Prelude to War

ISIS, WMD of our time. To light a fire: White House, gathering within itself the military and intelligence communities, sends out Gen. Dempsey and Sec. Hagel to testify before Senate Armed Services—feeler about war while Obama mouths peace. The old trick, a trial balloon, while POTUS sits pretty and has deniability. The important thing, build war sentiment, feed the public a steady diet of war propaganda. It is working.

A ”war-weary public,” as is often contended? Nonsense. America hungers for war, needs war to feel muscular; “shock-and-awe” air campaigns, whomever directed against, testifies to US greatness. War is thought essential to a prosperous economy. Peace, ever since TR, is thought ignoble—also perhaps tilting capitalism toward stagnation.

Why deny American superiority? Obama rides the crest of the ethnocentric/xenophobic wave, ideological crosscurrents that spell e-x-c-e-p-t-i-o-n-a-l-i-s-m. Bingo. The corporate state subsumes its militarization. Obama has transformed himself from POTUS to Commander-in-Chief: vacillation, the Hamlet-like façade, is for the purpose of concealing a seething underneath.

The White House thinks ahead. It is more ambitious in its war planning than previous administrations. Obama surrounds himself with the best, would-be Clausewitzs with a geopolitical vision of US unilateral control over the global system. Everything is possible through air power. Before, he leaned on Special Ops and the CIA, drone assassination his method of choice. Now, his General Staff is getting itchy, eager to display their wares, show their stuff.

Assassination is too slow. Bomb everywhere, “friends and allies” a reliable cheering section (so long as ground troops are not their own). They, the sweet EU-NATO nexus, also help to neutralize international organization. Today, then, ISIS, and if possible, Assad; tomorrow, what remains of a resistant world. Who cannot see Russia and China in the American cross-hairs?

Whomever cannot is not a fit candidate for office, EITHER party, and certainly not, Obama’s national-security team. ISIS is a mere stepping stone. To what? First, stabilization of the Middle East around an Israel-centered formula of non-compromise on Palestine, an accommodative peace with Egypt, Jordan, and the Saudis, as the domestication of the Arab Spring to crush Iran. Second, Europe’s solidification into an anti-Russian coalition of power, aimed at further dismemberment. Third, a more drastic version of the same with respect to China.

Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, embodied in the Pentagon’s 60-40 split in the allocation of “assets” to that region, signals confrontation at its highest. And the prize, the greatest: undisputed global power on a permanent basis. And with it, the superimposition of American values—unrestrained capitalism in all its wish-fulfillment forms—on the world system. Look for an international division of labor, outsourcing to the third decimal point in the search for cheap labor, preferably near the source of raw materials for production.

Look also for stability, i.e., counterrevolution in advance of anything happening. A world without socialism; equally, one without obstacles to American commercial-financial penetration. Ditto, opposition forces and/or politics questioning US (moral) leadership. Bring Kipling up-to-date: the world never sets on American military bases. That already accomplished, it will be necessary to supplement with more, always more, as US controls tighten, the propaganda of domination begins to wear thin, and the “natives” (including formerly top-ranked states) become restive.


So, Dempsey and Hagel on the Hill spreading the message of war, covering the ass of Obama so as to make him look reluctant and forced into a decision he had already made. This is a delicate maneuver. It must not look like insubordination. Only humility before the Chief in giving advice that is their sworn duty to provide—however presumably distasteful to them in discharging their responsibilities. This is as intended, giving their words greater solemnity and effectiveness.

Here New York Times reporters Mark Landler and Jeremy Peters, in their article, “U.S. General Open to Ground Forces in Fight Against ISIS in Iraq,” (Sept. 16), sketch out, maybe inadvertently, the game plan. Ground forces prepared, ready to be deployed, IF necessary, the “if” a matter of presidential discretion, and we know our man in these contexts. Already we see, Iraqi troops appear untrainable, Syrian rebels, unreliable, thirty nations in the Great Meeting of Support, rushing for the door when it comes to ground troops.

