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Obama’s Congenital Militarism

We now see, as September opens, a syphilitic mindset in its final stage: Obama’s hankering for WAR to prove and add further support to America’s claims of world superiority and his own manliness and gold-standard patriotism, both the geostrategic and personal goals unworthy, and ensuring the corruption, of a democratic society. Obama, of course, is not sui generis, but expresses the main line of US historical development from the close of World War Two to the present, substituting counterterrorism for tried-and-true anticommunism, to the same end of stabilizing capitalism as a world system, within which the American form provides international guidance and control, simultaneous with pursuing the broader agenda of counterrevolution to halt the democratization of societies, as inimical to US interests of trade, investment, and raw-materials acquisition, where- and whenever popular movements and autonomous growth of modernization (particularly if it is socialist) appear.

Obama, the Sentry at the Gate, vigilantly on guard, presides over the militarization of capitalism as the only means, given its mature-bordering-on senescent stage, for continued advancement, a political economy requiring the stimulation of conquest to keep afloat.

So now we have Syria in the political-ideological-military crosshairs, a means for asserting in the face of a changing, multipolar, international system, unilateral dominance through the demonstration of force. And for the first time, America is not having its way. Judging from the response of the British Parliament, the UN, Russia, and even a sprinkling of protest demonstrations throughout America, from the White House gates to John Kerry’s Boston house to LA, with signs showing the acuity previous lacking about Obama’s service to ruling groups and rush to war. That he pauses for Congress to convene betrays a recognition that his high-handed use of Executive Power may politically backfire, itself not enough to stop him in his tracks, but the cool calculated gamble that a positive vote will cover over his brazen use of military power is nonetheless worth the try.

Should the vote go against Obama (unlikely, given the fear of Congress about appearing “soft” on, whatever the enemy of the moment), he may still go ahead, in the knowledge he has the approval of the groups that count, including the intelligence community, and can use his decision to exhibit further strength on behalf of what Veblen rightly termed, the Vested Interests. Giving the orders to attack—more and more self-identified as Commander in Chief rather than as president—has the deliberate effect of rubbing the noses of domestic critics, real and imagined, in the manure pile of national-security policy. From those of my generation, one sees the Charles Atlas ad, moving from 97-pound weakling to what today we’d call, superhero—the pathetic display of hunger for power descending Air Force One with snappy salute, photo ops with military brass forming the background, and talking tough to other world leaders, meanwhile throwing the mantle of massive surveillance over the American public to invite its silence.

Obama got off to a good start with his Terror Tuesday nights off the Situation Room, hit lists at the ready as he authorized assassination, a practice as incriminating as his looking the other way when rendition, waterboarding, indefinite detention, CIA-JSOC paramilitary activities, placing military “assets” in a state of readiness (now, Syria) are also noted. Together they point to the disposition to commit war crimes, only the specific occasion lacking. Embroilment in a precarious state of world politics will surely follow—and he doesn’t seem to care.

Obama “cool” is really nihilism with a smiling face, the moral vacuum that discounts all but personal advancement. When Obama travels to Moscow in coming days, what will he say to Putin—except the attempt to stare him down, and presumably behind him, China’s leaders as well? We are farther away from global peace than at any time since Vietnam and the early 1970s. And why? Perhaps one might say that hegemony is in America’s DNA, a not implausible idea, but one that still begs the question and is circular. My own suggestion is that American capitalism has been a failure, not in the conventional terms of the maximization of profits for economic upper groups, but in the societal terms of creating fragmentation of the body politic, a nation of sharply increasing disparities of wealth, the need for still heavier doses of police powers and social control to keep the lid on, a reactive political culture wanting to draw blood from working people (not least in winnowing away at the social safety net), and the bread-and-circuses channeling of discontent and potential opposition into the surge of patriotism, militarism, and vicarious assaults on “terrorists,” converting Snowden and Manning into surrogates for al Qaeda.

Thank you, Mr. President, for leading us on the path of fascism; the bunting will be liberal, the content, more interventionism after Syria.

My New York Times Comment to the Baker and Weisman article, “Obama Seeks Approval by Congress for Strike in Syria” (Sept. 1):

The US fetishism of don’t show weakness, we will lose the respect and confidence of friends and allies, adversaries, the world, is out of the psychopathic playbook of bipartisan war hawks since the 1950s, Obama merely riding the wave of the militarism clutching at the throat of the American public. Whether the decision to attack Syria is right or wrong, is founded on correct or incorrect intelligence, etc., doesn’t matter–we (i.e. POTUS) said we would, and therefore we must, or else lose face. Nonsense. Obama craves war, making this clear by his advisers, such as Brennan, and now Kerry, and his actions, notably, armed drones for targeted assassination. He can’t lose with an equally war-crazed Congress: America must prove its power or else magically sink below the horizon. What’s really at stake? Obviously a geopolitical posture of global hegemony. Syria is a convenient chip in the poker game of asserting international economic-ideological-military supremacy, with Obama assigning to liberal rhetoric the task of stalking horse, nothing short of the liberalization of fascism: massive surveillance at home, adventurism and conquest abroad–meanwhile, the social safety net left in tatters. And Obama has the nerve to show his face, in the shadow of commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington. If Dr. King were here, he would lead another March on Washington AGAINST Obama-Democratic war policies and savaging via deregulation working people’s future.

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.

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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 pollackn@msu.edu.

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