military washes our dirty laundry.  Why US interest in Egypt, support for a military coup, and turning a blind eye to verified atrocities–if not for the pursuit of a geopolitical framework in which that country’s internal affairs mean little, except as a stable launching pad for America’s own ambitions in the region?  Egypt is central to the permanent establishment of a US sphere of influence which both secures the full protection of Israel and sustained access to Middle Eastern oil on advantageous terms.  That much is obvious; less obvious is the framework itself, an American military concentration of energy which permits the supervision, guidance, leadership (whatever term happens to fit the occasion) over a vast area including Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and creeping further eastward in reinforcing military and diplomatic pressures on China as part of Obama’s Pacific-first strategy.  Israel is almost forgotten in the Grand Design, one essentially counterrevolutionary in nature, as also in Africa and Latin America, motivated in part by the failures of globalization and the need, therefore, to prevent and oppose Left popular movements in countries struggling under the burdens of austerity, capitalist dislocations, and increasing trends toward differentiations in wealth on a global scale.  Egypt may be only one outpost in the march to remain top-dog in the world system, a system itself fragmenting into competing political economies so that America can no longer assume its political-economic dominance, yet precisely because this shaking down into a multipolar power structure the US will take any launching pad for hegemonic purposes it can.  Keeping order is crucial, thus making the Egyptian military a proxy-force of momentous value, enough so to excuse or dream up extenuating circumstances for murder in the name of enlightened rule.

The Times (Aug. 21), in a single sentence, describes the treatment of Morsi, now compared with the anticipated release of Mubarak, in terms that would make Kafka blanch: “Mr. Morsi remains under indefinite detention in an undisclosed location with no access to legal counsel.”  This violation of civil liberties is not promising ground for constitutional governance, and raises the suspicion that claims of Morsi’s “overreaching,” heard often in justification of the military coup, and similarly, that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, are part of a campaign of disinformation to smooth the way for the military crackdown of all dissent.  Egyptian liberals have not condemned the violence, the closing of Brotherhood media, the arrest of their leaders—even the murder of persons already in police custody.  Too much has gone wrong to claim the military is acting on behalf of the people.  One senses that the     Muslim Brotherhood has become the surrogate for Al Qaeda, in the way that a half-century ago Jews became the surrogate for Communists—strike while the iron’s hot, in the expectation that a chain-reaction will ensue ridding the world of all real and imaginary enemies.  When Sartre, in “Portrait of the Anti-Semite,” wrote that the Jew was least important to the anti-Semite, who craved the durability of stone, and feared social change, the same might be said for counterterrorism, that the terrorist is of least importance to those stirring up anxieties and fears, whether in Egypt or America, a psychological shell-game on behalf of US hegemony and arresting the popular forces of political-structural-ideological democratization.  Those most adept at killing, whether in CIA-JSOC paramilitary operations or the drone “pilots” 8,000 miles from target, in America, or the recipients of US military assistance abroad, get the accolades because proving their value as investments.  After thirty years and x billions, we can see the fruition of our military funding for Egypt in the fatherless children and stacked bodies in the morgues, where ice and fans are needed to halt decay preparatory to burial.

The Egyptian dead and wounded have been marginalized in Western political consciousness.   Egypt is a test of anomie and depersonalization, i.e., the absence of outrage—in Egypt and the US—is presumptive evidence that militarism and authoritarianism are ascendant, whether through mass persuasion or force in the world.  If the Egyptian military can get away with the slaughter, then so could other militaries when the time is ripe—the power of example, paving the way for the same commission of atrocities, with America impatiently waiting its turn where and when it perceives threats to it national interest.  Egypt has given us the legitimation of force on a silver platter, but also the legitimation and efficacy of coups, no longer hidden from view through covert operations, but out in the open, counting on our collective social blindness.   With Mubarak’s planned release, the haughtiness of generals everywhere, confident in their mission of Reaction, is being given a significant boost—the US, as earlier in Brazil and Chile, tickled pink.  Mubarak, even under house arrest, vindicates all the political butchers.   Washington is concerned with damage control, Tel Aviv not even that.  The generals should be more discreet in their killing.  Obama is forced to scramble, more unctuous rhetoric, another slap on the wrist while still delivering the goods.

Is it any wonder that I recur to the phrase, the liberalization of fascism?  Militarism is the grand avenue to maintaining hegemony, itself wearing thin around the edges as America’s industrial power declines and its structural interior is becoming gutted.  No matter, whether school lunches and myriad social needs feel the strains of austerity, so long as the Egyptians have their helicopters and F16s, we can rest safely at night.  Every US-trained Latin American death squad, every Egyptian rooftop sniper,  “freedom fighters” all, we owe an immense debt of gratitude, or so Obama reminds us, subtly, obliquely, and thus more disingenuously.

My New York Times Comment (Aug. 21) to Eric Schmitt’s article, “Egyptian Military Is Firmly Hooked to U.S. Lifeline”:

The framework, from buying access to bribing Egypt to maintain its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, to cash-flow financing, smells to high heaven. Military assistance per se is disgusting. Its use is for repression of the country’s own people, or for “friends and allies” in support of intervention. We know that America spends more for military activities–at least 1/3 the world’s total–than any other nation, as meanwhile domestic needs embodied in the social safety net suffer. Screwed-up priorities, an understatement.

Egypt brings the situation out: US aid goes directly to murdering unarmed people, a record truly to be proud of: cold-blooded, cynical, and to what purpose? Must the US militarize global politics, as a way of advancing its political-economic-ideological hegemony? Cairo morgues are filling up. Extend more aid, Mr. Obama, or are you too busy with your Terror Tuesday hit-lists personally authorizing assassinations?

Militarism is an ugly matter; the US will not win any beauty contests.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University. His new book, Eichmann on the Potomac, will be published by CounterPunch in the fall of 2013.

More articles by:

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at

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