His predecessors have put the War Machine into constant action carrying over into his presidency, but this is Obama’s chance to make a fresh start, inaugurate a war on his own, that against ISIS, which can bind future administrations to its continuance, and thus keep unbroken the American doctrine, practice, and ideological savoring of permanent war. Strictly, this aspiration is not new, for his careful nurturing of drone assassination was designed and structured, through the Terror Tuesday conferences with his national security team to keep up-to-date a constantly evolving and replenished “hit list” the basis for ongoing action that would bind future administrations. Continuity is everything, if bipartisan planning and execution for global hegemony is to have meaning—and if America is to prove its mettle as world-beating champion of “humanitarian” intervention, with the prizes of commercial-financial dominance that go with it. Obama opens a new chapter in the by-now predictable, to the point of tedious, effort single-handedly to define, shape, and control the world system to its own everlasting advantage.
It will fail; the interesting question is: Will America bring the rest of the world down with it? Hegemonic counterrevolution has its pluses and minuses for all concerned, the world, the hegemon, perhaps most of all, the social forces unleashed by the destructive character of the Quest for Power. Negative: the US in its global aggrandizement, and the reason for it, has extracted a significant proportion of the world’s wealth and natural resources to elevate its own standard of living, capital accumulation, and surplus for diversion into militaristic might, leaving behind a trail of retarded development in the Third World and a record of repression to ensure favorable conditions on the ground (a general pattern of support of, even to the point of installing, dictatorships for carrying out comprador-functions on America’s behalf). It is this political-ideological despoilment, playing favorites, wrenching apart the cultural architecture of the penetrated, occupied, often economically raped countries, that has given rise to groups seeking revenge and the restoration of honor increasingly as now taking form through religious expression, a primordial return to what in the lives of many in the affected areas is their most effective means of resistance. The US created ISIS, activating a residual or latent sentiment of religious-orthodox-exclusivity that, had not its regional modus vivendi been so disrupted by military colonialism, might have lead to normalized intraregional yet manageable conflict. The same could be said about the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq, bin Laden’s rise, in response to American military bases, in Saudi Arabia, the promotion to be used against Russia of the Taliban in Afghanistan and subsequent turn-around against them, and now, finally, ISIS, good enough to work with against Assad in Syria, until the fulsome igniting of its hatred because of the forcible renting of the religious fabric in the Middle East.
The US has an uncanny ability to peel away ancient tribalisms historically dormant by crashing into areas unmindful if not contemptuous of the religious-cultural treasures of civilizations, thereby liberating anti-modern dreams of caliphates, whatever it takes to resist or eliminate the haughty intruder at the gates. No, I neither apologize for nor am a disciple of ISIS, but the ultimate insult to the world, the movement, and ourselves, is, by ignoring America’s contributing role to its religious extremism (doctrinally, perhaps always present, but acted upon, not until now), to make of it a cause célèbre in the war on terrorism, an American-defined strategy of global hegemony. ISIS is pretext and rationale alike for keeping American militarism on track. And it fits the bill perfectly: we lambaste Russia for putatively invading Ukrainian territory, yet cross borders continually via airstrikes as surrogate for boots on the ground. Iraq and Syria are now in the crosshairs, a high-tech lynching of ISIS in which technological fetishism, popularized initially through drone assassination, makes collateral damage, political murder of civilians, children killed with impunity, acceptable because wholly impersonal and therefore sanitized.
This is Obama to a tee: the sterilization of murder through the employment of overwhelming force. He has America with him, in fact, ahead of him (if that were possible!), pushing him further along, not that he vacillates, is indecisive, or even seeks cover for his actions, but because by creating the illusion that he is weighed down by moral conscience, is deliberative (his oft-mentioned “cool”), Nobelist Everyman par excellence, he can then, in close collaboration with the military and intelligence communities, turn on the power in the art of antiseptic warfare. I call it, nihilistic militarism, ISIS the target du jour, in the right place at the right time—but with its vanquishing, others will follow—as a convenience for flexing American muscle, as meanwhile, on the main stage, Obama is gearing up America for the confrontation with Russia, and beyond, China. Not coincidentally, the NATO summit in Wales sought to merge the two themes, ISIS and Russia, as, if not quite interrelated then at least simultaneous, threats to US-sponsored freedom and democracy in the world.