The reporters: “President Obama’s top military adviser said Tuesday [9/ 16] that he would recommend deploying United States forces in ground operations against Islamic extremists in Iraq if airstrikes proved insufficient, opening the door to a riskier, more expansive American combat role than the president has publicly outlined.” Mine: sweet music to members of the Committee (e.g., McCain, in a statement to the press, Casey, over BBC), bipartisan to the core—and if anything, criticizing Obama for not acting sooner (knowing that with Dempsey’s appearance, Obama is acting).

One senses the “American-led coalition” is a straw man, one Dempsey dutifully expressed confidence in, but with crossed fingers. “’My view at this point,’” he said, “’is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true. But if it fails to be true, and there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.’”

The problem is, the war-propaganda machinery is working overtime to manufacture the threat. How long before the recommendation follows, and Obama, recommendation in hand, reluctantly concludes on the expansion of war? Note: already the White House has described the conflict as a war on ISIS. (More on this at the end of the NYT article) Insubordination? No, part of the game plan: “General Dempsey acknowledged that this would run counter to the president’s policy, but he said, ‘He has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.’” Perfect cover.

Fearing the alleged unpopularity of another war (have the last ones stopped?), Landler-Peters tread lightly: Dempsey’s “statement lays bare the challenge” Obama faces “in selling an expanded military campaign to a war-weary [?!] American public.” Obama promised no ground troops against ISIS; yet, Dempsey pointed out, “the realities of a prolonged campaign…could make such a hands-off approach untenable, particularly if the battle against the militants moves into densely populated cities where airstrikes are less effective and the chances of civilian casualties are much higher.”

Ergo, the initial demur: “The White House insisted on Tuesday that Mr. Obama was not shifting his policy and that General Dempsey was not out of sync with his commander in chief.” Heaven forfend. (But why testify in this way before Armed Services, unless to drop the hint of action?) Josh Earnest, the press secretary, followed up to reporters with the inevitable qualification: “’It’s the responsibility of the president’s military advisers to plan and consider all the wide range of contingencies. It is also the responsibility of the commander in chief to set out a clear policy.” No denial, exactly.

In fact, quite the contrary. Although the reporters in their journalistic innocence may not see the import and substance of the timing, Obama’s actions are telling: “On Wednesday (today, 9/17, one day after Dempsey testifying), Mr. Obama is scheduled to get a briefing from his military commanders at the Pentagon’s Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla. (Superb p.r. in its symbolism –you come to them, not them to you) The rare visit is described by White House officials as part of his effort TO MOBILIZE PUBLIC SUPPORT for the mission.” (My caps.)

Mission unspecified, as the underlying beating of the bushes (propaganda) goes on. It is not addiction to conspiracy theory to suggest, as with so much else about Obama, the timing is orchestrated to add to the momentum for war. In addition, his Tampa journey is to smooth ruffled feathers, an appeasement of the military, because he appointed Gen. John Allen (ret.) “in charge of the operations” as the “special envoy” to the coalition “fighting the Islamic State” and, horrors, to be based in the State Department. Let it not be said that Obama is indifferent to the morale of his General Staff.

Then, finally, the semantic mishmash. Press Secretary Earnest: the US is at war “’in the same way we are at war with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.’” Kerry, in the Middle East, lining up support, not at war, “then he was forced to backtrack.” I give the final word to Peter Feaver, a former national-security aide to Clinton and Bush 2: “’These terms mean things to the military, and have implications for resource commitments. If you’re using the term war, that implies a level of PRESIDENTIAL COMMITMENT. The acid question is whether it is higher than Obama’s own commitment.’” (My caps.)
When the two commitments coincide, as I believe they have, watch out. Welcome to, prelude to war.

My New York Times Comment to the Landler-Peters article, Sept. 16, follows:

Obama has ruled out ground troops. Does anyone believe him–and should they? His pattern is, deny but send up authoritative spokesmen to the Hill, build up public sentiment, and REVERSE the position quickly when no one seems to be looking–or rather is becoming habituated to permanent war as the path to national honor.

Has USG tried to talk to ISIS? Of course not: to talk is weakness, esp. unworthy of the Global Leader. Obama has proven by his record that he thrives on war. War commands political respect. more deaths than ISIS ever will.

Dempsey and Hagel are the current face of the administration, replacing John Brennan of waterboarding fame. Time to activate the troops, America’s moral fiber is lessening. Right back to TR, global hegemony, militarism, in sum, the American Way of Death.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at

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