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 pollackn@msu.edu.

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 pollackn@msu.edu.

September 23, 2019
Kshama Sawant
Amazon vs. the Socialists in Seattle
Jason Hirthler
American Iago: On Washington’s Character Assassins
Craig Collins
Naomi Klein, Autism and Climate Activism
Michael Welton
The Serpent of Their Agonies
Binoy Kampmark
Strong Men in Europe: Tony Abbott Visits Hungary
Amitai Ben-Abba
And in Those Days There was No King in Israhell
Phil Rockstroh
A Careless Bully at the KFC at the End of Empire
Emiliana Cruz
Commemorating Tomás Cruz
Julian Vigo
Legacy College Admissions Are a Testament to What is Legacy Culture
Manuel García, Jr.
See “Official Secrets”
Dave Lindorff
Faux ‘Working Man’s’ Candidate Biden Looking Like a Loser after Philly AFL-CIO Presidential Summit
Tracey Aikman
President Trump, I’m One of the Workers You Lied To
B. R. Gowani
How news media should handle Trump’s lies
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power