As a run-up to Obama’s Address to the American People, which (as of this writing, it occurs tomorrow [Sept. 10]) changes nothing, I was struck by Eric Schmitt, Michael Gordon, and Helene Cooper’s article in the New York Times, “Destroying ISIS May Take Years, U.S. Officials Say,” (Sept. 8), because it confirms, inadvertently, the continuities in American foreign policy, the sustainment of a permanent-war doctrine and psychology. America without war is like canned sardines without olive oil—both would otherwise turn rancid and decay. Stated differently, the informal maxim of policymakers from the top down is, Create enemies in order to destroy them, so as to be able to maintain a prodigious war economy and ensure a perpetual war machine. That, I submit, is where we’re at. In the judicious prose expected by The Times of its reporters (even Schmitt and Cooper, among the best on the national-security beat), the article begins: “The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until AFTER [my caps.] President Obama left office, according to senior administration officials.”
The pluses of hegemonic counterrevolution can be stated simply as, not religious-orthodox-exclusivity, but its opposite, an emancipation of political consciousness through the rise of progressive social forces, both tendencies a response to American global interventionism, the particular direction that each takes being dependent on the historical-structural context in which the intervention occurs. Modernization can be sufficiently repressive, as in grafting nascent industrialism onto a peasant-feudal agricultural base that leaves class relationships intact, so that the transition goes either way: ISIS-style fanaticism which is grounded in the rejection of modernity while also intensifying renewal of religion, thus placating elites and, at the same time, providing comfort to lower social groups, or, conversely, radical/revolutionary movements of change, selectively applying religion (e.g., liberation theology) or altogether dispensing with it, in breaking through the prevailing institutional crust of society and fighting back for all the years and generations of servitude. To America, ISIS is the preferable threat—or threat it be, given, despite the new theme, its threat to the Homeland as standard propagandistic fare, a somewhat remote one in terms of logistics and will—to that of democratization carried forward by the dispossessed. In fact, the action against one, ISIS, is intended to forestall the rise of the other. Much depends on the success in destroying ISIS, from America’s standing in the world, to quelling social aspirations for peace and human dignity aborted through achieving that standing.
Next, the reporters lay out what is known thus far about the administration plan for attacking ISIS (quite secret from a transparent government only a day away from The Speech), meticulous schematics of the war machine, to wit: “The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities [those on our side, enlisted in the fight and supplied with arms and equipment] and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq.” Whoa. For one who makes a thing about crossing borders, 145 airstrikes ain’t hay (what is intervention anyway?), but more to the point, WHAT are American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel doing in these places? Non-intervention: there would be no need for protection, if personnel were not already there. The American presence is thought by Washington and our “partners” invisible—no boots on the ground, only Nike running shoes. (Practically every member of Congress interviewed [Sept. 9] wants no boots on the ground, just massacre the bastards through air power.)
The second phase, Iraqi government inclusiveness proclaimed, “involve[s] an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes,” proxy warfare now customary, although were the reporters frank, and not delivering the administration line, this is still intervention, Adam Smith adapted as the Invisible Hand of global hegemony. The third phase, however, is especially interesting and significant: “The final, toughest and most politically controversial [the point of the address is to get over that hurdle, if it be one] phase of the operation—destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria—might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.” Create the precedent, and the future will take care of itself, shoring up war-continuities, binding later presidents, keeping up the martial spirit and all that is built on it. Appropriately, Obama is a Democrat, hardly, on foreign policy, an atypical one. (Yesterday [Sept. 8] he gave a White House luncheon for nation-security advisers of the past, from soup to nuts, Hadley to Haas, strictly bipartisan, which goes to show that not even a thin coin could drive a line of separation between the parties, drumming up support for the war on ISIS. With this bunch, the occasion could have been, war, now fill in the blank.) He like others is aware that America must push war to the hilt, lest it turn its resources inward and possibly democratize the social system. For where would the Democrats be, should that happen, and a vital working class thereby see through them? False consciousness is the fifth wheel of the war machine and the entire engine block of the Democratic party.
Obama’s speech, the reporters write, will be “to make his case for launching a Unites States-led offensive against Sunni militants gaining ground in the Middle East, seeking to rally support for a broad military mission while reassuring the public that he is not plunging American forces into another Iraq war.” Obama: “’What I want people to understand is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum [of the militants]. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities; we’re going to shrink the territory that they control; and, ultimately, we’re going to defeat them.’” Justification? None offered. The wording itself is like the inexorable force of the God-ordained, or the colossal Israeli bulldozer knocking down Palestinian homes. It’s also a train of thought we’ve heard many times before, summed up by the quaint phrase, “mission creep.”
Here Obama’s Clausewitzean genius is proudly displayed. “The military campaign [he] is preparing has no obvious precedent.” Unlike Yemen and Pakistan,” it is not expected to be limited to drone strikes against militant leaders.” Unlike Afghanistan,” it will not include the use of ground troops, which Mr. Obama has ruled out.” (Parenthetically, for now.) Unlike Kosovo, Clinton, NATO, “it will not be compressed into an intensive 78-day tactical and strategic air campaign.” Perhaps most important: “And unlike during the air campaign that toppled… Qaddafi… the Obama administration is no longer ‘leading from behind,’ but plans to play the central role in building a coalition to counter ISIS.” The implied uniqueness, fitting, of course, in that ISIS is Obama’s very own exercise in intervention (I should prefer, “aggression,” but do not want to stir too many feathers, as it is), turns out to be wrong on all or most counts. Yemen and Pakistan were never limited to drones, unless one wishes to ignore CIA-Special Ops advance targeting setups and paramilitary operations on the side. Afghanistan, the very denial of the use of ground troops augurs poorly for prospects they won’t be used, and in any case paramilitary forces somehow don’t count as part of ground troops. Kosovo may be Clinton indefinitely extended, ISIS fighters presumably, as with all America’s foes, embedded in thick population centers, making strategic bombing and civilian casualties a small price to pay for eradicating it. And Libya, now a superb object lesson in military planning—don’t lead from behind but from up front; actually, same difference because leading from behind IS to play a central role, just as NATO is America’s proxy not only in Europe but increasingly throughout the world. Behind or in front it still hides behind “friends and allies” to lessen the detection of war crimes and opprobrium for their commission.
We now have a new man on the block to share with Ben Rhodes the responsibility of putting a smiley face on Obama’s geopolitical framework of unilateral American power in the world. Anthony Blinken, already on board for inflating the Russian military threat on Ukraine, here, as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, is laying the propaganda basis for perpetual involvement—the prolonged mission: “’It’s going to take time [to defeat ISIS], and it will probably go beyond even this administration to get to the point of defeat.’” John Kerry, similarly: “’It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined it has to happen.’” To make his point, he and Chuck Hagel—like Cohen and Schine the dynamic duo of anticommunism in Joe McCarthy’s day—are off to Turkey “to woo another potential ally in the fight against the Sunni militant group.”
I’m glad for the War address, though it will be disguised as Peace and Protection of the Homeland, because it reveals the Democratic party as the war-mongering party, using cultural issues to hide its fascist tendencies in foreign policy and Wall Street affinities/affections in domestic. I do not slight the dignity of anyone when I say, transgender symbolism to hide corporate rapacity and global militarism, least of all those are duplicitously used for political ends. We shall all come into our own, as we see fit, when our seeming friends are exposed as miscreants, sadists, purveyors of violence, artists of divide-and-conquer the better to serve their Masters and stay in office.
My New York Times Comment to the Schmitt, Gordon, Cooper article, same date, follows:
Procedurally, the Obama administration is again up to no good. Its framework for executing (pardon the pun) drone assassination, the use of a permanent, ever revised “hit list,” was specifically intended to bind subsequent administrations to the same policy. Here the exact parallel: a campaign ongoing beyond his term that others will not turn off.
As for the campaign, would there have ever been an ISIS, had not the US pursued global hegemony via, among other measures, creation of a worldwide network of military bases. Bin Laden got his start in protesting the desecration of Saudi soil through such bases. Instead of withdrawing from the role of unilateral domination of world political-economic currents and events, America, fearful of losing its grip on military-ideological power, pushes on.
America created ISIS just as it did al Qaeda through persistent interventionism on a global scale. One result, a counterterrorism posture and agenda that has led to massive surveillance of the American people, an electronic McCarthyism to force consent on increased militarism. In addition, to maintain military appropriations at a staggering level, while much of what under FDR we called the “national estate,” from job creation and conservation to a vital social safety net, suffers. As America DECLINES because of its militarism, its effort to stay on top, as here, against ISIS, intensifies and surely will create more ISIS-like movements. Yes, escalation is Obama’s baby.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.